Avoiding pet heatstroke this summer

Hurrah, summer is finally here at long last! But how hot is too hot for our cats and dogs?

All this lovely heat and sunshine is a welcome change to the British weather for us humans! But it can become a dangerous time for our pets. Unlike us, our cats and dogs cannot respond to heat in the same way. We have sweat glands all over our bodies that help us regulate our temperature, but they must rely on panting and resting in a cool place to thermoregulate themselves. Heatstroke is a serious, life threatening condition; here at Charter Vets we see several cases of heat stroke every year, and some sadly don’t survive.

Because they’re not able to cool themselves down as easily as us, we have to be extra careful to provide them with a cool, well-ventilated and shaded environment with access to clean fresh drinking water. Pets are very susceptible to heat stroke – and it can happen a lot faster than you may think. There are however a host of sensible precautions you can take to minimise the risks to your pet when the temperature soars – read on to find out more.

Learn to spot the signs of heatstroke

Many of us are aware of the possibility of heatstroke in dogs but cats can suffer too. The symptoms they display might be more subtle but in either species, it’s important to be aware of the signs as early as possible – heatstroke can advance rapidly and requires urgent treatment.

Look out for:

Symptoms in dogs include:
  • Dazed and confused appearance

  • Very dry nose

  • Excessive saliva & drooling

  • Fainting

  • Slowing down and dragging on the lead

  • Unsteady feet

  • Tongue lolling out of mouth

  • Lifting feet to avoid hot surfaces

Symptoms in both cats and dogs include:
  • Vomiting

  • Dizziness

  • Little to no urination

  • Fast panting

  • Dark pink to red tongue

  • Dark red or pale gums

  • Diarrhoea

  • Weakness and lethargy, trying to lie down

Symptoms in cats include:
  • Anxiety (often presented by the cat pacing a lot)

  • Bleeding from the nose

  • Seizures

  • Muscle tremors

Are some pets at a higher risk of heatstroke than others?

All animals are susceptible to heatstroke. However some particular breeds and conditions pose a higher threat than others, including:

  • Short-faced (brachycephalic) breeds such as Pugs, Boxers, Bulldogs, Persian and Himalayan cats for example, are all at a high risk, partly because they tend to have smaller than average sized airways, making panting much more effort and less efficient than their counterparts.
  • Watch out for obese cats and dogs as well as younger kittens / puppies and older pets of all shape and size as they may not be able to regulate their body temperature well in the heat.
  • Pets with medical conditions such as laryngeal paralysis, respiratory disease, heart problems, cardiovascular disease and neurological disease.
  • Breeds with particularly thick coats may be more affected, and those with dark-coloured fur may become more easily overheated as they absorb more of the sun’s rays than a lighter coloured animal.  White or pale dogs, plus those with shaved areas or no fur may also need pet sunscreen if exposed for lengthy periods, to protect them from sunburn.

Top tips to keep your pet cool:

Travelling: never leave your pet in a vehicle on a warm day, let alone a hot day. If the temperature outside is 22°C, the sun can heat a car to more than 47°C in just 60 minutes, even with the windows down! Your pet’s life is never worth the convenience of leaving them in the car for even a few minutes. Cars heat up very fast, even on mild days. Dogs can die in this situation and can suffer terribly.

Exercise: Do not walk dogs on hot beaches or pavements. If the surface is too hot for your bare feet, then it’s too hot for your dog. Assess the weather and logistical conditions before you bring a dog out in the heat. Even with shade, plenty of water, and the option to cool off in the sea or stream a hot day can still be too much for many pets. Use common sense and think ahead. Remember you are in control of your dog; some dogs will not stop running or playing if they are too hot, even to the point of heat exhaustion.

Water: remember to offer your pet plenty of water before, during and after any heat exposure or exercise. Salty sea water is a definite no-no and can cause vomiting, diarrhoea and thus further dehydration. In severe cases of heat stroke and drinking sea water heart arrhythmias can even occur. A dog will drink more water if you make it tasty;  stir in a little chicken stock if necessary to encourage them to drink.

What to do if you suspect your pet may be overheating:
  • Remove your pet from the hot environment immediately
  • Sponge or pour cool water on their abdomen, neck, armpits, groin and feet as well as offering water to drink
  • Cold wet towels may be draped over them but do not leave these on for more than a few minutes at a time as they can start to act like a warm duvet
  • Take them to a vet as a matter of urgency, where their health can be fully assessed and appropriate action can be taken