Every year we see animals that have become overheated. Some will recover once cooled off and rehydrated. Some do not recover and will die. Heat stroke and heat exhaustion can happen when an animal cannot properly cool themselves. For this article we will focus mainly on dogs since they are the majority of heat related cases we see. However, owners of all types of pets should be aware of their pet’s needs when it comes to heat. For instance, rabbits are overly sensitive to heat and extreme care should be taken to make sure they have good ventilation and are not in direct sunlight during the heat of the day.
Heat exhaustion in dogs is when the internal body temperature reaches 103-105 F. Heatstroke is usually around 106 F and above. This can happen very quickly in the summer when temperatures are elevated and humidity levels are high (hello South Louisiana summers!). A dog’s best cooling method is to pant since they do not have sweat glands other than a small number in their paw pads. Dogs can become overheated very quickly. Most people think of an animal in a hot car as the only way a dog can overheat. We have seen heatstroke in animals when they are going for walks with their owners, playing fetch, even chasing squirrels or the lawn mower. Anytime your dog is outside in the heat, they are at risk of heatstroke and heat exhaustion. Some breeds are at higher risk of overheating such as brachycephalic (smushed face) breeds like Pugs, Bulldogs, Boxers, and Boston Terriers. If your dog is overweight they are more likely to overheat. Older dogs, very young dogs, some with metabolic diseases, or dogs with thick, long coats can also have increased risk of heat related symptoms.
What are the signs of heatstroke and heat exhaustion and what can you do if you think your dog is overheating? If your dog is panting hard and seems uncomfortable (shifting around when laying, trying to get comfortable, etc) they may be overheating. If your dog is showing these signs bringing them inside to air conditioning and placing them in the breeze of a fan can help. Fresh cool water can be offered. If they enjoy being hosed off, you can run cool water over them to help dissipate the heat. Panting should improve over 15-20 minutes. If it does not improve or gets worse, they should be brought to a veterinarian. With heat stroke you may see collapse, gums changing colors to bright red or blue, vomiting and/or diarrhea can occur. If any of these signs occur, they should be brought to a veterinarian immediately. Never use ice or alcohol to cool your pet off. These can drop their body temperature too quickly and cause other problems.
We hope everyone enjoys the summertime, but remember to use caution when playing outdoors with your pet. Don’t exercise them during the hottest part of the day. Always make sure shade is available and encourage them to take breaks to cool off during play or time outdoors. Always provide fresh, cool water. If it’s too hot for you, it’s too hot for them!