Signs of heatstroke in cats and dogs

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Many of us will be enjoying the British summer. However, we should consider all of our family members when the weather gets hot. Here we explain the symptoms of heatstroke in cats and dogs and the preventative measures you can take to ensure the safety of your pet.

A dog panting to keep cool

What is heatstroke?

Heatstroke occurs when body heat generation exceeds the body’s ability to cool down. Heatstroke should be treated as a medical emergency that can lead to organ failure and ultimately to death.

How do dogs control their temperature?

People have sweat glands all over their bodies; whilst dogs only have a limited number around their paws and their noses. Therefore, to cool down a dog will pant. The evaporation of saliva from their tongue helps to keep them cool.

How do cats control their temperature?

A cat avoiding the sun

Similarly to dogs, cats don’t have many sweat glands. However, cats can reproduce the cooling effect of sweating by grooming themselves. The saliva from their tongues acts like sweat and cools cats as it evaporates. In addition, cats also pant when they are extremely hot.

Symptoms of heatstroke in dogs

Excessive panting and a reluctance or inability to move are signs that your dog is overheating. Other signs of overheating include:

  • Reddened gums
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Confusion
  • Loss of consciousness

Symptoms of heatstroke in cats

The symptoms of heatstroke and heat-related illnesses in cats can be more subtle than in dogs, so can be harder to spot. We have already mentioned that a very hot cat may start panting. You should take this as a sure sign that your cat is in distress and needs help.

Other symptoms include:

  • Drooling
  • Agitation and restlessness including pacing
  • Bright red tongue
  • Increased heart rate
  • Very red or pale gums

Primary causes of heatstroke

Any hot environment can cause heatstroke in cats and dogs. It’s sad to say, but the most common cause is the carelessness of the owners. Leaving a dog in a car or failing to provide water or shade are common causes of heatstroke.

Some dog and cat breeds are more prone to heatstroke. Flat-faced breeds, or brachycephalic breeds, of cats and dogs find it harder to control their body temperature due to their short nasal passages. Therefore owners of brachycephalic dogs such as pugs or French bulldogs and the owners of brachycephalic cats such as Persian or Ragdoll cats should take extra care in hot weather.

How to prevent heatstroke in pets

prevent heatstroke in pets

There are some simple steps you can take to prevent either your dog or cat from suffering from heatstroke.

Don’t exercise your dog during the heat of the day

During hot weather, it is best to avoid the midday heat. By going for a walk early or after the sun has set, you will protect your dog from heatstroke. In addition, you will also ensure that your dog’s paws don’t get burnt by hot pavements.

Never leave your pet in a car unattended

Whilst it’s more common to hear the message, dogs die in hot cars, this is true for all pets. When it is 22 degrees centigrade outside, a car in direct sunlight can quickly reach temperatures of 47 degrees. If you think you will be gone for only a moment, that is a moment too long.

You should also take these precautions:

  • Ensure your pet has access to cool drinking water
  • Provide access to shade or a well-ventilated space
  • Make cooling tasty treats by making ice cubes using your cat or dog’s favourite food
  • Take particular care when exercising short-nosed breeds

How to treat heatstroke in pets

If you notice your cat or dog showing any signs and symptoms of heatstroke you should take the following steps:

  • Remove your pet from the hot environment
  • Let your cat or dog drink as much cool water as they want – but don’t force them
  • Cool off your dog with cool water – don’t use ice water as this can cause more harm
  • You can use a fine spray to gently dampen your cat’s fur
  • Fanning your pet will maximise heat loss
  • Wet down the area around your pet

Seek immediate help from your closest veterinary practice. Heatstroke is an emergency.

Please note that this article is for information only and does not constitute medical advice. If you are at all concerned about your pet, please seek advice from your vet.

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