Fact File

Why do cats or dogs get heat stroke?

It’s easy for our pets to overheat in warm weather. Unlike us, they can’t remove layers when it gets hot, and they don’t always have an option to move themselves to cooler places or avoid the sun. Animals are unable to cool down by sweating as humans do, so they are less able to regulate their body temperature.

Dogs and cats can suffer from heatstroke, a life-threatening condition where the body temperature increases to a point where serious consequences, including organ failure and even death, can occur.

Which animals are more susceptible to heatstroke?

  • Animals that are overweight
  • Flat faced breeds such as Pugs and French Bulldogs, or Persian cats
  • Pets with thick coats
  • Old or very young animals
  • Animals with pre-existing conditions, particularly airway, lung or heart problems

What causes heatstroke in pets ?

It doesn’t always have to be ‘hot’ for an animal to develop heatstroke. Exercising excessively in warm weather, or being left in a warm or humid environment that is poorly ventilated can cause animals to quickly overheat. Avoidance is always best, but it’s important to know the signs of heatstroke so that you can treat your pet appropriately and know when to seek veterinary attention should they be unfortunate enough to suffer from it.

Early signs of heatstroke in pet animals

These are similar in dogs and cats (although in cats the signs are often more subtle) and can include;

  • Panting, this can progress to distressed or noisy breathing as the heatstroke worsens
  • Restlessness or agitation, pacing, seeking shade or water
  • Drooling
  • Red gums or tongue
  • Increased heart rate
  • Vomiting or diarrhoea

Advanced stages of heatstroke in pets

This can include:

  • Lethargy
  • Confusion
  • Weakness or collapse
  • Seizures

First aid for heatstroke in cats and dogs - tips for pet owners

If you are concerned that your pet is overheating, you should act immediately, as heatstroke can rapidly become a life-threatening emergency;

  • Take your pet somewhere cool, ideally a well ventilated area or use a fan
  • Offer them small sips of water (do not force them to drink)
  • Cool them down by pouring small amounts of cool – lukewarm water on them. It’s important not to use cold water as this can reduce blood flow to the skin, reducing their ability to cool down
  • Alternatively, drape a cool wet towel over them. This should be changed every five minutes as it will no longer be effective once it warms up.
  • Once you’ve started these steps, call your vets who will be able to advise you further. Even if your pet seems to be ok it’s important to have them checked (unless told otherwise), as the more serious signs of heatstroke may not be immediately apparent.

Your vet will examine your pet, and carry out a full assessment including a temperature check. If they are concerned that your pet is suffering from heatstroke they may advise that they are admitted for tests, supportive treatment, or observation until the signs of heatstroke have resolved. Early recognition and prompt initiation of these measures can help to reduce the risks of any serious consequences, but avoidance is always best.

Tips for preventing heat stroke in dogs and cats

You can help to keep your pet cool and comfortable in summer by:

  • Make sure your pet always has access to a cool shaded area, both indoors and outside
  • Restrict exercise on warm days (dogs should be walked early in the morning or later in the evening to avoid the hottest part of the day)
  • Pack a water bottle on walks
  • Remember, hot pavements can burn paws! If it’s too hold your hand on, it’s too hot for your pet to walk on
  • Never leave pets in a car or a hot room (eg conservatories)
  • Ensure your pet always has drinking water available, adding ice can help keep it cool
  • Ensure your pet is regularly groomed if this is advised for their breed

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