Heat Strokes in Animals

Hot, humid days may be uncomfortable for people. Fortunately for humans, we have the ability to protect ourselves. If it’s too hot outside, we go inside. If it’s too hot inside, we can flip a switch and have air conditioning or a fan. We can grab an ice cold bottle of water any time we please. Our furry friends, however, do not have these abilities and rely on us to take care of them in hot weather.

Cats and dogs are susceptible to heat stroke. Heat stroke occurs when the animal’s body cannot cope with the excessive heat, and body temperature rises to dangerous levels. Dangerously high body temperatures may quickly lead to severe damage of multiple organs. This scary and dangerous condition may affect cats or dogs of any age.

The most well-known cause of heatstroke in a pet is excessive external temperature, such as an extremely hot day. However, there are also diseases that may leave a pet more susceptible to heat stroke. Some poisonous substances may cause seizures, which may cause an animal’s body temperature to skyrocket. Additionally, excessive exercise may cause a dangerously high temperature. Regardless of the cause of heat stroke, the symptoms are usually similar, and may include:

  • Increased body temperature, often ranging from 104* to 110*F

  • Excessive panting

  • Abnormally dark or bright red gums or tongue

  • Dry or sticky gums or tongue

  • Staggering or stumbling

  • Confusion

  • Seizures

  • Bloody diarrhea or vomiting 

In extreme cases of heat stroke, a pet may experience coma or even death.

If your pet begins to show signs of heat stroke, seek veterinary attention immediately. While help is being sought, take action to lower your pet’s temperature. While cooling them off is crucial, it is also important to remember not to try to make the animal cold. Making the animal too cold may cause additional stress on the body, impeding the cooling process or even causing the pet to become hypothermic, in which the body temperature becomes dangerously low. If your pet is reacting to a hot environment, get him out of the heat. If you are outside and cannot get your pet inside, get him to a shaded area. Use cool – not ice cold – water to cool your pet down. Place cool, wet cloths on your pet’s feet and around his head. Make cold water available for your pet to drink, remembering to not use that cold water to wet the animal. Even if your pet appears to recover very quickly and then exhibits normal behavior, do not assume everything is okay. Err on the side of caution and get the animal to a veterinarian as quickly as possible – the lasting damage of heat stroke may not be evident immediately and only a veterinarian can determine if there is any damage.

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