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We understand that when the weather is nice, you might want to get out and about with your pets, and make the most of the sunshine. But, when doing this, it’s important to remember that pets handle the heat differently to humans. As such, it is vital that you know and can identify the signs of heatstroke in pets, and what to do if it happens. 

In this article, we go over everything you need to know about heatstroke in cats and dogs, including the signs of heatstroke, first aid for heatstroke, and how to prevent heatstroke. 

So, what are the signs of heatstroke in pets? The signs of heatstroke in pets range from early symptoms such as excessive panting, restlessness, and vomiting, to more advanced symptoms such as breathing difficulty, confusion, weakness, and collapse. 

Read on to learn more about heatstroke in cats and dogs.

Dog running on grass

What is Heatstroke in Animals?

Heatstroke is a serious problem for pets, which happens when they overheat and their body temperature rises to dangerously high levels. This is an emergency situation, and requires immediate treatment. 

Imagine wearing your coat on the hottest day of the year, without having the option to take it off to cool down. That’s what’s happening to your pet. Their small size and coats mean that they can’t cool down as quickly or as easily as humans, and prolonged overheating will lead to heatstroke. 

Does Heatstroke in Animals Differ from Human Heatstroke?

Heatstroke in humans is similar to that of pets, and can be just as dangerous, however the difference is that humans have the option to take steps to cool down and alleviate the issue. Pets, on the other hand, rely on their owners to help in these situations.

What’s more, pets are more sensitive to the heat than humans, therefore heatstroke may develop quicker, and in some breeds, such as short-nosed breeds, their anatomy can further affect their ability to cool down.. 

In both cases, heatstroke can be caused by hot temperatures, or strenuous exercise. As such, it’s important to watch for the signs of heatstroke if your pet is in either situation. 

Heatstroke in Humans

Before humans get heatstroke, they would usually suffer heat exhaustion, to which if they can cool down within 30 minutes, this isn’t a serious problem. 

However, if heat exhaustion progresses to heatstroke, they would require emergency medical attention as heatstroke can cause serious health complications and, in extreme cases, death. 

Signs of heatstroke in humans include a high body temperature (400C or higher), an altered mental state or behaviour, hot but dry skin, nausea and vomiting, flushed skin, rapid breathing, and headache. 

How Do You Know If Your Pet Has Heatstroke?

It’s important to know the signs of heatstroke in pets so that you watch out for them on hot days, or during exercise. 

  • Early Signs of Heatstroke in Pets

    The early signs of heatstroke are similar for both cats and dogs, although they can be more subtle in cats. Signs include:

    • Panting (which can progress to sounding like distressed, noisy breathing)
    • Restlessness or agitation, pacing, seeking shade or water
    • Drooling
    • Red gums or tongue
    • Increased heart rate
    • Vomiting or diarrhoea
  • Advanced Signs of Heatstroke in Pets

    Whilst it is always best to catch the signs of heatstroke as early as possible, it’s also important to be aware of the advanced symptoms of heatstroke, which can develop as the condition worsens.

    • Lethargy
    • Confusion
    • Weakness or collapse
    • Seizures
    • Dyspnoea (difficulty breathing)

How Do Pets Naturally Cool Down, and How Does This Differ From Humans?

Unlike humans, dogs don’t use sweating as a natural mechanism of cooling down. Instead, they use a panting mechanism to rid their body of excess heat (which is why panting is listed as an early sign of heatstroke). 

Cats, on the other hand, have a few tools at their disposal to help them regulate their body temperature. During the warmer months, you may notice that they sleep more – this helps them to conserve energy and avoid overheating. They may also start grooming more; the washing process helps them to cool down, and mimics the sweating mechanism in humans. Similar to dogs, they may also breathe through their mouth or start panting to take in more cool air. 

How Can You Help Dogs that are Overheating?

As well as being able to recognise the signs of heatstroke, it is vitally important to know what to do if you notice the symptoms. 

    1. Keep them calm and still – further activity may worsen the condition
    2. Take them indoors, or to a shaded area
    3. Give them cold, but not icy water
    4. Contact your vet as soon as possible
    5. Use cool, but not icy, water to slowly wet the top of their head, feet, ears, and fur
    6. Once they begin to cool down, you can begin to pour cold, but not icy, water over their body
    7. If possible, continue trying to cool your dog down on the way to the vets

How Can You Help Cats that are Overheating?

There are a number of steps you can take to help cool down your cat, but it is vitally important to seek medical attention from your vet as soon as possible. Do not assume that these steps will rectify the problem.

  1. Move your cat to a cool, shaded, and well ventilated area
  2. If your cat is alert, offer cold water to drink
  3. Use cool/tepid water to soak a towel and place your cat on top of it. Do not wrap your cat in the towel as this will trap heat
  4. Gently apply cool/tepid water to your cat’s coat
  5. Turn on a fan if possible
  6. Check your cat’s temperature regularly and stop efforts to cool them down once they reach around 39-400C. Further cooling after this may increase the risk of hypothermia

Knutsford Vets emergency treatment service

Which Animals and Breeds are at the Most Risk of Heatstroke?

Unfortunately, some animals are more at risk of heatstroke than others, including:

  • Those that are overweight
  • Flat faced breeds, such as Pugs and French Bulldogs, or Persian cats
  • Pets with thick coats
  • Old or very young animals
  • Animals with pre-existing conditions, particularly airway, lung or heart problems
  • Dog Breeds At Risk of Heatstroke

    The following breeds of dogs are at a higher risk of developing heatstroke than other breeds. Although, that does not mean that owners of other breeds should not take precautions.

    • Chow Chow
    • Bulldogs & French Bulldogs
    • French Mastiff
    • Greyhound
    • Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
    • Pug
    • English Springer Spaniel
    • Golden Retriever
  • Cat Breeds At Risk of Heatstroke

    Breeds of cat with a flat face are at a higher risk of developing heatstroke as they often suffer from serious obstructive breathing problems, which can significantly impair their ability to cool down naturally. Breeds include:

    • Burmese
    • Himalayan
    • Persian
    • Exotic shorthair
    • Other breeds with a flat face/short snout

How to Prevent Heatstroke in Pets

Whilst we have already stressed the importance of knowing and recognising the signs of heatstroke, and what to do should the worst happen, it’s also important to know how to prevent this from happening at all. 

Tips for preventing heatstroke in pets:

  • Keep your pets inside and/or out of the sun during the hottest part of the day.
  • Do not leave pets in the car
  • Make sure that outdoor pets have access to shaded areas
  • Ensure that you pet has access to plenty of water – they may need to drink more on hot days
  • Plan your walks for cooler times of day, such as mornings and evenings
  • Long-haired pets may benefit from a fur trim throughout the summer to help cope with the heat
  • Keep an eye on your pet’s weight – being overweight can make it harder for pets to stay cool

What Can Happen If Pets Overheat?

If you recognise the signs of heatstroke and your pet receives treatment quickly, it is likely that they will make a full recovery. However, if you fail to notice the symptoms, or delay medical attention, your pet can become very unwell with severe complications such as organ damage. In extreme cases, the condition can be fatal. 

Treatment for Heatstroke in Pets

After conducting the recommended first aid treatments mentioned above, and you have sought medical attention, your vet will monitor your pet’s temperature, and conduct a number of assessments to determine how badly affected your pet is. 

From here, your vet will recommend suitable treatments such as:

  • Intravenous fluids
  • Mild sedation
  • Oxygen therapy 
  • Continued monitoring

If you caught the signs early, and your pet’s temperature did not become too high, most healthy pets will fully recover if they are treated immediately. However, severe heatstroke and/or delayed medical attention may result in permanent organ damage and other severe complications. They may also be at greater risk of subsequent heatstroke as a result of damage to their thermoregulatory centre.

Heatstroke Treatment at Knutsford Vets

Knutsford Vets offer an emergency treatment service, and an out of hours clinic with VetsNow in Macclesfield and Manchester, so that you have access to emergency treatment, even when our clinic is closed. 

If you spot the signs of heatstroke in your pet, contact us immediately. The quicker we can treat your pet, the better their chances of a full recovery.

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