It is not only dogs in cars which experience heat stroke. It could be a rabbit in a hutch which is left in the sun on a hot day. It could be the cat left in a carrier on the way to the cattery. It might be a hamster forgotten in a play ball. Dogs taken out around the park on a hot day may also succumb, especially if they have thick coats. As you can see there are numerous ways in which a pet can be overcome by heat and suffer heat stroke. It is up to us as responsible owners to ensure that conditions in which we keep our pets are comfortable and safe.
Why does heatstroke occur?
While people regulate their body temperature by sweating, pets go about things rather differently. For example, dogs do not sweat in the same way that people do, although they do produce a very small amount of sweat from the pads of their paws. The main way in which dogs regulate their body temperature is by panting, which draws cooling air into the body to drop the core temperature, and also by drinking water, which hydrates the body. Heatstroke is the name for the condition that comes about at the point when a pet is no longer able to regulate their own body temperature effectively or cool themselves down. This happens when panting or water intake is simply not enough, this can be due to dehydration, the surrounding temperature being too high or excessive exertion leading to over heating on hot and sunny days.
Even if you take all possible precautions and do what you can to help your pet keep cool. It is important to be able to identify the symptoms of heatstroke in the early stages in order to take prompt action. Heatstroke can quickly progress to become a life threatening emergency and the sad fact is that every veterinary practice deals with multiple incidents of heatstroke in pets every summer and not every one survives.
Heatstroke is a veterinary emergency and not a condition that can be left to resolve itself. For example, a dog can quite realistically go from apparently ok to unconscious or comatose within less than half an hour and heatstroke quickly becomes fatal.
Signs of heat stroke
- heavy panting
- profuse salivation
- rapid pulse
- very red gums
- lack of co-ordination
- reluctance/inability to rise after collapsing
- loss of consciousness
- raised temperature
- blood in urine
- nose bleeds
Situations that could lead to heatstroke
- too much exercise or vigorous play in hottest part of day
- not drinking enough water
- being out in direct sunlight and unable to find shade
- being muzzled and unable to open the mouth fully to pant
- being enclosed in a car, shed or other overheated enclosure where the temperature is hot and there is not enough fresh air
First Aid for Heat Stroke
- Seek veterinary attention immediatley
- remove the pet from the heat into a cooler area
- spray or sponge the pet’s body with cool water (NOT FREEZING COLD, AS THIS CAN CAUSE SHOCK), make sure the water contacts the skin and doesn’t just run off the fur
- wet the stomach and inside of legs
- use a fan to reduce temperature
- let them drink small amounts of cool water
- Never leave pets alone in cars, glass conservatories or caravans even if it’s cloudy
- If you do leave your pet outside, you must provide a cool shady spot where they can escape the sun
- always provide good supplies of drinking water, in a weighted bowl that cannot be knocked over
- groom dogs regularly to get rid of excessive hair
- never exercise dogs in excessively hot weather
- pets can get sunburned, especially those with light noses and light fur
Remember, Heatstroke is avoidable: it requires high humidity/high temperatures but only a short time for these to affect the body. If you take sensible measures to avoid these factors then tragedies can be prevented.