The Heat is On: Protecting Your Pet From Heat Stroke 

The Heat is On: Protecting Your Pet From Heat Stroke 

The approach of summer brings a spike in temperatures, and the warmer weather tempts many pet owners to spend more time outside with their pets. However, taking your four-legged friend for a steamy run outside or a quick car trip to the store can put them at risk of heat stroke. Pets are not able to remove their fur coat and like extreme cold temperatures, hot weather exposure can also be dangerous. Our Animal Emergency Care team wants to ensure your pets stay cool this summer, and we describe heat stroke signs, treatment, and prevention in your pets. 

What is heat stroke in pets? 

Heatstroke or heat exhaustion develops when your pet’s body temperature rises above the normal range of 100 to 102.5 degrees as a result of exposure to a hot environment or high humidity at lower temperatures. Pets have few sweat glands compared with humans, and primarily cool themselves by panting. Dogs are generally more affected by heat stroke than cats. Brachycephalic dog breeds such as bulldogs and pugs have an increased risk for heat stroke because their shorter oral and nasal cavities are less efficient at cooling. Overweight pets, senior pets, and pets who have underlying heart and lung problems also have an increased risk. However any species, breed, or age can be affected when they are exposed to warmer temperatures. Common culprits for heat stroke include:

  • Leaving a pet inside a car, including when it does not feel hot outside
  • Leaving a pet indoors during warm weather without proper ventilation or air conditioning
  • Playing or exercising a pet in warm weather with no breaks for cooling or hydration
  • Neglecting to provide a pet with adequate access to water during warm weather
  • Leaving a pet outside during warm weather with no access to shade, water, or a cool location

Heat stroke signs in pets

Pets who have heat stroke are at risk for brain swelling, organ failure, and bleeding problems because extreme temperatures can impair their coagulation system. Heat stroke signs may include:

  • Excessive panting
  • Excessive drooling
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Incoordination
  • Bright red gums
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea, which may contain blood
  • Bruising without apparent trauma 
  • Collapse
  • Muscle tremors 
  • Unconsciousness 
  • Seizures
  • Death 

Diagnosis and treatment of heat stroke in pets

Immediately move your pet to a cool environment such as your air conditioned home, and offer them water if they are showing heat stroke signs such as excessive panting. Place your pet in a bathtub of cool water. Never put them in an ice bath or cold water. Remove your pet from the cool bath once their temperature reaches 103 degrees, and dry them off.

Bring your pet to your family veterinarian for immediate care if their heat stroke signs have not improved in 10 minutes or if they collapse, have seizures, or become unconscious. Ensure you inform your veterinarian that your pet has suffered extreme heat exposure or had been excessively exercising. Your pet’s history, signs, and rectal temperature higher than 102.5 degrees will confirm a heat stroke diagnosis. Your veterinarian may recommend blood tests to check your pet’s electrolytes, overall organ function, and blood clotting functions. Treatments may include:

  • Cool water baths
  • Intravenous (IV) fluids 
  • Oxygen therapy
  • Anti-nausea medication
  • Gastroprotectant medications
  • Blood or plasma transfusions
  • Specialized cooling pads
  • Heart rate and blood pressure monitoring
  • Regular body temperature monitoring

Payment options for a pet’s heat stroke treatment

Heat stroke treatment often requires an extended hospital stay in addition to several follow up appointments, and such care can result in a large veterinary bill. However, several payment options are available to cover treatment costs including:

  • Care Credit and Scratch Pay which allow payments to be spread out over longer periods
  • Pet health savings accounts or short-term loans
  • Pet health insurance like Trupanion which will ensure you can cover the costs for your pet’s emergency heat stroke treatment—Trupanion can pay your veterinary clinic directly and eliminate the need to submit paperwork and wait for reimbursements 

Heat stroke prevention in pets

Heat stroke can be deadly, and close supervision of your pet when they are exposed to warmer temperatures is vital. Heat stroke can occur when temperatures are 80 degrees or higher or when humidity levels are high. Prevention measures include:

  • Avoiding exercising your pet during hot weather days
  • Never leaving your pet outside or unsupervised during hot weather
  • Never leaving your pet alone for any period of time even in a parked car with the windows down, and even if it may not seem hot outside because heat can still build up quickly inside the car
  • Keeping higher risk pets in air conditioned environments during hot weather days except for short outdoor bathroom breaks

Immediately contact your family veterinarian if your pet is experiencing heat stroke or bring them to Animal Emergency Care if they need help after hours. #AECprevents