Heat Related Illnesses In Pets

Periods of extreme heat, especially in a province that is not known for it, nor prepared for it is dangerous.

Having spent a few years of my childhood living in Ontario, I can remember the hot summers and cold winters, I can remember having a house made of brick that always seemed cool in the summer and our pets always had a cool place to retreat to to get out of the heat.  Now living in the West, I feel like our houses are not made for these extreme temperatures and without a basement or adequate air conditioning it is hard to find relief in the house for us humans and our pets.

With the recent heat wave and progressively hotter summers in Canada overall, do you know the signs of heat-related illnesses to be on the watch for in your pets?

Did you know that rabbits can show signs of heatstroke even at 22C?


How to prevent heat-related illnesses in our pets?

It is best to ensure our pets have a cool place to go and plenty of cool clean water when the heat strikes. Allowing them to access cool tiles or other flooring to walk and lay on, freezing 2L bottles/milk jugs of water/icepacks and placing them near their sleeping area to keep the area cool (place a towel over it so that they can lean on it when needed to keep cool).

Another option is a cooling pad made specifically for cats/dogs/rabbits etc. I would recommend the ones that are self activated and do not require refrigeration or freezing.  There are many to choose from with a variety of sizes.

Place an appropriate fan on or out for your pets to keep air circulating and cool if an air conditioned space is not available.

Placing ice cubes in your pets water on a regular basis, ensuring it stays fresh and cool. Changing water frequently.  If you are needing to entice your dog/cat to drink water try using filtered water, distilled water or putting some low sodium broth in their water, tuna juice (1 tbsp)  ** freeze the broth/juice into ice cubes and add one to their water dish.  Always ensure bowl is clean and change frequently. For some pets, moving water is more enticing. Look at investing in a pet drinking fountain.

Modern Mama ApprovedWe use the Cat-it fountain,  our cat wouldn’t have it any other way. He loves the sound of the running water. It comes with a filter, so his water is always being filtered and kept flowing with keeps it cooler.

It is best not to take your pets out in the car or for walks during periods of high heat. (walking in the early morning or late evening if the temperature has subsided).   Be conscience of burning their paws on the ground.  Pack a small bottle of rubbing alcohol on your walks, you can cool their feet down with it.


Signs and Symptoms of Heat-Related Illnesses in Pets

For pets, the most common warning signs of heat-related illness are:

  • Excessive panting or difficulty breathing (cats and dogs, rabbits)
  • Restless behavior, trying to find a cool spot (cats)
  • Dehydration (cats and dogs)
  • Excessive drooling/salivating (dogs, cats, rabbits)
  • Fever (nose dry and hot, instead of moist and cool, a body temperature above 103F (dogs) and 105F (cats) is abnormal and cause for concern
  • Bright red, gray, purple or blueish gums (dogs)
  • redness of the tongue and mouth (cats)
  • Lack of urine (dogs and cats)
  • sweaty feet (cats)
  • Red ears (rabbits)
  • Rapid pulse (dogs and cats)
  • Muscle Tremors (dogs and cats)
  • Lethargy/weakness (dogs, cats and rabbits)
  • Vomiting or diarrhea (dogs and cats)
  • Dizziness, staggering gait (dogs and cats)

What do you do, if you suspect heat exhaustion?

** If they are very ill (vomiting, seizing etc.) get them to the vet ASAP.

For cats: If unconscious, soak in cool water (not cold) and place a bag of ice or frozen veggies between their legs and get them to the vet ASAP.

If you suspect it to be a mild case , immediately, take your pet to a cooler area (preferably indoors).

Lower their body temperature by wetting them with cool water (don’t use COLD water as it can stress them out and have a counter effect). Apply the water with a cloth and brush their fur, apply to paws and ears.  Then put them in front of a fan to dry off – the combination of the water and moving air has a nice cooling effect.

For cats it is recommended that you soak them in cool water and them drink as much water as they want.

Check their temperature every few minutes, once their temperature drops below 103F (dogs) 105F (cats) remove fan and stop applying water.

Provide them with small amounts of lukewarm to cool water  – not cold and no ice.

You can use rubbing alcohol on their paws to cool them down, it evaporates much more efficiently than water.

Call your vet as soon as possible  even if they seem to be recovering – they may need to be checked for shock, dehydration, kidney failure, and other complications.

Reminder – never leave pets in the vehicle – no matter what the temperature is outside.  A car’s temperature can easily increase 10 degrees Celsius in the first 10 minutes inside a vehicle.


Disclaimer: I am not a vet, all the information is a collection of information obtained from vets websites. 

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Tina Evans

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