Dogs and cats are very susceptible to heatstroke because they have limited mechanisms to cool themselves: panting and losing heat through their tongue, nose, and footpads. Certain types of animals are more prone to heatstroke than others. Dogs with flat faces like pugs, bulldogs, or Boston terriers have a difficult time panting and thus can easily overheat. Also, dogs with heavy coats; older animals; obese dogs and cats; puppies and kittens under six months; pets who are ill; and pets on certain medications are at an even greater risk of overheating during the summer months.
Nearly every case of heat stroke is preventable. Exercising and being left in a car are the two most common causes of heatstroke in dogs and cats. Dogs like to keep up with you while exercising and may not readily tell you they’re getting too hot until it’s too late. On a 75-degree day, the temperature inside a parked car—with the windows open—can quickly climb to over 100 degrees and cause overheating.
Here are some of the signs associated with overheating:
• Body temperature above 104 degrees F
• Excessive panting or open-mouthed breathing
• Lethargy, daze, or collapse
• Drooling, vomiting, or diarrhea
• Depression, stupor (acting drunk), or seizures
• Increased heart rate
• Bloody diarrhea or vomiting
• Bright red tongue or gums
If left untreated, heatstroke can be fatal. The easiest way to cool your pet is to immerse it in cool water in a bathtub, kitchen sink, bucket, or swimming pool, or spray with a garden hose, and then take your pet to the vet as soon as you can. You can also use towels soaked in cool water and change them every five minutes because they will heat up fast. NEVER use ice water to immerse your pet or to moisten towels, as this can cause the reverse problem of hypothermia. Pointing a fan at your pet will help, too. If your dog or cat can drink, offer it cold water, or even ice water. If your vet is far away, keep towels soaked in cool water over your cat or dog until you arrive, and have the air conditioner blowing directly on your pet.
Dogs and even some cats love to ride in the car, but you absolutely must resist the urge to let them accompany you during the summer months. Once temperatures soar above 75 degrees F, your car becomes a coffin. Even with the windows open, the temperature inside a car can quickly rise to deadly conditions. NEVER leave a pet in the car alone. It only takes a few minutes for the temperature to rise above 100 degrees, with fatal consequences for your pet. Every summer, emergency clinics, and vet hospitals treat dying pets that often cannot be saved. These tragedies are completely preventable! Unless someone will be in the car at all times with your pet with the air-conditioning on, please leave your cat or dog at home.
Walk This Way
To keep your pet from overheating, don’t exercise your cat or dog during the hottest part of the day, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and be observant of your pet when you do take it outside. Catching heat exhaustion early is the key to success in treating this all-too-common deadly condition. Exercise your pet either early in the morning or late in the afternoon and bring plenty of water with you. Before starting your walk, give the sidewalk a test with the palm of your hand. If it’s too hot to touch, it can burn your pet’s footpads and you should avoid this surface. Stick to dirt paths, grass, or concrete surfaces. Keep your pet off of asphalt, which retains heat due to its composition and dark color; the tar base can melt and stick to the pads of your pet’s feet, causing burns. If you suspect that your pet has burned its paws, you need to take your pet to the vet right away. To help cool your pet at the end of a long walk, apply a cool, wet washcloth to the footpads.
Block That Sun
Sunlight is necessary to produce vitamin D, which helps protect the skin as well as balance the body’s calcium levels and metabolism. However, too much of anything can be harmful, and too much ultraviolet (UV) radiation can cause sunburn or solar dermatitis in some animals. White cats and certain breeds of dogs, like boxers and Weimaraners, are especially vulnerable to sunburn and therefore need extra protection from the sun. Sunburn is also common in white and short haired dogs.
Sunburn usually occurs on the abdomen, bridge of the nose, ear tips, groin, and insides of the legs. The belly is prone to sunburn because of sunlight that reflects up from the sidewalk. Dogs that spend a lot of time at beaches can get sunburned as the sun reflects up from the hot white sand. Dogs and cats don’t even need to be outdoors to get sunburned because UV radiation can pass through windows. Sunburn and repeated excessive exposure to UV radiation can initially cause redness and hair loss on the ear tips, bridge of the nose, or abdomen, and may lead to skin infections, skin ulcers, and cancer.
To protect pets from sunburn and its consequences, you can apply sunblock to the small susceptible areas of the skin such as the bridge of the nose and ear tips. You can also apply sunblock along any part in the fur on your pet’s head and back. For cats, sunblock is usually sufficient. You should use SPF 30 and you can mix it 50/50 with Vaseline. For dogs that spend a lot of time outdoors, sunblock isn’t effective on the tummy, since it can rub off. There are spandex bodysuits designed to block UV radiation that will be effective in protecting your active dog from sunburn.