Heat stroke is a very dangerous disorder that affects both dogs and humans, and veterinarians in Texas are all too familiar with the damaging effects high temperatures can have on our pets. Heat stroke and heat exhaustion can be deadly if not addressed quickly, so knowing what to look for and taking preventative measures is key. We sat down with Dr. Alexis Willingham, Dr. Staci Dennis, and our Head Technician, Nicole, to figure out the best ways to bear this Texas heat!
Common symptoms of heat stroke or heat exhaustion include: excessive panting, restlessness, hypersalivation, gums turning blue/purple/bright red in color. Advanced symptoms of heat stroke may cause your pet to become wobbly and weak, and if untreated, can progress into seizures, hemorrhage, and even death.
What are the first three words that come to mind when you think about heat stroke?
Dr. Willingham: Bloody Diarrhea, Seizure, Death
Dr. Dennis: Hot cars, Hemorrhage, Comatose
Nicole: Brachycephalic, Seizure, Stroke
How fast can heat-stroke symptoms appear?
Dr. Willingham: It doesn’t take long. Brachycephalic breeds are at significantly higher risk and tend to be more deeply affected by hot temperatures.
Dr. Dennis: It varies depending on the pet’s heat tolerance, and certain factors such as breed, weight, age and medical conditions can definitely shorten the maximum amount of time a pet can tolerate being outside.
Nicole: 15 minutes or less, it is very easy and takes no time. I don’t like to leave my dogs out for longer than 10 minutes when it’s in the 90’s and pay attention to the humidity as well. It can make cooler temps seem unbearable and harder for some dogs to breath.
What symptoms of heat stroke require immediate medical attention?
Dr. Willingham: Vomiting, diarrhea, and any kind of neurological signs like collapse or seizures. You can also take your pet’s temperature rectally if you think they are too warm - a dog’s normal temperature should run 99.5 to 102.0 degrees F. A temperature of 104+ is an emergency situation and requires immediate care.
Dr. Dennis: If you are unable to quickly and successfully cool your pet down at home, it’s safest to seek out emergency care. If there is any question as to whether or not your pet needs immediate medical attention, they probably do.
Nicole: Any kind of behaviors that are unusual for your dog. Acting wobbly, disoriented, and confused are telltale signs that fast action is required.
What are easy, safe ways to help your pet cool down if you feel they got a little too warm?
Dr. Willingham: Cool them down slowly - do not submerge your pet in cold water, as this can send them into shock. Bring them inside, turn on a fan, offer fresh water and ice cubes and allow them to cool down gradually.
Dr. Dennis: Place cool, wet towels over their body and paws to help them cool down. Keep them in a cool area with air conditioning and offer water.
Nicole: Rubbing alcohol on the paw pads! Don’t let them lick their paws right after, but this can help them cool down fast since most of their heat exits their body through the feet.
What should I avoid doing if my pet appears to be suffering from any of the signs of heat exhaustion?
Dr. Willingham: Don’t ignore your pet’s symptoms. It’s always better to be safe than sorry!
Dr. Dennis: Definitely do not leave your pet outside or unattended. If you are away from home and are unable to get your dog into a cool, air-conditioned space, keep your pet out of the sun in shaded areas and provide plenty of water.
Nicole: Provide your pet with fresh water, but watch them closely and regulate their water intake. Dogs, especially brachycephalic breeds, are more likely to aspirate while drinking when they are suffering from extreme thirst. And don’t feed them until long after they’ve cooled down!
What should I do if my dog doesn’t seem to be responding to at-home cooling measures?
ALL: Seek emergency medical attention at the nearest veterinary clinic.
What are your best tips to avoiding getting too hot in the first place?
Dr. Willingham: Be mindful of the temperature throughout the day - aim for walks during the coolest parts of the day, early in the morning and after the sun has gone down.
Dr. Dennis: Know your pet’s tolerance for hot weather and always plan accordingly. Always keep plenty of fresh water available, and make sure there is plenty of shade if your pet is going to be spending any amount of time outside.
Nicole: Keep water out at all times, and provide your dog with different ways of keeping cool. Kiddie pools in the backyard and ice cubes as treats are simple ways to help keep pets cool and hydrated!
Please check out the following links for more information on heat stroke, and always call your veterinarian if you ever have any questions or concerns about your pet’s wellbeing!
Hyperthermia (Heat Stroke) First Aid:
Signs your dog is overheating:
How hot does it get in a parked car? Dr. Ernie Ward: