A small pet can develop heatstroke in as little as 10 minutes, even in the shade!
This summer, several squirrels, flyers, or chipmunks will die due to heatstroke while in the care of humans. You might think that because they are "wildlife," these animals can handle summer heat. The truth is, any animal that has become used to indoor heat and air conditioning has lost his ability to deal with extreme temperatures. Small animals are especially vulnerable: they can overheat in as little as 10 minutes. Sadly, heatstroke is usually fatal, even with treatment, so prevention is key.
How to Prevent Heatstroke:
- Never place a caged animal in direct sunlight
- Always provide water and shade
- On hot and/or humid days, indoor pets should be kept inside
- Animals being prepared for release into the wild need to be slowly acclimated to summer temps
- Never leave indoor pets (or unacclimated wildlife) unattended outdoors
- Take extra care when traveling. Never leave an animal in the car without the air conditioning turned on, even with all the windows open.
Symptoms of Heatstroke
- Mild: Damp fur, appears to be sweating, rapid heartbeat and breathing
- Moderate: Drooling or "foaming at the mouth," labored breathing, vomiting
- Severe: Uncoordination, seizures, collapse
If you see any of these symptoms, bring the animal indoors immediately and begin Emergency Cool-Down Procedures.
Emergency Cool-Down Procedures
Heatstroke is a life-threatening emergency. Do not delay treatment!
- You must get the animal cooled down quickly, so move fast. Seconds count!
- Bring the animal inside
- Dip him in cool water up to his neck
- Lay him down on a damp cloth with his head slightly elevated and turn on a fan
- Bathe the animal with a cold wet cloth, especially the head and tail areas. Ice packs can be placed near the animal (not on him or under him)
- Offer a small amount of cool (not cold) water to drink
Note: Keep the animal as quiet and still as possible; exercise will cause him to become more overheated.
Note: Do not overdo the cool-down process, as this can cause more harm. You should stop when the body temp reaches 103 degrees. Use a rectal or digital ear thermometer to monitor body temp.
For mild cases, the above treatment may be enough. For moderate/severe cases, vet care is required to save the animal's life. If you don't have a vet, have someone else call around while you continue the cool-down process.
When Immediate Transport to a Vet is Possible
- If it's a warm day, run the AC in your car before you transport
- During the trip, continue to offer cool water, and bathe the animals paws with a cool cloth (bring some cool water with you)
- When you get to the vet, tell them it's severe heatstroke. They should rush him to the back for emergency care immediately.
- No matter what happens, keep bathing the animal in cool water until he’s in the vet's hands
If heatstroke occurs away from home or while traveling, use the same procedures as above. Use anything you can find to cool the animal down. In a pinch, a cold soda or even water from a nearby stream can be used until you can find help.
If you have no access to a vet, try to find a rehabber. If you're on your own, you will need to monitor the body temp constantly. Use a rectal thermometer or a digital ear thermometer. When his temp reaches 103 degrees F, you must stop the cool-down procedures to avoid overcooling. Continue to offer cool water drop by drop.
Sadly, most animals will not survive moderate/severe heatstroke without IV fluids, which only a vet can provide. Many will die even with immedate vet care. The key is prevention.
Note: The animal may seem to recover initially, then get worse later. This is a sign of organ damage, which may not show up until hours or even days later. Symptoms may include sudden dehydration, uncoordination, respiratory distress, elevated heartbeat, and blood or mucus in the stool. This is almost always fatal.