It’s that time of year when the Animal Medical Center’s ER prepares to see dogs and cats with heatstroke. Heatstroke occurs when the ambient temperature overwhelms the body’s cooling mechanisms. Both heat and humidity contribute to the development of heatstroke. When humidity is high, pets cannot cool themselves by panting, a form of evaporative cooling. When the air is full of water, evaporation from panting occurs slowly and cannot keep the body temperature in a safe range.
The normal body temperature of dogs and cats is 100-102°F. AMC’s ER does not become concerned when a fever is as high as 104 or 105°F. Heatstroke is a body temperature 106-108°F. When the body gets that hot, multiple organs begin to fail.
While heatstroke can happen to any pet, certain dogs are at greater risk. Snub-nosed dogs are unable to use evaporative cooling via panting as well as dogs with longer noses, and thus are a greater risk of developing heatstroke. Dark-coated dogs, golden retrievers, Labrador retrievers, overweight dogs, and those not acclimated to the heat are also at increased risk.
Hot skin, vomiting, panting, distress collapse, incoordination, and loss of consciousness are all indicators of heatstroke. If your pet is developing heatstroke, you will notice nonstop panting, hot, red skin and weakness. This may progress to incoordination, collapse and loss of consciousness. At the first hint of heatstroke, head to your local animal ER.
Head to the Animal ER
If you suspect heatstroke, go immediately to the closest animal ER, do not delay. Experts say trying to cool your pet off on your own wastes valuable time. But, if on your way out the door you can grab ice packs or frozen food from your freezer, put the frozen food on your pet in the car on the way to the ER.
The extent of illness may not be apparent upon arrival in the ER. Heatstroke is a multi-organ system disorder. Pets experience circulatory shock from fluid loss from panting. Heat damages normal tissues like the brain and other vital organs. Damaged brain neurons cannot be replaced and may result in cognitive decline following an episode of heatstroke. Abnormalities in blood clotting and kidney function may not become apparent until hours after arrival in the ER.
Tips to Prevent Heatstroke
Preventing heatstroke is critical since data indicates half of pets suffering from heatstroke don’t recover.
1. Don’t exercise in heat of the day, only early or late. Heatstroke occurs most often in the afternoon.
2. Don’t leave pet in a hot car, even with the windows cracked. In one study, a hot car was the number one cause of heatstroke.
3. Provide access to cold water. Consider choosing a water bowl designed to keep water cool or add ice cubes to the bowl.
4. Provide shade with an umbrella or a covered kennel.
5. Try out a cooling jacket or mat.
Click for more suggestions on keeping your dog cool during the hot summer months.