Do you know about heat stroke for dogs, cats (or any other animals)?
A little bit, a lot, or not at all? In this article you will learn how to recognize heat stroke, how to treat it and finally how to prevent it.
As you may have guessed, the hot and humid summer months are the most dangerous for our pets. The reason is that animals do not have the same capacity as humans to evacuate their heat: in fact, their skin is mostly covered with hair/fur/feathers, which prevents their heat from coming out.
In short, when it’s hot, they accumulate heat more quickly and have a harder time evacuating it. Just remember one simple thing: if you are already hot, your pet is very hot!
So how do you recognize when heatstroke is starting?
There is no single sign, but rather a series of possible signs (1) :
- you may see your pet quieter
- breathing faster
- not wanting to eat
When the heat stroke is moderate, your pet will be even more amorphous, will not want to move, will often lie down, and sometimes change its behavior. Unfortunately, there are even more severe cases, where the animal will go into shock and may unfortunately have convulsions, fall into a coma or die.
So Dr. Frank, if I see that it is hot and my pet doesn’t look well, what can I do? First of all, you have to find a cooler place as soon as possible. If you can, at least find a cool or shady place, or even better, go to an air-conditioned house. Secondly, you should also offer water as soon as possible.
Another tip is to wet your pet’s coat with cool, but not ice cold water. It may seem surprising not to use cold water, but it can make your pet shiver, which will send a signal to the brain to raise his temperature (which is obviously the opposite of what we want at this point). If you can find a fan or a well-ventilated area, it’s just as good.
Finally, if despite all your efforts nothing seems to be working, then you will have to go to a veterinary hospital for emergency treatment. There will likely be various treatments put in place, including an intravenous catheter set up as well as IV fluids, and continuous observation by a medical team.
As for prevention, remember to always offer your pet water to drink, no matter what the circumstances. You can also offer him a cold zone in the house, which consists of putting bottles of ice water on a carpet before you leave for work or school. This way he’ll have access to a cool zone for at least a few hours.
Of course, if you want to go out for a walk, it’s best to avoid the hottest and most humid times. Remember that overweight, older or sick animals are also more at risk of this problem (2) . In any case, your pet will adapt better if it has been able to acclimatize gradually to the heat.
Last point on prevention: never leave your pet inside a car during the summer, because even with the windows down a little, the temperature will rise quickly, there won’t be enough wind and you’ll literally run into trouble!
So Dr. Franck, now that I know how to recognize heat stroke, that I can prevent it and that I know how to treat it, any last advice before I leave? Of course, with pleasure! I would especially say that this is the kind of situation where prevention is much better than intervention. Once you’ve passed a certain point, it will be very complicated to go back, so be vigilant from the start!
So tell me, I’m curious: have you ever seen a dog, a cat, or any other animal, with heat stroke and if so, what happened?
Source 1 Yaron Bruchim, Michal Horowitz & Itamar Aroch (2017) Pathophysiology of heatstroke in dogs – revisited, Temperature, 4:4, 356-370, DOI: 10.1080/23328940.2017.1367457
Source 2 Johnson, S. I., McMichael, M., & White, G. (2006). Heatstroke in small animal medicine: a clinical practice review. Journal of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care, 16(2), 112-119.
Francis Lagacé has been a member of the Ordre des médecins vétérinaires du Québec since 2004. He practiced for 16 years in several veterinary clinics across Canada. He treated animals of all types, mainly cats, dogs and exotic animals (rabbits, rodents, ferrets, birds, reptiles). Since 2020 he has been working in the field of veterinary pharmacovigilance. You can find him on LinkedIn.