The dangers of heatstroke for those that can’t sweat.
Louisa Beal, DVM
If you have ever seen a dog or cat with heat stroke, you won’t forget it. But what if you have never seen it? What do you look for? The signs of heatstroke are listed below, however, in an emergency, lists tend to slip away from our memory. Is it red gums or gray gums? Lots of salivation or dry mouth? Thumping heart or thready pulse?
Whatever time you take to go thumbing through a first aid book or googling ‘heat stroke’ means another minute that you pet’s brain and other vital organs are being cooked.
Just remember this:
If it is hot and you pet isn’t acting right, get to a vet.
Your veterinarian has injectable medications that can help treat heat stroke. They can also monitor and treat any injury to the kidneys or other vital organs. Besides brain damage and kidney damage, heat stroke can trigger a dangerous bleeding disorder called disseminated intravascular coagulation. Follow up care to prevent permanent damage is important.
Of course, in the meantime, you want to do what you can to shut that internal oven off. Even if it isn’t heatstroke, these measures won’t do any harm.
- Cool water or alcohol to the paws. (This is the only place they can sweat.)
- Cool water to hairless areas, like the armpits and belly. (Don’t use ice or alcohol here. They can constrict the capillaries and impede body cooling.)
- Fans can help cool the air your pet is breathing. (Let’s hope this is the air conditioner in the car on your way to the vet.)
- Don’t use ice unless you are monitoring the rectal temperature. It is possible to cool them too much. Cooling efforts should stop when the rectal temperature reaches 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Normal temperature for a dog or cat is about 101 to 102 degrees.
Symptoms of heat stroke include:
- Excessive panting
- Thick saliva
- Increased heart rate
- Stupor or appearing in a daze
Things to remember:
- Cats don’t normally pant. A panting cat is in trouble.
- Brachycephalic breeds (snub nose dogs and cats such as Pugs, Bulldogs and Persians) are more susceptible to overheating.
- It isn’t just hot cars in the summer. Any dog that is active on a warm day may succumb to heat stroke if they become dehydrated. Pets in cage dryers without monitoring or water can get heat stroke.
- Just because your car is nice and cool when you leave, it can heat up rapidly once the air conditioner is off. Opening a window is not sufficient.
Prevention of heat stroke is best of all. Provide shade and plenty of water. Be aware of your pet’s environment, both inside and outside. Everything begins with awareness.