Florida’s hot, humid days can put pets at risk for heatstroke, which is an imbalance in heat production and heat dissipation that can have life-threatening consequences for pets. Our Groves Veterinary Clinic team wants to help raise awareness about this important subject by providing information about heatstroke in pets.

Pets are at increased risk for heatstroke

Pets are inefficient at regulating their body temperature. Humans enjoy the benefit of numerous sweat glands all over their body that help dispel heat when moisture evaporates from the skin. Pets mostly rely on moisture evaporation from their mouth during panting to dissipate heat, which isn’t always effective, especially on hot, humid days. All pets are susceptible to heatstroke, but some are at higher risk, including:

  • Senior pets — As pets age, they can’t regulate their body temperature as well, putting them at higher heatstroke risk.
  • Brachycephalic breeds — The facial structure of brachycephalic (i.e., flat-faced) pets, such as Boston terriers, pugs, bulldogs, and Persian cats, decreases the surface area inside their mouth, causing inefficient panting and inhibiting their ability to dissipate heat.
  • Overweight pets — Overweight pets have extra insulation that prevents them from cooling themselves effectively in hot environments.
  • Ailing pets — Pets who have an underlying health condition, such as heart disease, a metabolic abnormality, or a respiratory disease, are at increased heatstroke risk.

Heatstroke is dangerous for pets

When heat production and heat dissipation are not balanced, the pet’s core body temperature rises above normal (i.e., 101 to 102.5 degrees). When their temperature rises above 104 degrees, inflammation spreads throughout the pet’s body, damaging several body systems, including:

  • Gastrointestinal tract — The inflammation can damage the gastrointestinal tract lining, causing signs such as diarrhea and vomiting. The breakdown in this important barrier also allows bacteria to enter the pet’s bloodstream, leading to sepsis.
  • Cardiovascular — The cardiovascular system initially tries to dissipate the heat by increasing cardiac output, causing the peripheral blood vessels to dilate and the mucous membranes to become bright red. When these compensatory measures fail, blood pools in the central vessels. Eventually, the heart can no longer effectively pump blood throughout the body, leading to inadequate organ perfusion, and ultimately shock.
  • Respiratory — Initially, the pet pants and drools excessively in an effort to dissipate heat, but when this isn’t effective, inflammation and poor perfusion damage the lung tissue, resulting in difficulty breathing. 
  • Kidneys — Inflammation and poor perfusion damage the kidneys and result in kidney failure.
  • Brain — Inflammation and poor perfusion can damage the brain cells, causing brain swelling, hemorrhage, and cell death. Signs include incoordination, seizures, and collapse.
  • Coagulation — In severe cases, the inflammation triggers the coagulation cascade, and disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC), which causes uncontrolled bleeding throughout the pet’s body, occurs.

Heatstroke first aid can save your pet’s life

When a pet’s temperature rises to dangerous levels, their prognosis depends on how high their temperature rises and how long their temperature remains elevated. When you see signs of your pet overheating, you must take steps to bring their temperature down to help improve their chances of survival. These steps include:

  • Finding a cool place — Immediately move your pet to a cool, well-ventilated area. If possible, take them into an air-conditioned area and point fans at them to circulate air.
  • Taking your pet’s temperature — Take your pet’s temperature so you know how high their temperature gets, which will be useful information for your veterinarian.
  • Providing water — If your pet is conscious, offer cool water to drink, but don’t attempt to force the water in their mouth.
  • Cooling your pet — Pour lukewarm water over your pet or submerge them in a water bath, ensuring their head remains above water. Don’t use cold water, since bringing their temperature down too quickly can result in shock.

Heatstroke first aid is critical to saving your pet, but you should perform these steps en route to the veterinary office. Some pets seem fine once their temperature normalizes, but all pets who overheat should be evaluated by a veterinary professional to ensure they don’t have internal damage. 

Pet heatstroke is preventable

You can take steps to safeguard your pet from Florida’s heat and humidity. Tips include:

  • Provide water — Ensure your pet always has access to fresh water. Clean their water bowls frequently to make the water appetizing, and provide several water sources throughout your home. In addition, take water and a water bowl on outings and offer your pet a drink at regular intervals.
  • Limit activity — On hot, humid days, limit your pet’s exercise, and take your walks during the cooler times of day. 
  • Take breaks — On outings, take frequent breaks in the shade to allow your pet to cool down.
  • Leave your pet at home — Temperatures inside parked vehicles can become dangerously high in a short time. Leave your pet at home if they can’t accompany you inside establishments you visit. 
  • Cool your home — When you leave your pet at home, close your curtains and blinds and leave on your air conditioner to keep the temperature cool and your pet comfortable.

Heatstroke can have life-threatening consequences for pets, but following these tips will help your pet remain cool and safe. If your pet is drooling excessively or exhibiting incoordination on a hot, humid day, contact our Groves Veterinary Clinic team immediately, so we can provide the care they need.