All about heat stress in pets: dogs, cats and other animals

Heat stress in pets dogs cats

While THORZT and this website is dedicated to providing hydration and heat stress solutions to industrial workers and athletes, this article serves to inform people of the potentially deadly dangers of heat to dogs, cats and other pets.

The causes of heat stroke in dogs, cats and other pets are largely the same as those in humans, with  hot or humid conditions, intense exercise, a lack of airflow, obesity and dehydration all major contributing factors.

However pets are more prone to heat stroke, largely due to their inability to sweat in the same way humans do.

Humans have sweat glands all over their body which enables evaporative cooling, however dogs and cats only have a few sweat glands in their feet and around their noses and rely on panting to lose heat.

Furthermore, pets with long or thick coats may be more at risk, while dog breeds with a squashed face such as pugs and bulldogs will be less efficient at managing heat and are 146 per cent more likely to suffer heat stroke than other dog breeds, according to the RSPCA.

Other factors include extremely old or young animals and those with illness and/or heart problems.

Smaller animals that are confined to a cage such as mice, Guinea pigs, rabbits and birds are also at risk because they cannot escape to a cooler location. In hot weather they should be moved into a cool, shady and well-ventilated area and provided with plenty of fresh, clean drinking water.

How to protect your pet from heat stress:

Never leave your pet in a car unattended as temperatures can rise quickly and they can die within six minutes. This also applies to cars parked in the shade. In 2017, a dog died when its owner left it in an underground carpark with the windows down.

Other major points include not exercising your pets in the heat of the day and providing them with access to shade and plenty of fresh clean drinking water at all times.

The RSPCA suggests providing your pet with multiple water bowls in case it knocks one over. Other measure it suggests includes:

  • Takeaway containers filled with beef/chicken stock, frozen overnight and given to outdoor animals
  • Ice cubes in water bowls. If they are concerned about the floating ice cubes a good alternative is to freeze half a water bowl the night before and top the remainder up with cool water
  • Paddling pools (clams are especially popular) filled with water and under your supervision
  • Spray pet birds with a mist pump spray bottle (only if they like it) or install a bird bath for supervised use
  • Cool a ceramic tile or oven pan in the fridge or freezer and put it out for small dogs and cats to lie on
  • For pocket pets, little bags of ice wrapped in small, wet towels provide heat relief
  • Allow your outdoor animals to come inside the house and share the air conditioning or electric fan

Symptoms, consequences and treatment of heat stress in pets:

An obvious warning sign for heat stress in dogs is excessive panting, while any kind of panting or increase in breathing is a warning sign in cats, birds, rabbits and Guinea Pigs.

Drooling, agitation or restlessness, very red or pale gums, a bright red tongue, an increased heart rate, breathing distress, vomiting, diarrhea (possibly with blood), signs of mental confusion, dizziness, staggering, lethargy, weakness, muscle tremors, seizures, little to no urine production and coma are all potential symptoms of heat stress in your pet.

Heat stress in pets can cause significant damage to their internal organs and potentially death. If you think your pet is suffering heat stress, immediately remove them from the hot environment and wet their fur and skin, and then fan them to maximise heat loss. Do not use ice-cold water because, as in humans, this may exacerbate health issues.

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