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When pets feel the heat

Take precautions to keep your pets cool and comfortable and prevent heatstrokes during the summer

Give your pet plenty of fresh water when they're outdoors in the summer.(iStockphoto)

By Dr Nameeta Nadkarni

LAST PUBLISHED 18.04.2024  |  01:00 PM IST

You know it’s getting seriously hot when your pets start camping out in the air-conditioned room. Very high temperatures can put your pet at the risk of a heat stroke.

Heatstroke or hyperthermia occurs when an animal’s body temperature rises to dangerous levels due to prolonged exposure to high temperatures or physical exertion in hot weather.

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Unlike humans, who can regulate their body temperature through sweating, dogs and cats primarily rely on panting to cool down. When they are unable to dissipate heat effectively, their body temperature can skyrocket, leading to heatstroke.

Also read: Pets, too, must hydrate

It’s not just the scorching sun that poses a risk; a combination of high temperatures and confined spaces can have dire consequences. Leaving a pet locked in a car or a poorly ventilated room can cause their body temperature to soar rapidly. Additionally, strenuous activity during the peak of summer can lead to heatstroke. Higher humidity exacerbates the situation.

Certain breeds are more susceptible to heatstroke. Brachycephalic breeds, characterised by their flat faces, such as pugs, Persian cats and bulldogs, face challenges in ventilating even in normal temperatures because of their unique respiratory tract anatomy. When the heat rises, these breeds are at an increased risk of heatstroke. Taking them for a walk during the hottest times of the day or leaving them outdoors in hot weather can potentially be fatal.

Breeds with black coats like Rottweilers and black Lheatstroke iabradors require special attention. The dark coat absorbs more heat, putting them at similar risks as flat-faced breeds. Elderly pets, puppies, kittens and those with pre-existing health conditions such as obesity, heart disease or respiratory issues are more vulnerable. It’s crucial to recognise the signs of heatstroke in your pet. One of the most common signs in both dogs and cats is excessive panting. Dry, bright red gums are a telltale sign that your pet is struggling to regulate their body temperature. They may also exhibit extreme lethargy, weakness, or difficulty walking, appearing uncoordinated. Other symptoms to watch for include vomiting, diarrhoea and hyper-salivation or excessive drooling. In severe cases, heatstroke can progress to seizures or collapse, indicating a life-threatening emergency.

If you suspect that your pet is experiencing a heatstroke, swift action is essential. First, move them to a cooler area, but avoid placing them directly in front of an air conditioner. Rapidly bringing down their body temperature can shock their system. Find a shady spot or a well-ventilated area. Offer them cool, fresh water to drink, but don’t force them if they are unable to swallow or if they are vomiting.

To help lower their body temperature, wet their fur with cool (not cold) water. Focus on areas with less fur, such as the belly and armpits. You can place cool, wet towels on their body or use a fan to promote evaporation and cooling. Monitor their breathing and pulse.

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If they become unconscious, ensure the airway is clear, and be prepared to administer CPR. Even if your pet appears to be improving, it’s essential to seek veterinary care as soon as possible. Heatstroke can cause internal damage that may not be immediately apparent.

Preventing heatstroke in pets is always the best approach. Schedule walks for early mornings or late evenings when temperatures are cooler. Never leave your pet in a parked car or a closed room or crate that lacks proper ventilation. Consider using cooling mats or vests to help your pet stay cool. Ensure your pet has access to plenty of fresh water and shade, especially when they are outdoors. Avoid pushing your pet to exercise, especially outdoors, during the summer months. If you do engage in outdoor activities, keep them short.

You can keep your pet safe by putting these preventive measures in place.

Nameeta Nadkarni is a veterinary soft tissue surgeon and pet blogger from Mumbai.

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