“If you are hot and sweaty on a walk then imagine how your dog feels wearing a fur coat and without the cooling effects of sweat.” That’s from Dr. Sara Elliott, director of veterinary services at British Veterinary Hospital in Dubai, but we couldn’t have said it any better ourselves. Heat stress leads to heat stroke, which can quickly kill your beloved pet. Or leave her with permanent brain or organ dysfunction.
And if you’re thinking your dog – or cat – is in the clear because wherever you live is not as hot as Dubai, you’re wrong. Dogs can start to overheat when the temperature outside is just 83o. Humidity just makes things worse. And felines are just as susceptible to the debilitating effects of overheating.
As a loving pet parent, it is essential that you learn to recognize the signs of heat exhaustion, so you can avert disaster. Better yet, knowing the causes will help you keep your precious furry companion from getting too hot in the first place.
Defining the problem
Generally speaking, any time your dog’s body temperature exceeds 103o (105o in cats), that condition is called hyperthermia. A high temperature could be caused by an infection, but often it indicates heat exhaustion. Your pet’s body is working so hard to cool itself, the effort is literally exhausting her.
Pets have limited ways to cool themselves. We all know that dogs and cats do not sweat as we humans do. Instead they pant (yep, cats pant, too) to release body heat. They also sweat through their paw pads.
In dogs, the list of possible symptoms is quite long, ranging from excessive panting and drooling to reddened gums and rapid or irregular heartbeat. In cats, early symptoms include restless behavior (she’s trying to find a cooler place to rest) as well as panting and sweating feet. Felines also use grooming as a means of cooling, so you may notice excessive licking. Without intervention, these symptoms can escalate to vomiting, shock, seizures, and death.
Certain pets are at greater risk
It might surprise you to learn that young dogs are more likely to suffer heat exhaustion than older dogs. Cats and dogs with long fur or who have snub-nosed faces are at greatest risk. More fur is obviously hotter to begin with. And brachycephalic animals are naturally prone to breathing difficulties, regardless of the temperature.
Your car is a killer
There are no statistics to reveal how many pets die in over-hot cars each summer, but if it’s your pet, one is too many. The temperature inside an enclosed car can rise 19o in just 10 minutes. Even if the outside temperature is in the 70s and you roll down the windows, your dear dog can be overcome faster than you can run that “little errand.” Experts beg dog owners to simply leave your pooch at home, where it’s cooler and they have access to plenty of water.
Vehicles are not the only heat-related danger for pets
Simply being stuck outdoors without adequate shade or water can be enough to cause trouble. If it’s hot enough outside, shade won’t be cooling. Keep your pets indoors on these days, say veterinarians. Walk your dog in the morning or evening, when temperatures and humidity are lower. You may want to cut back on exercise altogether if you have a flat-faced pet, since they are at higher risk.
Dealing with heat while on the move
More and more families are taking their beloved pets along for summer travel. If you’re planning an outing with your pup or kitty, taking a few extra precautions will help her travel safely despite the heat. If your travel plans revolve around an overseas move during the summer, there are even more factors to keep in mind as you prepare your pet for her international journey.
What if your pet does overheat?
As soon as you notice suspicious symptoms, get your dog or cat to a cooler area. Place her in a cool (not cold) bath, leaving her nose and mouth free, of course. You can also use a bag of frozen peas or ice as a cold compress on her groin, between her legs. Let her drink as much water as she wants. And get her to the vet right away. Early medical intervention can reverse damage from heat exhaustion and save your precious pet’s life.