With the hot summer months and the soaring temperatures, all pet owners should be aware of the risks of heatstroke (also known as heat stress). Dogs and cats don’t respond to heat in the same way as humans. Whereas we have temperature-regulating sweat glands all over our body, dogs and cats only have a few on their feet and around their noses, so they have to rely on panting and external temperatures to keep them cool. Having a thick fur coat doesn’t help either!

Heatstroke can happen very rapidly. A heatstroke is a condition where heat generation exceeds the body’s ability to lose heat, resulting in an elevated body temperature. Predisposing factors include being locked up in a small non-ventilated area such as a car or a cage, having inadequate shade and drinking water, or after excessive exercise. Certain breeds, such as brachycephalic (flat-faced) breeds (Pugs, bulldogs, Persian cats etc.) are more susceptible to heatstroke. Also very long- or thick-coated animals. In addition, obesity, prior heart or lung diseases or old age can be a factor.

Heatstroke is a very serious, possibly life-threatening situation, which can lead to permanent organ damage or death. Symptoms of heatstroke include:

  • Drooling, salivating
  • Panting excessively and increasingly as heatstroke progresses
  • Restlessness, agitation, mental confusion
  • Dizziness, staggering, weakness, lying down
  • Either very red or very pale gums
  • Bright red tongue
  • Muscle tremors, seizures, collapsing
  • Increased heart rate and breathing distress
  • Vomiting, diarrhoea
  • Little or no urine
  • Coma

If you suspect heatstroke, remove your pet from the heat immediately, apply or spray cool or tepid (not ice-cold!) water on your pet’s fur/skin and then take them to the nearest vet as fast as possible.

So always make sure you provide your pet with a well-ventilated and shaded environment, with plenty of fresh drinking water at all times. Never leave your pet in a parked car other than very briefly even in mild temperatures, as the internal temperature of a car rises very rapidly. Avoid vigorous exercise in very hot weather, especially on hot sand, asphalt roads or other surfaces that reflect heat. Heatstroke is a preventable condition as long as you ensure your pet is kept in suitable environmental conditions!


Article by: Dr. Laura Wessman

KSPCA Volunteer

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