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Dr. Lissa Altschuler: Preventing Heat Exhaustion in Dogs and Cats | Keeping Your Pet Cool

Dr. Lissa Altschuler: Preventing Heat Exhaustion in Dogs and Cats | Keeping Your Pet Cool

Temperatures are heating up and summer is just around the corner but as the weather warms up, it’s important to recognize how the heat can affect our pets.

What is Heat Exhaustion in Dogs?

Heat exhaustion, also known as hyperthermia, is when the body’s core temperature increases above its normal range. Unlike us humans, dogs don’t sweat through their skin, they rely on panting and releasing heat through their paw pads and nose to regulate their body temperature and keep themselves cool. But sometimes this isn’t adequate enough to keep them from getting overheated.

Heat exhaustion can happen within minutes, and if not treated, it can quickly turn into a heat stroke putting your dog’s life at risk.

Are All Breeds At Risk?

Some pet owners need to take extra precautions as some breeds have a higher risk of suffering from a heatstroke.

Brachycephalic breeds, also known as short-nosed and flat-faced, are much more likely to suffer from hyperthermia. Their smaller and narrower nostrils, long soft palate, and smaller airways, all contribute to preventing proper air flow and difficulty cooling themselves off. This includes Pugs and Bulldogs.

Overweight dogs, dogs with thick coats like Chow Chow’s, and senior dogs are also more prone to heatstroke.

Okay, But What About Cats?

Just like dogs, cats cannot sweat through their skin. Their sweat glands are found in a few specific hairless areas, including the paws, lips, and chin.

Cats are much more aware about their own comfort, and therefore, do a better job at seeking chillier areas when they feel the need to cool their body down but that doesn’t mean that they don’t suffer from the heat. For those adventurous cats, the possibility is always there. Brachycephalic breeds (flat face), obese cats, felines with lung or heart issues, should all be monitored closely for heat exhaustion.

Look Out for the Warning Signs and Symptoms

There are many important signs and symptoms to look out to prevent heat exhaustion:

In dogs:

  • Heavy panting or difficulty breathing
  • Barking, whining or signs of agitation
  • Excessive drooling
  • Change in gum color, from pink to dark red, pale, purple or blue Lack of coordination
  • Glazed eyes Weakness or dizziness
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Very dry nose

In cats:

  • Panting (Unlike dogs, panting in cats is not normal) It’s usually a sign of stress or overheating
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Sunken eyes
  • Little to no urine in your cat’s litter box. This can be a sign of dehydration.
  • Weakness or dizziness
  • Bleeding from the nose

When in doubt, call your vet.

How to Prevent Heat Exhaustion / Heatstrokes?

The good news is that there are lots of things we can do to make sure our pets stay cool, comfortable and healthy during the hot summer months:

  • Never, ever leave your pet inside a parked car. The most common cause of hyperthermia is leaving a dog in a car, your pet’s body temperature can elevate very rapidly.
  • Extra water. Another way for your pets to cool down is by drinking water. Always keep their bowl full of fresh water! You can add some ice to the bowl, or if you’d like longer periods of cool water, get a cooling bowl! Fresh water for hours.
  • Early/evening walks. Take your walks early in the morning or in the evening to avoid the hottest hours of the day. Remember to always bring water with you, it can be in a water bottle with fold out so your pet can easily drink. Take breaks in shade areas if needed and consider taking shorter walks and avoiding steep hills or other areas that require more strenuous exercise. It’s also important to avoid hot sidewalks!
  • Cooling accessories and toys. Keeping your dog entertained with cooling toys is a great way to help them cool off, as well as providing a cooling mat to avoid your pooch from laying on a hot surface.
  • Cooling vests and bandanas. Yes, these exist! They’re a great option for hiking or beach adventures, and also for every day walks. They’re designed to keep your pet cool and comfortable.
  • Sunscreens for pets. If you’re using a sunscreen to protect your pup they should not contain zinc oxide or para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA), as these ingredients are toxic for pets if ingested.

How To Treat Heat Exhaustion

Heat exhaustion can happen within minutes, and it’s important to know how to start treating your dog to prevent a heatstroke. If you notice your pet with any of the previous signs:

  1. Take them immediately to a cooler area (preferably indoors).
  2. Start trying to lower their body temperature by wetting them thoroughly with cool water. DO NOT USE COLD WATER! Cooling too quickly can actually be just as dangerous as heat exhaustion.
  3. Start to apply water around their ears and paws to help reduce the fever. Avoid the nose and mouth.
  4. Encourage them to rest on a cool surface such as a cooling mat. You can even place the cooling mat on their bed or in their cage.
  5. Call your veterinarian as soon as possible. Even if your pet seems to be recovering, monitoring for shock, dehydration, kidney failure, and other possible complications of heat exhaustion is needed.

NOTE: If your pet loses consciousness or seems very ill - starts vomiting, goes into seizures, etc. - get to a veterinary hospital immediately.

I know all this information can be stressful, but summer is a lot of fun for you and your pets - all we need to do is pay a little extra attention.

Dr. Lissa Altschuler