As a Texan, you know how scorching hot the summer can get, making it downright miserable to be outside. However, your furry pal still needs to head outdoors to take care of business and to exercise. High temperatures and humidity increase your pet’s risk of heatstroke, so our Walnut Creek Vet Hospital team answers common questions about this serious condition to help keep your four-legged friend safe while outdoors.

Question: What is heatstroke in pets?

Answer: A dog or cat’s normal body temperature ranges from 99.5 to 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit, with a bit of leeway for outside temperatures. Generally, any body temperature above 103 degrees is considered abnormal. Once your pet’s temperature reaches 104.9 degrees, they are classified as having heatstroke. This severe body temperature elevation is the most serious of heat-induced illnesses and can cause much more than a high body temperature; it also can cause multi-organ failure or cardiac arrest.

Q: What risk factors can make my pet more likely to develop heatstroke?

A: Any pet of any age can develop heatstroke, but certain factors make some pets more predisposed to overheating. Pets who fall into the following categories are more likely to develop heatstroke:

  • Overweight — Extra fat acts as a highly effective insulator, making it more difficult for body heat to dissipate.
  • Seniors — Older pets are less able to regulate their body temperature, so they feel the effects of extreme conditions more strongly.
  • Puppies and kittens — A young pet’s body systems are still developing, as is their ability to regulate their body temperature. Paired with their high energy requirements, they can overheat quickly.
  • Thick, dark fur — Thick double coats and dark fur are more likely to trap excess heat, making it difficult for a pet to remain cool.
  • Cardiac disease — The body cools itself by increasing cardiac output and constricting blood vessels, but a poorly functioning heart cannot adequately cool the body.
  • Respiratory conditions — Pets with laryngeal paralysis, a collapsing trachea, or other respiratory conditions are unable to pant effectively to aid in cooling.
  • Endocrine disorders — Endocrine disorders, such as hypothyroidism, Cushing’s disease, and diabetes, make it more difficult for pets to regulate their body temperature.
  • Brachycephaly — Brachycephalic pets (i.e., those with flat faces) have numerous anatomical issues that interfere with successful panting and heat evaporation.

Heatstroke can be fatal in as little as an hour for pets who are predisposed to overheating. Additionally, working dogs can suffer from heatstroke in just 30 minutes if they do not have access to adequate shade, water, ventilation, and rest.

Q: What does heatstroke look like in pets?

A: Heatstroke signs can be subtle at first, but can escalate quickly to serious issues. Pets who are overheating may:

  • Pant excessively
  • Drool heavily
  • Have brick red gums
  • Struggle to walk
  • Appear lethargic and disoriented
  • Vomit
  • Have diarrhea that may be bloody
  • Collapse
  • Have seizures

Q: What should I do if I think my pet is overheating?

A: If your pet shows any warning signs of overheating, head to an air-conditioned building immediately. Begin cooling measures by placing your pet in a bathtub and run cool, not cold, water over them. Ensure their head remains above water, because they can lose consciousness. To speed up the evaporation process, point a fan at your pet. Offer them water, but do not force them to drink. Also avoid wrapping your pet in wet towels or applying ice packs to their body. Wet towels trap heat, whereas ice causes peripheral vasoconstriction that shunts overheated blood back to the body’s core. Check your pet’s temperature with a rectal thermometer every five minutes during your cooling process. Once it reaches 103 degrees, stop cooling your pet and seek veterinary care immediately.

Q: What can I do to prevent heatstroke from occurring in my pet?

A: Although you cannot completely avoid Texas summers and the threat of heatstroke, you can take steps to prevent your pet from overheating. Follow these tips:

  • Provide the essentials — Your  pet needs plenty of fresh water, shade, and ventilation to stay cool when outdoors. Ensure you have all three before you head out.
  • Plan your walks — Typically, the coolest part of the day is early morning, before the temperature and humidity have a chance to reach their height. Exercise your pet outside during the coolest time, and stick to shaded, grassy, or dirt paths to avoid blistering hot pavement.
  • Play in the water — Nothing helps your pet beat the summertime heat like splashing in cool water. Put a few inches of water in a wading pool, turn on the sprinkler, or let them frolic in a splash pad.
  • Leave your pet at home — Although your four-legged friend may love going on car rides, it’s best to leave them at home in the air conditioning while you run errands. Temperatures inside a closed car exposed to sun may exceed 120 degrees in less than 20 minutes when the outside temperature is only 75 degrees.

Summertime should be a season of fun and relaxation, not one of worrying if your pet has developed heatstroke. However, if your furry pal overheats in the sizzling Texas sun, our Walnut Creek Vet Hospital team is standing by to help. Give us a call if you suspect your pet is experiencing heatstroke.