The last Friday of May is dedicated to National Heat Awareness Day, which spotlights heat-induced medical emergencies in humans and pets. Recognized on May 26 this year, we’re taking this opportunity to educate pet owners about the risks and signs associated with excessive heat, and preventative measures to ensure every pet can avoid potentially fatal heat exhaustion, dehydration, and heatstroke. As we transition from cool months to hot summer days, it’s critical to know the warning signs to avoid an unnecessary trip to the emergency veterinarian.
Excessive Heat Risks
Unless you have an indoor cat that is content laying in the sun as it shines through your windows, most pets love being outside where they can run free and explore. This is especially true in the “dog days” of summer when snow, ice, and a cold breeze aren’t dampening their spirits as they try to enjoy Mother Nature.
Pets’ love of the outdoors often means their owners want to spoil them with plenty of time out in the sun. However, too much outdoor time in the heat can lead to overheating and serious medical complications with dire consequences.
Heat exhaustion in pets can lead to the following:
- Sudden collapse
- Brain damage
These emergencies are easily avoidable by being cautious and limiting your pet’s activities and time in the heat. Dog owners specifically should also be aware that certain breeds are more sensitive to prolonged heat exposure, such as long-haired dogs with thicker coats and brachycephalic dogs that struggle with respiration.
Signs of Heat Exhaustion
Overheating, or heat exhaustion, occurs when a pet’s temperature rises too much, and blood rushes to the tongue, gums, and membranes to help alleviate the excess heat. Overheating happens quickly, with pets unable to cool themselves to the point of a metabolic meltdown. According to the American Kennel Club, heat exhaustion is elevated to heatstroke when a dog’s internal temperature reaches 105 degrees Fahrenheit.
Signs of overheating include:
- Persistent panting
- Labored breathing
- Excessive salivation
- Bright red membranes
- Purple/gray mouth
- Gasping for air
- Thickened saliva
- Vomiting and/or diarrhea
- Increased heart rate
- Inability to stand or falling over
When taking your pet on an outdoor adventure, the rule of thumb is to always have a quick exit strategy in case you see any signs of overheating. Always have a way to get your pet into a cooler environment quickly, such as a nearby car with air conditioning or staying close to home so they can immediately retreat from the sun and heat.
Preventing heat exhaustion and heatstroke is critical to your pet’s health and longevity; therefore, all pet owners should be knowledgeable about preventative measures. These tips are especially relevant for those who own long-haired or brachycephalic dog breeds or senior dogs and cats.
Avoided heat exhaustion and heatstroke in pets in the following ways:
- Make sure fresh water and shade are readily available when outside in the heat for any length of time
- Research cooling products such as cooling mats and vests to bring down your pet’s body temperature quickly
- Never leave your pet in the car, regardless of season or access to fresh air
- Bring your pets outside in short increments only
- Avoid strenuous outside activity during hot months, and opt for calm walks and lounging instead
- Groom your dog more frequently and consider shorter hair in the summer months to avoid extra insulation
- If your home doesn’t have central air conditioning, invest in window air conditioners or set up fans around the home
- Avoid hot asphalt surfaces when taking your dog outside, which radiate heat and cause your pet’s temperature to rise more rapidly
The AVMA offers additional insight into keeping your pets cool during the hot summer months.
Limiting time outside and keeping a close eye on your pets when temperatures rise are key factors in avoiding heat exhaustion and heatstroke. If any warning signs are noticed, take quick action to get your pet cooled down and contact your veterinarian to see if their symptoms warrant a visit.