Heatstroke in pets
We’ve been fortunate to experience mainly bright and sunny weather through this difficult period of lockdown, meaning where possible we’ve been able to get outside, boosting our vitamin D levels and finding a sense of wellbeing that being outdoors in the fresh air can bring. Our pets will have been enjoying the sun too, but we must remember that too much sunlight and heat can be dangerous to our pet’s health. In this blog, we’ll look at the potential risks to our four-legged friend’s health in more detail.
Heatstroke occurs when a pet is too hot and is unable to reduce and control their temperature through natural mechanisms, such as panting in dogs. Mammals regulate their temperature levels all the time and they must be maintained within a ‘normal’ narrow range. Heatstroke is an emergency; if it is not treated, your pet could experience organ failure which can be fatal.
Brachycephalic breeds of dog, who have flat faces, are likely to suffer as they struggle to pant effectively, reducing their ability to lose heat via the mouth. Animals with a very thick coat or/and excessive fat are also likely to suffer. The extra layers act like insulators, trapping heat within the body and reducing the rate at which it can leave the body. Very young and old animals who have not got full capacity organ function are usually less able to withstand the heat too. But whilst these pets may be considered higher risk, it’s important to remember that any pet can suffer in the heat, so we must take precautions.
Pets suffering from heatstroke will first show symptoms such as: panting, laying around a lot, lethargic behaviour, increased heart rate, dribbling and even foaming from the mouth.
If the heatstroke becomes more serious then you may see your pet collapse, have reddened skin, dizziness, vomiting and diarrhoea, bright red gums and tongue. They may suffer from tremors or seizures.
Your pet may present with one of these symptoms or a combination.
If you suspect your pet has suffered from heatstroke, you should move your pet into a shaded, cool area and call a vet immediately. You should make sure your pet has access to water but that they are not excessively drinking, as this can cause its own problems. You should apply a cool (damp) towel to your pet’s body and gently pat them down. This acts to cool their surface body temperature. These pets need tender, loving care. They need to be closely monitored for any changes (improvements or deterioration) – this will help us to determine how badly affected they are, and therefore the prognosis and what treatment is needed.
The sun also emits powerful UV rays which can cause sunburn. You will have probably experienced, on a personal level, the amount of pain and discomfort associated with sunburn. Our pets are particularly susceptible to getting burnt if they have white patches of fur or are entirely white in fur colour. This is because white pets usually have pink skin, which is more likely to get burnt. Normally, sunburn occurs on the face (ears and nose especially) so be sure to put a pet-safe sun cream on your pet on sunny days.
Sunburn in pets, like in people, can lead to skin cancer – in fact, it’s the reason why white cats have such a high risk of skin cancer on their face and the tips of their ears. Protection from sunburn also protects against skin cancer.
Dehydration is another key issue associated with excessive sun. The warmer our pets are, the more they pant. This helps to remove heat from the body but in doing so, eliminates water from the body. Warm weather makes animals feel more lethargic meaning they are less likely to actively search for a water source. We must ensure our pets have multiple cool water sources readily available. Remember that wet foods contain lots of water too. Ensuring your pet eats a wet diet can help to keep them hydrated.
So, what do we have to do?
Aside from heatstroke, the sun can cause damage in lots of different ways. On particularly sunny days, it is important to recognise the changes we need to make to be responsible pet owners.
Always make sure you carry water and a bowl with you on your walks, so you can provide water for your pets. This will help to prevent them from drinking from dirty water sources, such as rivers and puddles, which may contain toxins and infectious pathogens. Of course, when out and about it’s also important to remember never to leave a dog (or any pet, for that matter!) in a hot car.
Ensure when your pet is in the garden that they have the option to move inside or into a shaded, cooler area. Putting small pets’ cages out into the sunlight early in the morning for an hour, or late in the evening, rather than being out throughout the day, helps to ensure our pets do not experience direct sunlight at its most powerful times (around midday). This requires a bit of planning. We need to check the weather forecast in advance. We need to think about when and how long we will be in the house and plan ahead so we are around to make sure we can move our pets indoors should we feel it is necessary to do so.
Be prepared and apply sun cream if necessary. If your pet has had previous sunburn, you should be aware of this and plan ahead to prevent another occurrence. Applying sun cream is well tolerated by most pets, but it is best to start the application from a young age to get your pet used to this routine and therefore reduce the amount of stress associated with it.
We need to be responsible for the health of our pets and prevent diseases caused by the sun by reducing the exposure they have. If you’d like any further advice, or you’re worried about your pet in any way, please do just get in touch with the team at Lamond – we’re always here to help.