Written by Shireen Abbasey Haynes.
As temperatures rise in the summer months, cats and dogs become more susceptible to heat exhaustion or hyperthermia. Hyperthermia, just like its polar opposite, hypothermia (low body temperature) can be fatal to our furry friends.
Humans have sweat glands all over our bodies making it easier for us to cool ourselves down. Cats and dogs only have sweat glands on the pads of their feet. These sweat glands, combined with panting, are the only way an animal has to expel excessive body heat which makes it more challenging for them to cool down.
As a pet owner, it is up to you to be aware of the signs of heat exhaustion as they can come on very quickly:
- Excessive panting
- Reddened gums
- Rapid heart rate or irregular heart beats
- Wobbly, uncoordinated movements
If your animal experiences any of these symptoms, it is important that you take steps to cool the body down immediately. You can spray your dog or cat down with a hose or immerse them in a kiddie pool or tub with cool water. Make sure the water temperature is not ice cold as the rapid change in temperature could send them into shock. Very cold water temperatures can cause blood vessels near the surface of their skin to constrict which limits the ability of body heat to dissipate. You can also place a bag of frozen vegetables over the groin area which will help cool them as well.
Allow your pet to drink cool water – again, not ice cold – at their will. Never force them to drink as it might cause them to vomit. Once their body has reached normal temperature – 103 degrees for a dog, 101.5 degrees (taken with a rectal thermometer) – you can stop the cooling procedures.
It is best to follow up with your veterinarian after a heat exhaustion episode, especially if your pet is very young, very old or in some cases, with brachycephalic or short-nosed dogs.
To prevent heat exhaustion, make sure your pet has plenty of shade and fresh water. Never, ever leave an animal in a parked car as temperatures can rise quickly. And it is best to save exercising for either early in the morning or later in the evening when temperatures are cooler.