Protecting Your Pet from Heatstroke

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Most pet owners will tell you that their furry friends are more than just their animals – they’re an essential member of the family. Owning a pet is one of life’s greatest joys and they really bring a whole new dimension to the family unit.

That’s why it’s so important to understand the different kinds of health issues that our animals can face, especially because they can’t talk (in English at least), to tell us what they’re feeling.

What is Heatstroke?

A state of hyperthermia, in its most simple terms, heatstroke is when your pet’s body completely overheats. To get a little more complex, the condition occurs when there is a heat injury to the body’s tissues, meaning the heat generated exceeds the body’s ability to lose heat.

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As the summer months roll in, heatstroke can hit at any time. There is a big rise in vet visits due to heatstroke, also known as heat stress. And the unfortunate thing is that many pet owners don’t even know the signs to look for or the symptoms, and may only seek treatment in the later hours of heatstroke taking hold.

For humans, when we get hot we sweat. It’s our body’s way of cooling itself down through our skin. Animals though, don’t have sweat glands. The main way that dogs get rid of heat is by panting, which isn’t an effective way to cool down, especially in the humidity.

Know the Warning Signs

As mentioned earlier, there’s no way for your pet to communicate with you in the language you understand, so you need to know the warning signs. After all, their behavior and their movements are likely to be a pretty good indication of whether they are ill.

The most common symptoms of heatstroke include:

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  • Panting that increases
  • Drooling
  • Agitation or restlessness
  • Either very red or pale gums
  • Bright red tongue
  • Increased heart rate
  • Distressed breathing
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Signs of mental confusion or distress, dizziness
  • Lethargy or weakness
  • Seizures
  • Little to no urine production

There are also predisposing factors that can cause heatstroke so try to avoid these situations. They can be split into two main categories – environmental heatstroke, including leaving your pet in an environment that is too warm or hot and humid, with inadequate ventilation, inadequate shade and not enough drinking water, and exertional heatstroke which happens when our animals experience too much exercise.

While spring and summer may seem like the perfect time to take your pet for a walk, you need to be very careful of pushing your animals too far. Remember, dogs and other animals don’t tolerate heat as well as their owners.

Another important point is that different breeds are more susceptible to heatstroke than others. Often the brachycephalic breeds (those with shortened or squished faces), have a higher risk factor. This is because they generally have more difficulty breathing than other dogs and in turn, struggle to cool themselves down. Dog breeds such as bulldogs, pugs, boxers, cavaliers and Shih Tzus tend to be some of the ones to watch.

Preventing Heatstroke

The best form of protection is prevention, and there are definitely some things you can do to reduce the risk of heatstroke. First and foremost, never leave your animal in a car or room that will heat up very quickly. Leaving windows partially open has very little effect on the temperature inside so never rely on that either.

If you really want to exercise, take your dog along in the cooler parts of the day. You’ll be thankful for it too. Even in the cooler part of the day, avoid strenuous exercise and make sure you supervise activities as much as you can. Sometimes, our pets don’t know when to stop.

Make sure your pet has access to plenty of cool drinking water. Leave a couple of bowls out for them and consider leaving some ice cubes in the bowls too that will melt throughout the day, providing even more drinking water.

You can also consider investing in a pet tracker. As well as featuring GPS tracking, many pet trackers also feature a temperature alert if your pet is in adverse temperature conditions, so you can prevent potential heatstroke or pneumonia before it happens.

When Heatstroke Occurs

Of course, as much as we try, sometimes we can’t control everything, and despite our best efforts, our pet may still experience heatstroke. If this happens, it’s important to know what to do.

The most important thing to remember though is don’t try to cool them down quickly. For example, never use ice-cold water or ice packs to bring their temperature down and this can actually make the situation worse.

Bring your pet into a cool area of the house and soak a towel or grab a bowl of water. Drizzle the water over your pet concentrating on the head, stomach, under the neck, inner thighs, and pads of the feet. You can use a spray bottle as well if you have one, fanning the fur as you go to maximize heat loss.

Once you brought your pet’s temperature down, take him straight to the vet. Heatstroke is an emergency and even if your pet starts to look ok, it’s still necessary to get him looked over by a professional.

Knowing the warning signs and how to prevent heatstroke will go a long way to helping your pet cope in the warmer months. As humans, it’s our job to look after our furry friends by making sure they’re never put in a situation where heatstroke can occur. However, sometimes we can’t control everything, so knowing what to do can really make a huge difference.

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