The signs of heatstroke in dogs and cats: What to look out for

Summertime is when humans and their furry friends flock to the beach, hit up outdoor concerts and barbies, or just take walks around the block to get some fresh air.

While it's always important to be aware of your surroundings and watch out for things like ticks and fleas, there's one other health hazard you need to watch out for during the summer: heat stroke.

This can be an issue for both cats and dogs, to the point of fatality, so it's critical to know just what to look out for. Keep reading for a guide on how to spot the signs of heat stroke in your cat or dog!

Key signs of heatstroke in both dogs and cats

A dog’s internal body temperature normally ranges from 37.9°C to 39.9°C and cat’s normally have internal body temperature ranges from 38.1°C to 39.2°C. Dogs can withstand a body temperature of 41 degrees Celsius for a short period of time, but this can lead to irreparable brain damage and even death. 

Both dogs and cats can suffer from heat stroke, but it is more common in dogs as exercising in warm weather or being left in a warm car are risk factors. The signs are similar in both species but are more subtle in cats. So, it's our duty to keep an eye on them and look out for the following signs:

  • shade seeking
  • excessive panting
  • excessive drooling
  • rapid breathing difficulties
  • weakness
  • unsteadiness
  • abnormal gum and tongue colour
  • collapse or seizures

If your pet displays any of these symptoms, it's important to act fast. Call your vet immediately or take them to an emergency animal hospital. Heat stroke can be fatal, so it's important to get help right away!

Respond quickly but safely

If you suspect your pet is suffering from heat stroke, there are a few things you can do to help. First things first, call your vet. You will need to describe your pet’s symptoms. They will be able to give you specific instructions on how to help your pet and whether you need to bring them in for treatment.

It is important to begin cooling as soon as possible. There are some of tactics you can utilise at home to help your pet's body cool down: 

  • Move them to a shady, cool spot 
  • Create a breeze by opening a window or turning on a fan
  • Offer them cool, but not cold, water to drink
  • Place them on a cooling mat or cold, wet towel (do not cover their body)
  • Half-fill a shallow children’s paddling pool for the dog to bathe in, ensuring they can get in and out easily
  • Wet their coat with cool (but not cold) water 
  • Transport them to the vet clinic with air conditioning running or open windows

Some pets are more vulnerable than others

Not all pets are created equal when it comes to heat stroke. Some animals may struggle to cool themselves or may be more vulnerable to overheating. 

Which animals are more susceptible to heat stroke?

If your four-legged friend falls into any of these categories, be sure to take extra precautions during the summer months!

How to keep pets safe in summer

While a serious hazard, heat stroke can be prevented. There are some simple steps you can take to keep your pet happy and healthy this summer.

First and most importantly, never leave your pet alone in a parked car, even for just a few minutes. The temperature inside a car can rise quickly, and even on a relatively cool day, it can be enough to cause heat stroke. Not to mention the $300 fine if your dog is left in a vehicle and showing signs of heat stress.

Cats can sometimes overheat if they get trapped inside somewhere - always check sheds and garages before shutting doors. 

Tips to stay cool for dogs: 

  • Make sure they always have access to plenty of fresh, cool water. A second or larger bowl is a good back-up.
  • Encourage them to lie on a cool tile floor, even a quick cooldown with a light spray of the hose can provide relief.
  • Paddling pools are a great way for your dog to cool off in summer and for water play.
  • If you're going for a walk, avoid going out during the hottest parts of the day. Instead, opt for the cooler early morning and evenings.
  • Fill rubber chew toys with treats and freeze them overnight as a treat for hotter days.

Tips to stay cool for cats:

  • Offer cats a frozen treat and cool surface to lie on so they can feel comfortable and entertained.
  • Make sure they have access to a cool, comfortable place to hide from the heat. Fans and air conditioners are a great way to keep cats cool indoors.

Can your pets get sunburnt?

Sunscreen is important for pets, just as it is for humans. Your furry mates should avoid the sun's harsh rays or have pet-safe sunscreen applied before heading out.

Normal sunscreen ingredients include zinc oxide, which can be toxic to animals, so pet-friendly sunscreen is best for dogs and cats.

And finally, be mindful of hot weather alerts. Remember the five second rule, if it's too hot for you, it's probably too hot for them as well.

Looking for other ways to keep your pet safe all year round? SPCA Pet Insurance can help cover a portion of your eligible vet bills so you can start to rest easy knowing that you have a plan for your furry friend.