Heat Exhaustion/Heat Stroke

by: Juliette Veenstra, RVT

Cat with SunburstIn California, we love our summers.  The long, warm days are perfect for outdoor activities, many of which pet lovers enjoy sharing with their pets. 

Outdoor fun can be as enjoyable for pets as for their owners, but pet parents do need to be aware that summer heat comes with hazards.  Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are real dangers for our pets.  Since our animal friends cannot verbally complain about being too hot or too tired, it is easy for us to miss the early signs of these dangerous conditions. With some simple safety precautions and recognition of the signs, you can help your pet remain safe and healthy.

Heat Exhaustion vs Heat Stroke

Heat Exhaustion is basically severe overheating.  The first sign of heat exhaustion is usually heavy panting and dark red gums

More severe signs may also include weakness, confusion and/or vomiting.  If a pet suffering from Heat Exhaustion continues to be exposed to heat and exercise, then there is risk of progression to Heat Stroke.

Heat Stroke is a term for the dangerous effects of severe and prolonged overheating Since most pet animals cannot sweat, they cannot cool their bodies as efficiently as their human owners, leaving them very vulnerable to heat stroke. 
In addition to the signs listed for Heat Exhaustion, another early sign of Heat Stroke is diarrhea.  This can be followed by seizures and/or coma.  Unfortunately, by the time an animal experiences the neurologic signs of Heat Stroke (seizures/coma), the condition is often fatal.

Signs of Heat Stroke:

  • Bright red gums and tongue
  • Rapid breathing or panting
  • Thickening of saliva
  • Weakness
  • Disorientation
  • Dizziness
  • Petechia (small red spots indicating capillary bleeding) of the skin or whites of eyes
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Seizures
  • Coma


Dealing with Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke

If your pet is showing signs of Heat Stroke or severe Heat Exhaustion immediate treatment is required.  Get them out of the heat (ideally somewhere air-conditioned) and attempt to cool your pet down.  Bathe them in cool water (NOT ICY, as this could send your pet into shock) and wrap wet towels around their head, feet and belly.

Even once you’ve attempted to cool your pet, it is imperative that you seek immediate veterinary care.  Heat stroke can be dangerous, even fatal.  More serious measures (such as intravenous fluids) may be necessary to treat your pet’s condition.

Preventing Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke

Panting DogThe best way to deal with heat stroke is to simply prevent it.  Allow your pet to remain cool at all times and remember to watch them closely if they are sharing time with you during outdoor activities.  Try to avoid exercising your pet during the hottest hours of the day and if possible, bring them indoors during the midday heat.  Make sure that your pet always has access to shade and cool water, and never leave them alone in a car on a warm day, even with the windows open!

Watch your pet for signs of heavy breathing or panting.  If your pet seems suddenly tired or sluggish while spending time in the heat, get them to a cool area, prevent further exercise and offer them water.

It is important to remember that some animals may have a more difficult time dealing with heat. Senior, ill, handicappedordebilitated pets may have a more difficult time regulating their body temperature or may have a tougher time voluntarily getting out of the heat.  Also brachiocephalic (“smash faced”) animals, or those with long and/or dense coats may find staying cool more difficult.

As always, if you are ever concerned about your pet’s condition, do not hesitate to call us at (760)634-2022!

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