Heat Stroke: How to Keep Your Pet Safe This Summer

(Photo by Nathan Anderson on Unsplash)

A note from Dr. JR:

Summertime is great for pool parties, trips to the beach, and cook outs. At times, however, it can feel unbearably hot… and not just for us. Our pets are also affected by the heat, and as pet owners, we need to be aware of the signs and symptoms of heat stroke.

So, while the recent heat wave may have you dreaming about fall time, changing leaves and cooler temps, we’re not there just yet.  While we wait it out, here is what you need to know in order to keep your pet safe.

In the veterinary field, we primarily see dogs for heat-related health issues, (though cats can also be affected).  For all intents and purposes, dogs are unable to sweat.  Their only real way to regulate their body temperature is through panting.  Heat stroke occurs when your pet’s ability to cool his or herself is insufficient, leading to an abnormally high body temperature.  If the body temperature gets high enough, it can lead to heavy panting, weakness, collapse, and even acute death.

Usually, heat stroke occurs when pets overwork themselves and are unable to bring their body temperature down without help from their owner or veterinarian.  While high ambient temperature is the most obvious risk factor for heat stroke, other factors specific to your pet should also be considered.  These include your pet’s activity level, coat thickness, breed, and any pre-existing health conditions (such as cardiac or respiratory illness).

Know your dog. Some dogs are simply not built to handle the heat.  The breeds that we worry about over-heating the most are the brachycephalic breeds (also called the “flat-faced” breeds).  These breeds include English Bulldogs, French Bulldogs, Pugs, and Boston Terriers, among others.  Genetically, these dogs have a much harder time regulating their body temperature through panting.  These dogs should remain in cool environments at all times.  Any temperature over approximately 75° Fahrenheit, paired with a moderate degree of activity, can quickly lead to heat stroke.  It’s best to keep these breeds indoors and only allow for short bathroom breaks outside on a leash during hotter months.

Time for a trim.  Grooming is another great way to control excessive heat retention and prevent heat stroke.  Imagine trying to go outside, even for a short walk, while wearing a winter coat!  That is what it feels like to be a Husky, Saint Bernard, or other thick-coated dog living in the South in the summertime. While your dog may look a little funny with a haircut, he or she will definitely be cooler with a shorter coat. Plus, there will be less dog hair for you to clean up!

Pool party.  Access to a body of water will also help keep your pet cool this summer.  Try filling up a shallow baby pool in the shade for your pup to lie in. 

No waiting in the car.  Finally, never leave your pet in an environment without the ability to escape the heat, such as a car.  Even with the windows open, cars can trap the summer heat and soar to dangerously high temperatures. Potentially fatal heat stroke in a hot car takes only a few minutes.

The best thing you can do is get your pet to the veterinarian as quickly as possible.  While you are in transit, actively cool your pet with a wet towel, air conditioning, and a fan.  Offer your pet plenty of water to drink.  The duration and severity of the heat stroke will dictate how much treatment your pet requires at the veterinarian’s office.

Remember, it is better to be safe than sorry during these hot summer months.  Your pet can’t tell you how they’re feeling, so be sure to monitor your pet’s activity, water intake, and overall demeanor while out and about in the heat.  The cooler temps will be here before we know it, and you and your pet will be able to breathe a sigh of relief! 

Our information is not intended to replace the advice of your veterinarian.  Do not use this information for diagnostic purposes. Always take your pet to your veterinarian to obtain a diagnosis and course of treatment.