Soaring temperatures and high humidity can be uncomfortable and potentially dangerous for pets. Our team at Pioneer Animal Hospital wants to help by answering some frequently asked questions about pet heat safety.
Question: Why is heat so dangerous for pets?
Answer: Pets have only a few sweat glands, mostly located in their footpads, and they must rely on less efficient means to cool themselves. These include:
- Evaporation — Pets cool themselves mostly by panting, which dispels heat as water evaporates from the pet’s tongue and lung tissue.
- Conduction — Conduction occurs when heat is transferred from one object to another—the reason that pets lie on cool surfaces to transfer heat from their body to the surface.
- Convection — Body heat is dispersed when air, such as wind or from a fan, moves over the pet’s body.
- Radiation — Blood vessels in the pet’s face and ears dilate, enabling blood to flow more closely to the skin surface, dissipating heat into the environment.
Q: What happens when a pet has heatstroke?
A: Heatstroke occurs when a pet’s body temperature rises above the normal levels of 101 to 102.5 degrees. Condition severity depends on how high the temperature rises and how long the temperature remains elevated. The excessive body heat causes an inflammatory response throughout the pet’s body that can damage multiple organ systems, including:
- Central nervous system — Damaged brain cells cause swelling, hemorrhage, and cell death.
- Cardiovascular — As the pet’s condition worsens, their heart can no longer effectively pump blood throughout their body, resulting in shock.
- Pulmonary — The high temperatures directly damage lung tissue, causing respiratory distress.
- Kidneys — Direct tissue damage from the heat and dehydration leads to kidney failure.
- Gastrointestinal tract — The gastrointestinal tract lining is weakened, allowing bacteria to enter the pet’s bloodstream.
- Coagulation — Disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC) can occur, resulting in uncontrollable bleeding throughout the pet’s body.
Q: What are heatstroke signs in pets?
A: Heatstroke signs in pets include:
- Excessive panting
- Excessive drooling
Q: Are some pets more susceptible to heatstroke?
A: All pets are susceptible to heatstroke, but some are at higher risk, including:
- Young pets — Puppies and kittens cannot regulate their body temperature as well as adult pets, and they also tend to be high energy.
- Senior pets — Senior pets also cannot regulate their body temperature well, so are more sensitive to extreme temperatures.
- Obese pets — Overweight pets have an extra fat layer that provides insulation, making them less able to cool themselves.
- Brachycephalic pets — A brachycephalic pet’s flat facial features inhibit their ability to pant effectively, and to dissipate heat.
- Dark-coated pets — The dark pigment in a dark-coated pet absorbs more sunlight than lighter colored pets.
- Pets who have a health condition — Pets who suffer from health conditions, such as heart disease, kidney issues, thyroid problems, and diabetes, are more heat sensitive.
Q: What do I do if my pet experiences heatstroke?
A: You must take immediate action to start cooling a pet experiencing heatstroke. Steps include:
- Move your pet out of the sun — Take your pet to a cool, well-ventilated, shaded area.
- Actively cool your pet — Use wet towels or bottled water to actively cool your pet—never use ice or ice water, which can cause shock.
- Offer your pet water — Offer your pet water if they are conscious, but don’t attempt to pour the water in their mouth.
- Get your pet to a veterinarian — Once you have started the cooling process, take your pet to a veterinarian as soon as possible. They may appear to improve once their temperature starts to decrease, but they still need a veterinary evaluation, because they may have internal damage.
Q: How can I protect my pet from heatstroke?
A: You can protect your pet from heatstroke by following these tips:
- Never leave your pet alone in a car — Temperatures inside parked vehicles reach dangerously high temperatures surprisingly quickly, and slightly cracked windows or parking in a shady area will not keep the temperatures at a safe level.
- Keep your pet hydrated — Ensure your pet always has access to fresh water. In your home, provide several water sources, and clean and refresh the water bowls daily. On an outing with your pet, take water and a portable bowl and offer them frequent drinks.
- Avoid strenuous exercise — Restrict your pet’s exercise outside on hot, humid days.
- Take frequent breaks — When outdoors, take frequent breaks in shady, well-ventilated areas to let your pet cool down.
- Walk at cooler times — Walk your pet during the early morning and evening hours to avoid peak temperatures.
- Keep your air conditioner running — Don’t turn off your air conditioner when you leave your house. Close your curtains to keep out the sun, and leave your air conditioner running to ensure your pet stays cool.
Q: What other dangers does the heat pose for my pet?
A: Asphalt temperatures can be up to 40 degrees hotter than the ambient temperature, and your pet’s paws can be burned if they walk on such hot surfaces. Walk your pet in shady, grassy, sandy, or dirt-covered areas, to protect their sensitive paws. If you must walk on paved areas, protect their feet with booties.
You and your pet may be uncomfortable this summer, but following these guidelines can help ensure your pet stays safe in the heat and humidity. If your pet does overheat, contact our American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA)-accredited team at Pioneer Animal Hospital promptly, so we can ensure they get the care they need.