How to Prevent Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke in Your Pet

Posted by Stacey Venzel

All pets can succumb to heat-related illnesses in the summer. Learn how to keep your companion safe.

Illnesses linked to high temperatures are as much an issue for humans as they are for pets, and not just those with layers of fur. Heat exhaustion left untreated results in heat stroke, also called hyperthermia. The two occur when the body is unable to cool itself down, essentially overheating, as the names imply.

When a pet’s body enters into heat stroke status, the internal organs have reached extreme conditions and are essentially cooking from the inside out. Brain damage or even death can result.

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With global temperatures reaching record highs already, this summer might be one for the books. Take extra precaution not to let your pet overheat!

Warm-blooded mammals sweat to cool off, but sometimes sweating isn’t enough if the body’s internal temperature gets too high. Other heterothermic and cold-blooded pets, including birds, reptiles, and amphibians, regulate their body temperature externally by adjusting to their surrounding environment.

This explains why turtles are caught sun-bathing or basking under heat lamps in a terrarium. Other scaly friends like fish can also overheat if their water is sitting in prolonged direct sun light.

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Symptoms of heat exhaustion in mammals include excessive sweating, fever, seizures, delirious disposition, lethargy, increased heart rate, heavy panting, decreased appetite, and dehydration.

The signs are similar in cold-blooded pets, with the exception of sweating. Rapid breathing and inability to perch is common in avians.

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So how do you help your pet beat the heat?

1. Provide shade for them and avoid leaving them in the baking sun for hours on end. While your turtle might enjoy soaking up some vitamin D, he needs to have access to a cooler area when he feels his body warming up too much.

2. Do not overexert your animal in extreme heat. Even if you can handle going on a long run in the Florida summertime, your dog or horse will react differently. Try early-morning exercise routines. Avoid asphalt, too, as it can burn feet. Humans have shoes; pets don’t!

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3. Shaving your dog or cat’s fur for the summer isn’t necessarily going to help keep him cooler. While a thicker “winter” coat helps keep furry domestic companions warm during the winter, their summertime fur offers internal insulation by trapping the heat in the fur, away from the skin. A breeze through the fur also increases air flow across the skin to aid in heat release.

4. Do not leave your creature trapped in a parked car, even if the windows are cracked! Cars are like toaster ovens. They become a heat box very quickly!

5. Keep fresh, cool water available for your pet at all times.

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If your pet is showing signs of a heat-related illness, emergency veterinary care should be taken. You can try to cool your pet down with a fan and water in the meantime. Rubbing alcohol on paw pads can extract heat from the body more quickly than normal. Tile flooring or shaded cement are also cooler than blankets, hay, or carpeting.

Dabbing cold towels in the ears of mammals can help them escape heat stress more quickly, too. Be sure to remove restricting articles like bandanas, bridles, saddles, or collars.

Heat stress is a serious illness that should not be taken lightly. But it can be prevented.

National Heat Awareness Day is May 27. Show your awareness by preparing your pet for the temperatures ahead. Beat the heat this summer with these tips!

How to Prevent Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke in Your Pet