It's summer! And with temperatures soaring it's time to make sure our fur friends are properly looked after to ensure they avoid heatstroke.

Heat and our pets

Many animals, including dogs and cats, are more sensitive to high temperatures due to their inability to sweat in the same way as humans. Sweat glands that do exist are predominantly situated under the paws and on the nose - very small surface areas in which to expel heat.

While our pets use other means to help cool themselves, mostly panting and licking, it is not always the most effective means in situations where they are unable to seek a cooler environment.

As such, they need us to be on the lookout for them during the hotter months to ensure they avoid overheating.

Symptoms of heatstroke

The first signs of heatstroke usually include polypnea (heaving panting) and ptyalism (drooling), even in cats. You may also notice unusual behaviour or signs of agitation as the heart rate increases.

Dehydration is also apparent and they may vomit or have diarrhoea due to the reactions taking place within the body. Gums and the tongue may also change colour to a deep red, or in some cases blue (cyanosis). Cyanosis is the sign of poor blood circulation.

If cooling measures are not taken, the second phase of heatstroke will come rapidly. Breathing will become difficult as will movement - you may notice your pet prostrated on the ground (lying face down). Seizures may begin and at this point, they may slip into a coma.

Without a quick response and proper treatment, heatstroke can lead to your pet's death. It is essential to react quickly!

Responding to heatstroke

Be on alert during hot days and nights and provide a cool, shaded environment in which your pet can rest. However, if you begin to notice the first signs of heatstroke, it's important to respond immediately.

Contact your nearest vet straight away to let them know you are on your way with your pet. This will allow them to respond as fast as possible and administer treatment immediately.

Grab a bundle of soaked (slighted wrung) flannels and a few bottles of water. On your way to the vet, wet the arm pits, groin, and front of the neck of your cat (in as many places as possible with your dog) to try and help cool them down. Do not use iced water as this may cause shock to the body. Place wet flannels over them if you can but ensure they are replaced if they become warm.

Ensure the sun is not directly on your pet in the car, and if possible, turn the air conditioning on. A battery-run fan may also help. Again, ensure the temperature is not so cold that it creates a thermal shock for the animal.

At the clinic, the staff will take care of your pet and make the necessary assessments to determine the treatment required. The quicker you can get them there, the more chances of survival.

Preventing heatstroke

It's important to know that some breeds of animals are more sensitive to heat. Brachycephalic dog breeds (those with a short or flat nose such as pugs and bulldogs), and dogs with thick fur coats (such as Siberian Huskies or Alaskan Malamutes) can find the heat even more difficult than others.

Talk to your vet about your pet's origins and how they naturally cope with the heat so that you are well informed and prepared for managing the warmer weather.

The following situations are also important to remember as potential times when your pet has a higher chance of suffering from heatstroke.

Heat waves

During heat waves, it is recommended not to let your pet venture outside during the hottest times of the day - this may also include in the evenings when the temperature has not subsided. The same applies to exercise. Make sure any inside areas are kept as cool as possible using air conditioning and/or fans; creating air flow is a good way to help decrease the temperature. You can also provide them with wet towels and ice blocks to help them stay cool.

Locked cars

Never, ever leave your pet inside a vehicle of any kind! Even if the vehicle is parked in the shade, and with the windows cracked. A lovely and cool 18 degree day will still see your car become significantly hotter inside. This can easily render your pet dead within an hour. If you are travelling with your pet and need to stop for a break, always take your fur friend with you!

Beach trips

We all love to see our fur friends enjoying their time on the beach, but due care is always needed. Again, avoid the hottest times of the day and bring them a parasol and towel so they are not forced to lie on hot sand. Make sure you also avoid walking them on hot pavement to and from the beach. Hot surfaces, especially pavement and tarmac, can easily burn their paws within seconds.

Staying hydrated

Always remember that your pet must have access to clean, fresh water at all times. However, avoid giving them ice cold water.

To help encourage your pet to drink more regularly, a water fountain is a good way to remind your pet that water is just nearby thanks to the sound of trickling water.

You can also use a water spray, or bathe your dog... even cat! Contrary to popular belief, some cats instinctively enjoy water while others can enjoy the experience if you proceed gently and gradually from a young age.

With this information in mind, you can help keep your pet cool this summer and avoid any distress for everyone.

Thanks to the ESAV (French School of Veterinarians) for the inspiration behind this article.

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