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With summer, temperatures can quickly rise and pose a risk to your pet. So how do you recognize the first signs of a heat stroke? How to protect them? And are there any preventive measures to limit the risks? Here are some answers.
- Place your pet in a shaded and ventilated area
- Give your pet a bath with tempered but NOT cold water, then cover its body with a wet towel. Maintain these gestures until you obtain a temperature of 39°C, then remove the towel to avoid hypothermia
- Urgently take him to your veterinarian
Qualified as an absolute emergency by veterinarians, heat stroke is caused by an increase in your pet’s temperature, otherwise known as hyperthermia. Indeed, our four-legged friends are very sensitive to heat stroke. Their thermal regulation system is not like ours (by sweating) but by breathing.
Your Pet Is Having A Heat Stroke – What Is Happening?
Qualified as an absolute emergency by veterinarians, heat stroke is caused by an increase in your pet’s temperature, otherwise known as hyperthermia. Indeed, your four-legged friends are very sensitive to heat stroke. Their thermal regulation system is not like ours (by sweating) but by breathing.
Just because your pet doesn’t sweat doesn’t mean it doesn’t suffer from the heat! When it is hot, your pet has no choice but to breathe faster and faster in order to bring a larger quantity of fresh air to the lungs to lower its body temperature. This regulating mechanism is even less effective the higher the ambient humidity level.
Your cat or dog can therefore easily become a victim of what is called a “heat stroke”. In this case, toxins are released into the bloodstream of the dog or cat. If not treated by a veterinarian, this phenomenon can have dramatic consequences on your pet’s body, especially when temperatures are scorching!
This is why hot and humid weather is particularly difficult to bear for your pets. It is essential for you as an owner to know the first signs of a heat stroke and the right actions to take, because it can save your pets life.
When Does A Heat Stroke Happen?
For a heat stroke to occur, the circumstances must be such that the body’s temperature regulation mechanisms are saturated. This happens when:
- When the ambient temperature is high, outside of any effort and the thermal regulation capacities are exceeded. This is exactly what happens when a dog is left in a car exposed to the sun or when your cat falls asleep at noon in the sun!
- During an intense and prolonged effort (running, playing, long walk) which generates a significant production of heat that the animal cannot evacuate
- During an epileptic fit
- When your pet’s body is not adapted or is sensitive to high ambient temperatures (>30°C/83F)
Predisposition To Heat Stroke
All animals, without exception, are sensitive to heat, but some have an increased sensitivity to high temperatures. It is therefore necessary to be vigilant with:
- Young animals
- Older animals
- Those with respiratory or cardiac diseases
- Those who are overweight
- Nordic dog breeds or animals with a thick coat (Chow Chow, Bernese Mountain Dog,…)
- Brachycephalic (short-nosed) dogs such as bulldogs, boxers, etc.)
- Animals close to the ground
- Very active pets
- Pets not yet acclimatized to the local temperature (e.g. in the case of a trip)
- Those who have already suffered from heat stroke.
Recognizing Heat Stroke
The first symptom of heat stroke is an increase in breathing rate. This panting is a reflex phenomenon that occurs as soon as the body temperature increases. But the borderline between simple panting and real breathing difficulties is not easy to decipher:
- Increased respiratory rate
- High body temperature (above 40°C/104F)
- Mucous membranes and tongue are purplish or even blue
- Decreased alertness
- Abatement which can be interspersed with phases of agitation
- Motor difficulties, staggering gait
- Vomiting and hemorrhagic diarrhea
- Prostration that can go as far as loss of consciousness
- Convulsions and tremors that may resemble an epileptic seizure
All of these disorders can be the cause death of the pet up to 48 hours after the appearance of the symptoms and this even if its condition seems to have improved. It is therefore important to consult your veterinarian!
The normal temperature of a dog or cat is around 38.5°C (101F). During a heat stroke – or hyperthermia – it can exceed 40°C (104F) in less than an hour!
A rise in temperature can be detected by feeling your pet’s ear or paw. The rise in fever makes these two areas hotter. The best thing to do is to use a thermometer!
The Consequences Of Heat Stroke
If action is not taken quickly, heat stroke can cause serious and irreversible damage! Insolation with nosebleeds, epilepsy, brain attacks, neurological problems, heart problems, kidney failure, skin cancer, death,… are all possible consequences of heat stroke. In the case of sudden muscular effort, there can also be massive destruction of muscle fibers (rhabdomyolysis) and acute renal failure.
It is important to know that the after-effects of heat stroke can also occur a few days/weeks later. So, if you think your pet is suffering from heatstroke, notify your veterinarian as soon as possible. Only your veterinarian will be able to determine if your pet needs to be admitted to the hospital for treatment.
In addition to a heat stroke, your pets can also be prone to sunburn! Don’t expect your pet to manage their “sun capital” – most don’t even seek shade in sunny weather. They can get sunburned on their nose and ears. If your pet has a white coat, short hair and/or is freshly groomed, it will be even more susceptible to sunburn. It’s safest to keep them indoors during the hottest part of the day. Put high-protection sunscreen, such as that used for children, on your dog’s ears to protect them from serious sunburn.
Heat Stroke: What To Do
If your pet suffers from heatstroke, your reactivity and the right gestures can save him. A veterinary visit is mandatory because some symptoms can appear after several days and hospitalization is sometimes recommended. Heat stroke is a vital emergency! The sooner you take the symptoms of heatstroke seriously, the better are your chances of saving your pet. In the case where the owner did not have the right reflexes, more than 40% of animals suffering from heatstroke do not survive. So, if you identify one or more of the symptoms listed above, here’s what you should do:
- At the first sign of illness, put your pet to rest in a cool, shady, well-ventilated area. Hydrate him regularly with a syringe and take his temperature. If it is higher than 39.5°C (103,1 F), take him to the vet immediately!
When traveling by car, ventilate with the windows open rather than with the air conditioning. ACs are ineffective in helping your pet’s temperature to come down. Remember to wrap your pet in a survival blanket (silver side out)
- While waiting to see your veterinarian, cool your pet down and hydrate him. Apply cold packs or a damp cloth to the inguinal area (the lower abdomen, between the animal’s thighs) of your pet and, if possible, to the top of its head. Then when the animal is stabilized (temperature down to 39-39.5° (102,2 F- 103,1 F)), remove the cold packs and wrap him in a survival blanket (silver side out).
What not to do! Your pet must not shiver under any circumstances! Under no circumstances should you wet or shower your pet to cool it down. Indeed, to apply outside the inguinal region, this action would cause the opposite effect sought! The animal would start to shiver, making the brain believe that it is cold. This would cause a compression of the vessels preventing the heat to evacuate from the animal’s body!
To ensure that your pet’s body temperature does not rise, check it regularly and observe its behavior.
Heat Stroke Is A Life-Threatening Emergency!
Whatever the severity of the symptoms and even if your pet seems to have recovered, consult your veterinarian. Only your veterinarian will be able to observe your pet’s condition, evaluate the risk of after-effects and provide the necessary care! When a heat stroke occurs, simply cooling your pet externally is not enough. Your pet must therefore be admitted quickly to an intensive care unit to possibly be placed on a cooled infusion (hydration and cooling of the animal from the inside). The veterinary team may also:
- use fast-acting corticosteroids in very high doses intravenously in the case of cerebral edema
- perform heparin therapy and hematologic monitoring for several days to control potential clotting disorders
- monitor the heart for rhythm disorders
- put the animal on a drip (or even dialysis) to help the kidneys function for a few days
The best way to protect your pet is to avoid the risks of heat stroke by adopting the right preventive measures.
Take Action, Protect From Heat Stroke
Heat stroke can be serious, even fatal for your pet. Avoiding it is a simple question of common sense!
Plenty Of Water!
Make sure your pet has enough fresh water available at all times. When you go for a walk, remember to bring a bottle of fresh water and a bowl and to wet your pet’s legs and head from time to time. For smaller animals, a spray bottle of water at room temperature will do the trick.
Outings Adapted To Outdoor Temperatures!
- In hot weather, make sure your pet stays in the shade in the garden. Ideally, you should keep your pet indoors.
- For walks, prefer to go out early in the morning or late in the evening. In addition, during a heat wave, when the ambient temperature is 33°C (91 F) in the shade, it is not uncommon for the asphalt to reach high temperatures and pets can suffer from severe paw pad burns.
- Never leave your pet alone in an enclosed, poorly ventilated space like a vehicle, even for a few minutes. Also, be careful with animals locked in cars!
- Do not leave your dog tied up without freedom of movement.
- Limit or stop strenuous physical activity or choose activities adapted to the temperature such as swimming or water games.
- Equip your dog with cooling accessories such as a spray bottle, wet towels, collars, cooling mats, etc.
- When traveling by car, turn on the air conditioning and take a break every two hours to give your pet something to drink, put it in the shade and refresh.
Everyday Things That Make A Difference
- Look for the coolest and best-ventilated room to place your pet’s cage. During the day, it is advisable to lower the shutters and keep the windows closed to avoid bringing the heat inside.
- Cover a part of your pet’s cage with a damp towel, leaving the other half free for air circulation.
- Use a fan to cool a room, but don’t point it directly at your pet.
- Trim the hair of long-haired dogs a little.
- Avoid wooden or plastic kennels, which are real ovens in hot weather.
The heat stroke syndrome can have dramatic consequences that should not be underestimated. In case of symptoms, it is important to act quickly and efficiently and especially to bring him to your veterinarian!