Pets and heat don’t mix. High heat and humidity can lead to heatstroke, a potentially life-threatening condition in pets. Our team at MetroPet Veterinary Clinic wants to provide information about how heat affects pets, and steps you can take to protect your four-legged friend this summer.

Pets are more sensitive to heat than humans

Sweat glands located all over your body produce moisture that evaporates, and cooling occurs. Pets have only a few sweat glands, mostly in their paws, making this process inefficient so, unfortunately for them, pets have to rely on other, more inefficient means to cool themselves, which makes them more susceptible to heatstroke. These methods include:

  • Panting — When your pet pants, air circulates through their mouth and over their lung tissue, the fluid from these surfaces evaporates, and cooling occurs. Brachycephalic pets, such as pugs, Boston terriers, and Persian cats, have less surface area inside their mouth, making them extremely inefficient panters.
  • Vessel dilatation — In a warm environment, your pet’s blood vessels in their ears, mouth, and extremities dilate to dispel heat into the environment. This process is less effective when the ambient temperature is the same or warmer than your pet’s body temperature.
  • Finding a breeze — Moving air from wind or a fan can help cool your pet through a process called convection.
  • Baring their belly — When your pet splays their belly on a cool surface, they are cooling themselves through a process called conduction.

Heat’s effect on pets

Being outside on a hot, humid day can be uncomfortable, but when hot conditions or excessive exercise elevate your pet’s temperature to higher than 102.5 degrees, they can overheat. If their temperature continues to rise, heatstroke can occur, resulting in severe inflammation throughout the body. While all pets are susceptible to heatstroke, some pets are at a higher risk, including senior pets, brachycephalic pets, overweight pets, and pets suffering from a health condition. Systems affected include:

  • Gastrointestinal tract — One of the first areas damaged is the gastrointestinal tract lining, which can lead to gastrointestinal upset and bacteria entering your pet’s bloodstream.
  • Heart — Initially, your pet’s heart rate will increase, and their peripheral blood vessels will dilate in an attempt to cool their body. When this is ineffective, the heart eventually can no longer efficiently pump blood throughout the body, resulting in shock. In addition, heart muscle damage can cause arrhythmias. 
  • Lungs — Lung tissue damage can cause your pet respiratory distress.
  • Kidneys — Kidney damage can cause kidney failure.
  • Brain — High temperatures can cause brain swelling, hemorrhage, and cell death.
  • Coagulation — In severe cases, disseminated intravascular coagulation, a condition that causes excessive bleeding throughout your pet’s body, can occur.

Heatstroke signs in pets include excessive panting, drooling, red mucous membranes, exercise intolerance, diarrhea, vomiting, collapse, and seizures.

Immediate action is necessary if your pet overheats

If your pet overheats, the level of their temperature and the length of time of elevation contribute to their prognosis. This means the sooner you start bringing their temperature down, the better chance they have of survival. Actions you should take include:

  • Move your pet — Move your pet from the hot environment to a cool, well-ventilated area. 
  • Take your pet’s temperature — If possible, take your pet’s temperature using a rectal thermometer, and monitor their progress, so you can report this information to your veterinarian.
  • Provide water — If your pet is conscious and responsive, offer them water to drink, but don’t attempt to pour the water in their mouth.
  • Cool your pet — Use lukewarm water or wet towels to cool your pet. Avoid using ice or ice water, which can decrease their temperature too quickly, and cause shock.
  • Take your pet to your veterinarian — As your pet’s temperature comes down, they may start to act normally, but they will still need veterinary attention to ensure they have not sustained internal damage.

Heatstroke in pets can be prevented

Tips to keep you pet safe this summer include:

  • Provide water — Ensure your pet has access to fresh water by providing multiple drinking sources throughout your home.
  • Take water on outings — Take bottled water and a water bowl on outings, and offer your pet a drink at regular intervals.
  • Never leave your pet in the car — Internal vehicle temperatures reach dangerously high levels quickly, putting your pet in danger. 
  • Avoid excessive exercise — On hot, humid days, avoid excessive exercise, and walk your pet during the early morning and evening hours to avoid the hottest time of the day. 
  • Take frequent breaks — When outdoors, ensure your pet has sufficient time to cool down by taking frequent breaks in the shade.
  • Don’t leave your pet outside unattended — When the weather is uncomfortably warm, don’t leave your pet outside unattended for extended periods. Also, ensure they have access to shade when outside.
  • Protect at-risk pets — If you have a high risk pet, keep them inside in an air conditioned area, except for brief bathroom breaks, preferably taken during the cooler parts of the day.
  • Leave your air conditioner running — Turning your air conditioner off when you leave your house can save you money, but you are putting your pet in danger. Draw your curtains and leave your air conditioner on when leaving your pet at home.

Pets and heat don’t mix, but you can take steps to keep your pet safe this summer. However, if your pet overheats, contact our team at MetroPet Veterinary Clinic immediately, so we can ensure they get the necessary care.