Heat stroke is a distressing, painful condition that can be fatal. Distress is usually seen when an animal’s body temperature rises above 40 degrees Celsius but once the body temperature rises above 42.8 degrees Celsius the proteins that make up your dog/cat start to denature – so they are literally cooking. Recovery from here is very difficult.
The initial signs for both dogs and cats are of heat stroke are collapse, rapid, open mouth breathing and excessive salivation. The animals may have extremely pink gums or, more concerningly may have faintly blue/purple gums.
Depending on how high the body temperature climbs there may even be spontaneous bleeding (seen as red spots/streaks on the gums, vomiting blood or bloody stools), seizures or the animal may become comatose.
If you think that your pet may have heat stroke you need to act fast and:
Start cooling them down – but not too fast! You can hose them down and get them under a fan. Or, cool them down in the car on the way to the vet - position them in front of a vent and use a water sprayer/wet cloth to damp them down. (Do not use ice water because this can decrease their body temperature too rapidly which can have its own severe consequences.)
Offer them water or an electrolyte replacement solution – small sips of whichever they prefer.
Get them to a vet. You already have them in the car so this shouldn’t be too difficult. If you are with a companion have them telephone us while you drive – that way we can get prepared and ensure that treatment commences ASAP. Every minute really does count!
So how do you prevent heat stroke? Here are some ideas…
NEVER leave an animal unattended in a car.
Be mindful how hot your pet is getting when you are away from your home.
Indoor pets may need to have a window open and fan on (On those real stinkers, they may even need the air-conditioning on!).
Outdoor pets need to have access to shade throughout the day, when assessing this do to consider how the sun moves.
Consider leaving containers of frozen water for them to lick to help cool down
A paddling pool filled with wet sand is a great tool for keeping animals cool, obviously this works best for the outdoor pets;)
Exercise in the cool of the day – preferably when the temperature is below 25 degrees Celsius – and avoid hot bitumen. Dog’s pads are tough, but even they are not tough enough to withstand a road exposed to the summer sun.
Regularly pour water over your dog’s back when you are out for a walk.
Implement a “Work/Rest” cycle when you are exercising with your dog, offer water at every rest
Consider your pet’s anatomy and how this may predispose them to heat stroke:
Brachycephalic breeds (Pugs, Frenchies, Bulldogs, Boxers, Boston Terriers etc) have more trouble losing heat when they pant because of the excess tissue in their nasopharyngeal region. They will need more frequent drinks and closer monitoring.
Pets with thick coats may benefit from clipping.
Avoid circumstances that are likely to produce extreme excitability or anxiety – this may mean implementing effective management of separation anxiety or thunderstorm phobias and saving the dog park for cool days.
Be prepared – carry water/ice with you when exercising, don’t stray too far from help/transportation, travel in pairs so someone can go for help while the other stays to aid your pet.
One final point of interest, we are most likely to see heat stroke during the early, humid days of summer. This is because humidity reduces evaporation which is the most effective way of cooling and as the summer wears on the body really does acclimatise to the heat!