big dog on green grassThe warm weather feels great after a long winter, but it could be deadly to your pet. Dogs and cats can’t cool themselves in the same ways people do and warmer temperatures can cause heat exhaustion, heat stroke and even death. Learn the signs of heat related illness and what to do to protect your pet from the heat this summer.

People release excess heat and cool themselves by sweating. Dogs cool themselves by panting since they are only able to sweat through their paw pads and not their skin. Dogs that are overweight, older or those with underlying medical issues are at higher risk for heat stroke. The most common cause of heat stroke in dogs is sitting in a hot car. The temperature inside a car is much hotter than the outside temperature. For example, if it is 75° outside, it’s 118° inside a car. At 90° outside, it’s 143° inside the car. Heat stroke and organ failure can occur in minutes. Leaving a dog outside on hot days and exercising are also causes of heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

The signs of heat related illness include:

  • panting
  • excessive salivation
  • pale gums
  • rapid heart rate
  • vomiting/diarrhea
  • muscle tremors
  • dazed/unable to respond
  • collapse

The initial signs of heat exhaustion are easily missed, like panting, pale gums and rapid heart rate. The more serious signs aren’t seen until several hours or days after exposure to heat. These signs are related to multi-organ dysfunction. Excessively high body temperatures cause kidney failure, blood clotting disorders, swelling of the brain and unsafe drops in blood pressure. All of these things can lead to death if not caught early enough and treated aggressively.

If you are concerned that your pet may be suffering from heat related illness, begin cooling your pet by bringing them to a cool place. Use cool water (not ice water) to wet the fur and place fans on them to help start lowering their body temperature. Applying rubbing alcohol to the pads of the feet and the armpit and lower belly area also helps to cool them. This is not a substitute for veterinary care, but attempts to begin cooling your pet should begin at home before driving to your veterinarian’s office. Time is critical for dogs with heat related problems. In one study, more than half of dogs diagnosed with heat stroke died.

Be careful with your dogs this summer. Don’t ever leave them in the car, even with the windows open, if the temperature is above 70°. Heat stroke can literally occur in minutes. Plan ahead when running errands and consider the outside temperature before exercising with your pet. If you see a dog in a car, attempt to find the owner or call authorities. Have someone stay with the dog to make sure that they receive help quickly. Heat related illness is always preventable, but not always curable.