Heat stroke is an all too common cause of death in pets. We must be
particularly mindful of this during the hot summer months we experience
here in Ojai.
Anytime the body temperature rises
above normal, body functions are affected. If the body temperature
rises high enough, damage occurs and often this damage is permanent.
This danger of permanent damage exists even if the body temperature is
later returned to normal.
Temperatures that reach
107-109 degrees F are commonly associated with seizures and brain
damage. Unfortunately, approximately 50% of pets seriously affected by
heat stroke can be expected to die.
Immediate and intensive emergency care is necessary to give the pet a chance to survive.
body normally loses excess heat to the environment. If the outside
temperatures are very cold, the body can lose too much warmth, and the
body temperature can fall low enough to cause death. Likewise, if the
outside temperature is too high, body temperature will rise too much
and also cause death.
For dogs and cats, the primary
way excess heat is lost from the body is by exhaling air through the
nasal passages. Air breathed in is warmed by the nasal passages to make
it the same temperature as the body. Air breathed out is the same
temperature as the body and carries out heat with it. There is no way
for your pet to cool off the air as it passes into the body through the
Dogs and cats with shortened noses
(Pekingese, Boxer, Boston Terrier, Persian, etc.) have less nasal
passage area, which can lead to more retention of body heat. They also
tend to be more excitable, which can increase body heat. Both of these
problems can result in increased susceptibility to excess environmental
heat, which can lead to heat stroke.
What does excess environmental heat mean?
environmental heat refers to the heat around us. If the temperature
around your pet is greater than your pets body temperature, then heat
loss cannot occur. In fact, the outside temperature will contribute to
raising the body temperature. There is no heat loss mechanism that
successfully allows for heat loss from the body of dogs and cats if the
outside temperature is greater than that of the body temperature.
Remember, as we said before, there is no way for your pet to cool the
air that he or she breathes in. That is why pets trapped in a hot
environment (like a car) will eventually die from the heat.
you find yourself in a hot environment, your body will sweat, and
through the evaporation of the sweat on your skin, heat from your body
is lost to the environment. But, there are very few sweat glands in the
skin of dogs and cats to help with heat loss. Some heat can be lost
through the skin directly, but that heat loss will be affected by how
much fat is in the skin. An overheated body will direct more blood
toward blood vessels in the skin. The closer the blood is to the skin
surface, the easier it is for the heat from the blood to be lost
outside. But since fat is actually a good insulator, overweight dogs
and cats will have a much harder time losing excess heat through the
Don't Leave Your Pet in a Car!
cats and other small pets like rabbits are all especially sensitive to
environmental heat and rely heavily on air movement to increase their
chances for heat loss. Pets trapped in a car on a warm day can develop
life-threatening problems in a very short time. The results of one
study were particularly disturbing. The temperature inside a car was
cooled to 75 degrees. It was a warm day and within minutes the
temperature rose to more than 110 degrees! Any animal left inside that
car would have surely suffered from heat stroke and likely died. By the
way, the same is true if an animal is left in a warm room without
adequate air flow. Remember, dogs and cats normal temperatures are from
100 – 101.5 degrees. If the temperature around them exceeds that level,
or they are exercising and raising their body temperature in very warm
weather, they are at risk for heat stroke.
What are the Symptoms of Heat Stroke?
animals may respond differently, but in most cases the initial sign
would be excessive panting. The mucus membranes (you can look at your
pet’s gums) may become dark red in color. This happens because the body
dilates skin blood vessels to try and release heat. There will be a
rapid heart rate, dizziness and confusion, poor response to stimuli,
possible vomiting and diarrhea. Left untreated, it would progress to
coma and death.
What Can I Do to Prevent Heat Stroke?
We're glad you asked! It's really quite simple.
• NEVER leave your pet in a car even on a moderately warm day. Not for any length of time.
• Provide plenty of shade/shelter, in a well ventilated area on warm days.
• If your pet is inside, make sure the room is well ventilated.
• ALWAYS provide fresh, cool water, whether your pet is inside or out.
Make sure outside water bowls are in shaded areas.
• Restrict exercise on warm days. When on walks, ALWAYS bring enough
water along for you and your pet.
overweight pets are more susceptible to heat stroke. So keep your pets
fit and trim. If you have an overweight pet (most are) be especially
careful about exercise if the temperatures are high.
• In the event of heat stroke, seek veterinary care IMMEDIATELY! Do not
place your pet in an ice water bath or use rubbing alcohol at home.
We’re not saying that your pets should be locked in an air-conditioned
room all summer. But being aware of the possible summer heat related
problems may just help you to save your pet’s life.