Heatstroke Dangers: Pet First Aid for Hot Weather

Fun in the sun can quickly turn to tragedy if pet owners don’t take precautions to prevent cat and dog heatstroke dangers. Pet heatstroke is common because cats and dogs can’t effectively keep cool in hot summer weather.

dog heatstroke

Dogs pant to cool off. All images courtesy of DepositPhotos.com

How Hot Dogs & Cats Cool Off

Cats and dogs can’t sweat to cool off. For hot dogs, normal panting provides a rapid exchange of cool outside air, and evaporation off the tongue keeps dog temperature normal.

Cats typically don’t pant–they lick and groom themselves and the evaporation off of their fur helps keep them cool. If you see your kitty panting in hot weather, that’s a danger sign that your cool cat is too darn hot!

Some breeds are more at risk. Dogs and cats with smooshed in faces like Pugs, Bulldogs, and Persians have a harder time cooling off even with panting. And when the outside air is the same or greater than pet’s normal body temperature  of 101 to 102.5 degrees, deadly heat stroke develops.

Hot weather safety also includes keeping paw pads  from burning, preventing sunburn, and even being aware of water intoxication — yes, that’s a thing! See more here. 

persian cat heatstroke

Brachycephalic breeds like Persians and Pugs have a harder time cooling off because of shortened airways that interfere with effective panting.

Cars and Heat Stroke

Cars become deathtraps in even relatively mild temperatures. On a 78-degree day, a shaded car reaches temperatures of 90 degrees but if parked in the sun, it will reach 160 degrees in minutes.

Leaving the car and air conditioning running is no guarantee of safety. Today, one of the most modern available for police dog safety is the computerized Hot-N-Pop system able to sense when the interior of the vehicle has become too hot for the K9 officer. When that happens, the system automatically rolls down the rear windows (windows have metal screens to prevent the dog from jumping out) and activates large window fans that bring in fresh air to help cool the dog. The Hot-N-Pop also activates the car’s emergency lights and horn, as well as sending a signal to a pager or phone held by the canine handler.

hot dog in car

Open windows probably won’t significantly reduce the heat for your dog–it can still be a deathtrap!

Pets & Cars, What To Do

Of course, most pet parents don’t have a Hot-N-Pop system. So what do you do if you see a pet closed up in a car? I know the first impulse is to break the glass yourself, but you may not have the ability, the legality or resources to do that. Here’s what you can do.

  • Use your phone–call animal control or dial 911. These folks have the authority not only to enter someone’s car, but also offer life saving first aid.
  • Also, go inside the nearest business–often a post office or grocery–and get the folks there to announce over the intercom for the pet’s person to get back to the car ASAP.
  • Then stay with the care until you confirm that help has arrived.

Symptoms of Pets Heatstroke

Symptoms of mild heatstroke are body temperature of 104 to 106 degrees, bright red tongue and gums, thick sticky saliva, and rapid panting. When body temperatures go above 106 degrees, the pet’s gums become pale, he acts dizzy, bleeds from the nose or has bloody vomiting and diarrhea, and ultimately becomes comatose. These pets can develop disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC) where the red blood cells blow up and can’t carry oxygen.

Getting the temperature down to 104 degrees or less is more important than rushing the pet to the emergency clinic—but severe cases DO need veterinary attention once you give first-aid. Rectal thermometers usually only register as high as 108 degrees and pets with severe heatstroke may have a body temperature that goes off the end and reaches 110 or higher.

dog feverPet First Aid for Heat Stroke

For mild heatstroke, bring your puppy into an air-conditioned space and turn on a fan, so the outside temperature is lower than his body temperature and panting can work. Offer ice cubes to lick, or cold Gatorade or Pedialyte or water to drink, and wrap him in cold wet towels.

first aid book

For more life saving info, get the pet first aid book!

For severe heatstroke, soak the pet with cold water from the hose, or in the tub or sink. Place ice packs (bags of frozen peas work well) in his “armpit” and groin region where there are major blood vessels. The cold will chill the blood, and as it circulates, will cool the whole body from the inside.

Pets with temperatures at or above 107 degrees need a cold-water enema for even quicker cooling. Use a turkey baster or a contact lens solution bottle filled with ice water if you don’t have an enema bag. Grease the tip with petroleum jelly, K-Y or vegetable oil and insert the tip into the rectum and squeeze gently to fill the cavity with fluid. Once his temperature drops to 104, wrap him up in a towel and get him to the emergency room.

Prevent Heatstroke

It’s even better to prevent heatstroke in pets by providing shade and lots of cool water, or simply keeping pets inside. NEVER leave pets unattended in cars—that’s just asking for disaster. The ASPCA urges everyone to take the PLEDGE to Save Pet Lives this summer.

Have you ever seen dogs or cats left in hot cars? What did you do? How do you keep your fur-kids cool and safe during summer? Are there fav hot-weather-games they enjoy? Do tell!

I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered? Do you have a new kitten and need answers? Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter. Stay up to date with the latest book give aways and appearances related to my September Day pet-centric THRILLERS WITH BITE!


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