Heatstroke is one of the genuine emergencies affecting pets during hot weather. It occurs when heat generation exceeds the body’s ability to dissipate (lose) heat. The impact can be catastrophic: the body loses its ability to dissipate heat leading to multiple organ failure, brain damage and death.
Temperatures over 30°C are high risk, and from the mid-30s, the ability of dogs to cool down is impaired, especially those with thick coats. Inside a car, the ambient temperatures required to cause heatstroke are much lower. One study showed even on a mild day of 22°C, the temperature inside a car can rise to over 47°C in 60 minutes.
One of the most useful things you can do on hot days is to monitor the behaviour of your pets. While cats, unlike dogs, are less likely to be playng outside with their owners on hot days, they sometimes travel in cars or are confined in small rooms while their owner is at work.
Heatstroke is preventable
Follow these hot weather safety tips to keep your pets cool and safe:
- Don’t leave your pet unattended in the car – even on mild days, internal vehicle temperatures can skyrocket rapidly
- Always ensure cats have a constant supply of fresh water available
- If confined, make sure your cat has good shade cover and airflow
- Be aware that cats with thick coats are more susceptible to heat, as are overweight or ageing pets, those with cardiac or respiratory disease, and brachycephalic (flat-nosed) breeds of cats such as Persians.
- Animals cool down by panting – excessive, heavy panting is one of the first signs of heatstroke
- Mucous membranes inside the mouth become bright red to purple
- As the pet's body temperature increases, vomiting and diarrhoea may start
- Restlessness progresses to signs of exhaustion and confusion, and the affected cat will stagger and lose balance
- Muscle tremors and seizures can occur
- At this stage the effects of heatstroke progress rapidly – the cat will collapse, become comatose, with death following quite quickly.
HEATSTROKE IS AN EMERGENCY AND REQUIRES IMMEDIATE ACTION.
Never delay seeking veterinary attention and always ring first to say you’re on the way so our staff can be prepared and waiting.
- At home, immediately remove the pet from the heat and, if possible, spray with cold water while ringing us to say you’re on the way. This can obviously be difficult with cats, so don't waste precious time trying in vain. If the cat is not yet vomiting, offer fresh water.
- At the veterinary hospital, pets with heatstroke are immediately put onto an I/V drip with treatment to counteract the brain swelling that occurs during over-heating.
- We continue to cool the cat while constantly monitoring body temperature – it’s important not to cause an equally severe drop in temperature during the cooling process.
For more information, click here to view the excellent poster on heat stress developed by the Faculty of Veterinary Science at Murdoch University.