Heatstroke in pets- tips on how to keep your pet safe.

The sun has been out for 2 days straight now which obviously means it is the beginning of summer in the UK. Rising temperatures might be nice for us but our four legged friends don’t always enjoy the heat, and in some cases it can have devastating effects. I’ve put my ‘day job’ veterinarian hat on to come up with some tips on how to keep your furry friends safe in hot weather.

What is Heatstroke?

Heatstroke is basically hyperthermia- a high body temperature- that has not been caused by a fever. It is a true emergency; if left untreated it can soon lead to the death of a pet. ‘Exertional heatstroke’ occurs during or after exercise on hot sunny days. Non exertional occurs when animals are exposed to high temperatures without ventilation or a water source.


Why are dogs and cats at risk?

Our pets have a hard time regulating their body temperature when it is warm outside. Unlike humans, they only have sweat glands on their paws and around their nose, so once overheated they really struggle to cool themselves down.  Fit and healthy dogs and cats can suffer from heatstroke, but some individuals are at a higher risk of developing symptoms. These include

  • Very old or young dogs or cats.
  • Pregnant or nursing animals
  • Overweight animals
  • Short nosed/flat faced breeds (aka ‘Brachycephalics) such as Pugs, Pekinese or boxer dogs, as well as Himalayan or Persian cats.
  • Thick coated breeds
  • animals with pre existing breathing or heart conditions.

What are the signs to look out for?

Common things to watch out for include

  • Drooling
  • Panting
  • Dark coloured (red or purple) tongue
  • Lethargy or acting sleepy
  • Wobbliness/ being uncoordinated
  • Collapse
  • Vomiting

These signs can be associated with other health problems, so if in doubt please call your veterinary surgery for advice. In some cases you may not see warning signs that your pet is in difficulty

How to help your pet – emergency first aid and prevention


If you think your pet has become overheated there are several ways that you can help:

  1. Don’t panic! Move your pet to a cool or shady area and ring  your local vet for advice.
  2. cool your pet- this needs to be done slowly to prevent doing more harm than good. In some cases you can start doing this whilst making your way to the veterinary surgery.

NEVER immerse your pet fully/ completely douse them in cold water as this could cause them to go into shock.

Ways to safely bring your dog’s temperature down include

  • Using small amounts of room temperature water to pour on their body, little and often.
  • Wrapping your pet in wet towels.
  • Standing your pet near a fan.
  • Allowing them to drink SMALL amounts of cool water.

Whilst it is important to cool your pet, make sure you don’t over do it. Cooling your pet for too long or too quickly will potentially cause them to go into shock.

Once your pets breathing rate becomes more normal and they start to seem less agitated then you can stop cooling your pet. In all instances it is a good idea to take your pet in to the vets for a check- up ASAP, even if they seem better.

Prevention

… is always better than cure, so here are some tips to stop your pet becoming too warm in the first place

Never ever be tempted to leave your pet in a car or caravan. Even with open windows and in the shade the temperature inside a parked vehicle can soar within minutes.

Avoid exercising your pet in the heat of the day ( 11-3pm in the UK ). Early morning or evening is better. Not only will this prevent heatstroke but it will also prevent burnt or damaged pads due to hot pavements/tarmac.


Provide plenty of fresh water for your pet to drink. Sometimes cats can be really fussy about what they drink from- they may prefer running water (ie water fountain or tap) or particular bowls.

Ice- a few cubes in a bowl of water can go down well on hot days. Filling a plastic bottle 3/4 full with water and freeze it overnight. Once frozen, wrap in a tea towel or other fabric cover and place under your pets bedding. Just be sure they can’t come into direct contact with the ice, and I would not leave them unattended with it!

What to do if you see a dog in a parked car?

For good advice, check out the RSPCAs suggestions. Calling the police (if you are in the UK ) can be a first port of call, as RSPCA

The RSPCA has good advice on what to do if you find a dog in a hot car. If you are worried about an animal left unattended , or it appears distressed the best thing to do is call the police.


How does your pet like to keep cool in the heat? How do you help them out? I’d love to hear!