Heatstroke is a serious (preventable) problem for our pets and can end up being be fatal

Imagine it’s a hot, sunny day and you’ve got a warm coat on. It would be difficult to keep yourself cool and comfortable. This is what the hot weather can feel like for our pets. Unfortunately for them, they can’t take their coat off and can’t tell us they are to hot.

Our pet’s small size and furry coats means they can’t cool down as easily as we can. Dogs and cats can’t sweat and have to pant to try and control their temperature. Small pets like rabbits and guinea pigs can overheat easily. All pets can suffer from heatstroke but, some are more prone to it than others. Increased risk factors include:

But what is heatstroke?

Heatstroke is a serious illness which happens when your pet overheats and their body temperature rises. This could be due to excess exercise, hot weather, stuck in a hot car or even because of their breed.  Heatstroke is an emergency situation and needs treatment right away. Without first aid, pets will first become uncomfortable and distressed, then their organs could start to shut down. It can even be fatal to leave them.

  • Flat-faced breeds like Pugs, Bulldogs, Shih Tzus, Persian cats, and Netherland dwarf of Lionhead rabbits
  • Pets with very thick dense fur
  • Old or very young pets
  • Overweight pets
  • Pets with breathing or lung problems

The signs of heatstroke are different for different species so it’s important to be aware of the symptoms to look out for in your pet.

Signs of heatstroke for dogs and cats

First signs

  • Heavily panting
  • Appearing to be upset or distressed
  • Drooling more than usual
  • Foaming at the mouth

Advanced signs

  • Bright red gums
  • Collapsing or not being able to stand up
  • Blood coming from the mouth or nose
  • Tremors or seizures.

Signs of heatstroke in rabbits and small furies

  • Drooling
  • Taking short, quick breaths
  • Acting very sleepy or lethargic
  • Falling unconscious or having fits.

Heatstroke is an emergency and will require veterinary treatment right away.

First Aid

We might advise you to give your pet some basic first aid before attending the practice. This may include cooling your pet before transporting them to us. This can be done by:

  • Pouring small amounts of cool water on them, especially over their ears and feet – (DON’T use ice cold water as this can cause shock.) For small pets, it’s better to use a cool, wet towel to dampen their fur as pouring water on them can do more harm than good.
  • Put them in front of a fan or move them to a cool room.
  • You can drape a cold towel over your pet (although make sure not to leave this on for more than a couple of minutes, as the towel will start to trap the heat in and actually make them hotter)
  • Let them drink small amounts of cool water.
  • Once their breathing has begun to settle, take your pet to your vet, even if they seem to have made a full recovery.

 How to best prevent heatstroke

The best way to protect your pet from heatstroke is to keep them cool and hydrated in the warm weather. Here are some tips that might help:

  • Keep your pets out of the sun during the hottest part of the day (11am-3pm, think Spanish siesta time.)
  • Always allow access to fresh water. They might need to drink more than normal on a hot day.
  • Make sure outdoor pets have plenty of shade to cool down in.
  • Walk dogs in the mornings and evenings – it’s usually cooler at those times.
  • Move small pets into a cooler part of the house or garden and keep their enclosure out of the heat of the sun.
  • Give long haired pets’ fur a trim throughout summer to help them cope with the heat.
  • Keep your pets at a healthy weight. Being overweight causes a lot of health problems for pets. It will also decrease their lung space and so they pant more and act as an insulator making them heat up faster.

Have a look on our other blog page how to keep dogs cool this summer for more ways to keep them safe.

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