Intense heat affects the health of our animals

What could be better for morale than a beautiful sunny summer? But things can quiclky turn tragic for pet owners when the temperature soars and the humidex reaches uncomfortable levels. Unfortunately, every summer many animals are hospitalized due to heat stroke, and some die. This happens mainly on oppressively hot and humid days, but it can happen even on days that feel pleasantly warm to us. As soon as the weather warms up, pet owners should be vigilant.

Heat affects cats and dogs more severely than humans, simply because their bodies' cooling mechanism is not as effective as ours. The main difference comes from their lower sweating ability. Humans maintain optimal body temperature in hot weather largely by sweating, followed by evaporative cooling. In cats and dogs, on the other hand, sweating is limited to their paw pads. Understansably, a cooling breeze that we find refreshing doesn't do much to help our pets regulate their core temperature. In fact, they depend almost exclusively on panting to get rid of excess heat. Unfortunately, this is not a highly efficient mechanism.

What is heat stroke?

In dogs and cats, heat stroke occurs when their body temperature rises and stays above 40°C. At this temperature, organs overheat, wihich can cause irreversible damage. Death can occur very quickly, in less than an hour, if the animal does not receive adequate care. Many complications can also be expected, sush as coagulation disorders. Heat stroke is therefore considered a veterinary emergency.

The classic scenario occurs when an animal is left in a car, if only for a few minutes. Never leave your pet in a car, even with the windows open! Since cats and dogs sweat very little, whatever air is coming in through the window is of little use to them. When the ambient temperature is 25°C, the temperature inside the car can reach 49°C in less than half an hour. This would already be unbearable, but when it's 32°C outside, as can easily happen in the summer, the can will heat up to 71°C in just ten minutes.

Heat stroke can also occur after sustained or prolonged exercise in intense heat, or when an animal is confined in a small and poorly ventilated space such as a tent or a trailer, or when it is left on a paved surface in full sun. Even prolonged exposure to the sun can sometimes be fatal if the animal does not have access to shade or cold water.

Some animals are more susceptible to heat stroke

Some cats and dogs are more likely candidates for heat stroke and should be monitored more carefully on hot, humid days. Among them are flat-faced breeds, such as Persians or Boston Terriers, whose respiratory anatomy is abnormally compressed, as wll as animals with chronic cardiac, respiratory or other deseases, obese animals, and animals with thick, long or dense coats. Finally, animals at either end of the age spectrum - either very young or older - have more difficulty coping with the heat, as is the case in humans.

How to prevent heat stroke

To ensure our pets' wellbeing, we must absolutely refrain from certain actions and activities in hot weather. Strenuous exercise (fast walking, running, energetic play, etc.) must be avoided, and walks should be taken in the early morning or in the evening. Animals must also never be left in a parked vehicle unless they are directly supervised and the air conditioning is on.

Pets should be encouraged to stay still and rest in a cool place or in the shade. They must have access to cool water at all times; for dogs,a padding pool or other source of water in which to take a dip can be a nice addition to their comfort. If you have air conditioning, now's the time to switch it on and allow your pets to share its benefits.

How do I know if my pet is suffering from heat stroke?

Here are some of the most common symptoms that could indicate that your pet is experiencing heat stroke:

  • Rapid panting or gasping
  • Profuse drooling or foaming
  • Deep pink, brick red or bluish gums
  • Confusion, sluggishness or exhaustion; failure to respond; unconsciousness
  • Extreme weakness; unwillingness to walk 
  • Vomiting or diarrhea

What should I do if my pet gets heat stroke?

The first thing to do is to contact your veterinary clinic. You will be told what to do until you can take your pet in, which you should do as soon as possible. You will be given tips to help your pet cool off, such as taking him into air conditioned premises, wrapping him in wet towels op putting him in front of a fan. Beware of using excessively cold water or ice, as this may worsen the situation. In fact, you should monitor your pet's body temperature so as not to bring it down too low. Once you deliver your pet to the clinic, your veterinary team will take over and continue the appropriate treatments. Heat stroke is a serious condition: even if your pe seems better, he can suffer various after-effects and must therefore be given the right care by veterinary professionals.

You have more questions?

Do not hesitate to contact the nearest Passionimo veterinary clinic.