Hotdog vs. Heatstroke

Greetings Page community and surrounding areas from your friendly neighborhood veterinarian!

As temperatures rise during the summer months it’s important to protect your pet from overheating and distinguish between heat stress and heat stroke, also known as hyperthermia or heat exhaustion. To simplify, we’ll stick with parameters for dogs and cats, although most principles can be extrapolated to other species. Overheating is less common in cats, but it can happen. Maybe they’re smarter than dogs and don’t overexert themselves. If you don’t have time to read, go with the rule of thumb that if high ambient temperatures are uncomfortable for you, it’s likely just as uncomfortable for your pet, if not worse.

A temperature of greater than 103 degrees Fahrenheit is considered abnormal in cats and dogs. Hyperthermia or heat stroke is defined in dogs and cats as a severe elevation in body temperature that exceed 104.9 degrees. If there is no evidence of infection or other underlying condition and temperatures are in the 105-106 degrees range or higher, heatstroke should be considered. This means that the body is unable to dissipate heat adequately to maintain normal body temperature. Most understand that our pets are lacking in the sweat gland category and rely mostly on evaporative cooling to dissipate heat (for instance, panting). Cats seem to only pant when things are going very wrong. If you see your cat panting and you are unable to calm them, I recommend contacting your local veterinarian.  Dogs, on the other hand, seem to pant a lot. A dog panting alone is not an urgent matter unless high temperatures are noted as described above. The best way to attain a temperature reading in your pet is via a rectal thermometer. There is some evidence that says that core body temperature may be less than rectal temperature, but most of us don’t have an infrared laser thermometer laying around.

It’s important to know the signs of heat stress and its progression to heat stroke, so that cooling measures can be started as soon as possible. In the beginning you may just notice that your pet has heavy, but controlled panting and seeks out cooler locations. This may then progress to uncontrolled panting, meaning your pet can’t stop panting even when offered an irresistible treat. As things get more severe you may see lethargy or collapse, increased salivation, bright red gums to pale gums, uncoordination, vomiting, seizures or diarrhea. Other less frequent signs that you may see include muscle tremors, bloody urine, bleeding from the nose, dilated pupils, swollen tongue, and loss of consciousness.  

If you see any evidence of heat stress, immediate correction of hyperthermia is key.  First efforts should be finding shade or a cool location and allow plenty of access to water. If these efforts don’t appear to be enough, I highly recommend initiating active cooling.

Spray your pet with cool water, not cold, and place in front of fan or air conditioning.  Your pet can also be immersed in cool water when available, but care should be taken to protect their airway. Cool packs can be placed in armpits and groin area.

DO NOT use ice as this will constrict blood vessels and reduce the body’s ability to dissipate heat. Active cooling measures should cease when the rectal temperature reaches 103 degrees to prevent hypothermia. If you need to initiate active cooling measures, you should transport your pet to the nearest veterinary facility as soon as possible. Treating heat stroke within 90 minutes has the best prognosis.

Unfortunately, if severe signs are evident prognosis is guarded or worse even with aggressive veterinary treatment. Prevention and early recognition of signs is best.

There are some pets that may be predisposed to heat stroke.  Short nose breeds, pets diagnosed with laryngeal paralysis or tracheal collapse, obesity, pets with previous history of heat stroke, or pets requiring a muzzle should be monitored carefully when exposed to higher temperatures.

In the military, nylon muzzles were outlawed for working dogs due to overheating while working. Basket muzzles are the safest in high heat if they must be worn.

Please be prepared with adequate water and shade for yourself and your pet when out playing or hiking in the heat. Avoid leaving your pet in a parked vehicle even if windows are down.
Take care when walking across black asphalt or any other surfaces that absorb heat, if it will burn your feet it may burn your pet’s paws.  If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to call us at the Page Animal Hospital, (928) 645-2816.