Every year we see at a few patients for overheating causing ‘heat stroke’. Overheating can occur either due to being in a hot or humid environment or because they have exerted themselves through exercise. Either way, the signs and symptoms are the same. As our pets become hot, they start to open mouth pant as well as sweat through their footpads. This is the best way for their bodies to let off heat, but unfortunately, it is incredibly inefficient. If the heat continues, they may become frantic. For example, if locked in a car in warm to hot weather, they may try to claw the door of the car trying to escape. This behaviour also increases the body temperature through exercise and worsens the situation quickly.
Heat stroke can quickly lead to protein damage in the body, which causes organ dysfunction (such as the heart, lungs, etc.,), increased blood clotting, and even neurological signs (seizures, being unresponsive, etc.,), and death can quickly follow. Animals with mild heat stroke may show decreased appetite, vomiting, diarrhea or decreased activity level. As the issue progresses into moderate heat stroke, they may show signs such as collapse, not eating at all, being extremely lethargic, with more profuse vomiting or diarrhea. As heat stroke becomes severe, they can progress to becoming comatose, unable to be roused, major organ failure and death.
Animals with a short ‘pushed in’ snout (for example, a bulldog or a Persian cat) are more susceptible to the effects of heat because they have the same amount of tissue in their airway as a dog/cat with a regular snout, compressed into a much smaller area. This extra tissue reduces their breathing space, giving them their characteristic snorting sounds. Bulldogs specifically also have a smaller windpipe (trachea) than other dogs, as well as an elongated soft palate (roof of the mouth) than other dogs. All of these issues together make them extremely sensitive to heat and exercise exertion.
Here are some tips to help reduce the risk of heat stroke with your animals during the warm months:
- Go for walks early in the morning and late in the evening, avoiding the hottest parts of the day. Just make sure to bring your bug spray and keep your pets on their heartworm prevention since the mosquitoes are out!
- Bring a water bottle and collapsible pet watering dish with you on walks.
- Stop frequently to give your pet a drink, or sit in the shade.
- Go for multiple shorter walks instead of one long walk.
- Never leave your pet in a parked car with the windows closed. Keep them home in the air conditioning, if at all possible, instead of bringing them on errands. If you need to leave them in the car for any period of time, leave them with an adult in the car so the car temperature can be regulated. Keep windows open just enough so your pet cannot jump out of the car and have cold water available for drinking. Never leave them for longer than a 5 minute period.
- Do not leave your pet outside during the day while you are away.
- If you do not have air conditioning, keep them in a cool location such as a basement. Give them a lukewarm bath early in the morning and towel them dry. Let them air dry over the course of the day to cool them.
- Have cool fresh water available at all times.
If you think your pet has heat stroke and there will be a delay before being able to get to the veterinary clinic, start giving your pet a lukewarm to cool shower. Do not use cold water as this is too much of a shock to the body. Turn on the air conditioning on the car ride to the clinic, to prevent their body temperature from increasing. If your pet has been exposed to extreme heat, seek veterinary medical attention immediately.
Dr. Kim Quinn
South Windsor Animal Hospital