Heat Stroke in Pets – A Serious Threat

25 July 2019


With temperatures this summer reaching well over 30°C, dogs and cats are at an increased risk of suffering from the effects of heat stroke.  Unlike us, they cannot eliminate heat by sweating but have to do so by panting and, if this process is not sufficiently effective to keep the their temperature within the normal range (101–102.5°F/38.3–39.2°C for dogs; 99.5–102.5°F/37.5–39.1°C for cats), the consequences can be serious.

All steps should be taken to prevent this occurring. Even if we are not experiencing record-breaking temperatures, we should always be vigilant on sunny summer days. This is especially important for active dogs that participate in vigorous exercise. Some simple steps include:

  • Ensuring that your pets always have access to a cool area and adequate water;
  • Never leaving them in the car in warm weather – even if it is parked in the shade or it is only for a few minutes; it’s amazing how quickly a car interior can heat up;
  • Restricting exercise to early morning or evening;
  • While exercising dogs, make sure you always have facilities to cool them down if necessary – a wide range of cooling vests are available to aid this.

Even if all of these measures are in place, owners should still monitor their pets constantly in warm weather to look for signs of overheating.

The first signs of heatstroke are excessive panting, drooling, signs of discomfort and a reluctance to move around. More advanced cases may also experience vomiting, diarrhoea, uncoordinated movements and even collapse. These signs can develop quickly in extreme heat and we therefore need to check our dogs carefully in these conditions.

Very young and geriatric animals are at an increased risk of succumbing to heat stroke, as are breeds with short noses, thick coats or obese pets.

Severe or prolonged heat stroke can lead to secondary problem involving the blood, heart, brain, kidneys, liver and gastrointestinal system; this is often termed ‘multi-organ failure’ and can be fatal.

If heat stroke is suspected, it is really important to cool the pet as soon as possible. This can be achieved by:

  • Moving them to a cool, shaded and ventilated environment;
  • Covering dogs with a wet towel and using a fan to increase airflow;
  • Lightly misting cats with a fine spray of water;
  • Providing water or rehydrating solution. NB: the water should be normal temperature – not iced.

If these measures do not alleviate the symptoms and/or if you are concerned that your pet may have heat stroke, you should seek veterinary advice as soon as possible. In severe cases, early intervention is critical and can involve administration of intravenous fluids and oxygen. Vets will also check organ function and provide medication if necessary.