Heat stroke, the medical name for a pet's inability to regulate her own temperature, is not just uncomfortable for your dog or cat; it can cause both temporary and permanent organ damage.
With the help of Nancy Peterson, cat programs manager at The Humane Society of the United States, we've compiled a guide to pet heat stroke.
Cool Cats and Damp Dogs
Keeping your pets cool and hydrated is the cornerstone of keeping them healthy during hot weather. Always be sure plenty of fresh water is available to your pet, both indoors and out. Place water bowls in a cool, shady place when you play with your pet outside, and don't tie up or confine your dog outdoors, since it can prevent him from finding the coolest spots in the yard.
Peterson also suggests putting ice cubes in your dog or cat's water bowl. The cubes can excite your pet's curiosity - and, of course, keep the water cool and inviting.
If you jog with your dog, do so only during the coolest part of the day and on the shadier side of the street. "Check the temperature of the asphalt, which can be hot on your dog's paws," Peterson reminds runners.
Pets and Parked Cars: A Dangerous Combination
Pets left in a parked car on a hot day face great risk of heat stroke. Our best advice: do not leave your pet in a parked vehicle, even for a short time.
"Even if you think you'll be back to the car in a minute," warns Peterson, "even if you've cooled the car down with the A/C, the car can heat up very rapidly when you turn the engine off."
Cracking open the window is inadequate to keep the car cool--plus it exposes your car and your pet to risk of theft.
"If you see a pet in distress in a parked car and can't find the owner, contact a local animal care agency or the police," Peterson adds.
When to Worry and What to Do
Obese pets, pets who have suffered heat stroke in the past, pets with respiratory or heart problems, very young and old pets, and pets with short muzzles have an increased chance of heat stroke.
However, all pets experience higher risk when they are dehydrated, overexerted, or in poorly ventilated spaces.
Excessive heavy panting in either cats or dogs can be a symptom of heat stroke.
Your pet may be suffering from heat stroke if her gums change color from bright pink to a brownish pink, or if her tongue becomes deep red or purple. Pets suffering heat stroke often act confused, weak, or disoriented, "almost like they're drunk," as Peterson puts it. Their eyes often glaze over, and their heart rate is more rapid than usual. They may vomit or pass out.
If you suspect your pet is suffering heat stroke, bring the pet to a cooler place, if possible.
Apply cool water (but not ice) to the pet's body, put cool towels on the head, neck and chest, and offer the pet cool water. Don't force your pet to drink if he is unable or unwilling, and don't let him drink an excessive amount of water, but only a little.
"Remember," Peterson advises, "you are trying to lower your pet's body temperature gradually, not all at once. You can have your pet lick ice cubes to cool off slowly."
Finally, bring your pet to a veterinarian as soon as possible. "Even if your pet seemed to respond well to the cool water and towels," says Peterson, "don't take any chances. Make sure she is thoroughly checked over by a vet."