Knowing when your pet is overheated

Dr. Shannon Holland

By Dr. Shannon Holland

18 Apr 2022

Heatstroke is the condition where your pet has become so hot that they can no longer effectively cool themselves. This condition is a very dangerous and life threatening one that should not be underestimated. While there are a number of environmental factors that can lead to heatstroke, here in North Texas we see higher risks during both the Spring and Summer seasons.

Prevention of heatstroke is very important. Once a pet begins to show signs of heatstroke, they are already at risk of serious illness.

Signs of Heatstroke

Look out for the following.

  • Excessive panting
  • Mentation changes or lethargy
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Collapse
  • Bright red gums
  • A rectal temperature of >105F

What to do

If you see any signs of heatstroke then it is very important that do the following.

  1. Get them wet! Put room temperature water on your pet. Avoid chilled water as it can constrict their blood vessels and have a detrimental effect.
  2. Put them in a vehicle or room with good A/C and moving air
  3. Remove any coverings or clothing. Do not cover with towels.
  4. Offer water to drink
  5. Most Importantly, get them in to see your vet or an emergency clinic. They will need to continue the cooling process as soon as possible to prevent injury or death.

Preventing Heatstroke

  • Climate: It is important to realize when a day is too hot, humid or sunny for your pet. What is too much for a pet varies greatly. Acclimation to a climate is vital. If you have moved to a new climate that is warmer or if your pet mostly stays indoors then their tolerance will be very low.

  • Timing: Even an 80 degree day could be too much for your pet. Pick a time for activity that is cooler such as early in the morning or later in the evening. Keep the trips outside short. 10-15 min once or twice a day to start. You can gradually build up the time over days and weeks. It can take up to 2 months to fully acclimate to hot temperatures so do not rush to take your dog out for long walks in the heat of the day.

  • Hydration: Always have fresh water available to your pet and avoid covering them with things like blankets, vests or other heavy coverings. Besides drinking water, you can also have water available to put on your pets belly periodically to help them cool off. Cool fresh water such as from a hose or tap is adequate. Avoid ice cold water and frozen ice packs because it can cause their blood vessels to constrict which decreases their ability to dissipate heat.

  • Moderation: Moderate your pet's outdoor activity for what is right for them. Take frequent breaks from activity as well when you are out in warm temperatures. These breaks are best if they can be in the shade or in an air conditioned space. Realize that extra breaks means more time devoted to an activity and plan accordingly.

High Risk Environmental Factors

Your pet will be at higher risk for heatstroke when one or more of these factors are present. If a day is uncomfortable for you, then it is for your dog as well. Plan for less time or lower intensity activities on days where any of the following conditions are present.

  • High humidity
  • High temperatures
  • Sunny days with more radiant heat
  • Low or no wind/air flow

High Risk Individual Factors

Some breeds and individuals have a much harder time dealing with heat just because of their physiology.

If you have a pet that has any of the following risk factors, then you should avoid taking your pet out during the summer. They can overheat very easily even with acclimatization.

  • Brachycephalic Breeds (smushed faced breeds like pugs, bulldogs, Boston Terriers, etc)
  • Obesity
  • Laryngeal Paralysis
  • Collapsing trachea
  • Previous history of heatstroke
  • Poor acclimatization to the heat or climate