Reviewed for accuracy on May 12, 2020 by JoAnna Pendergrass, DVM
As summer temperatures rise, so do your pet’s chances of developing heat stroke. While it’s always dangerous to leave pets in hot cars or other small and confined places, pets can get heat stroke even while spending time outside with you on a hot summer day.
Heat stroke happens when your pet’s core body temperature reaches dangerously high levels and the body’s natural cooling systems (e.g., panting) cannot bring the temperature back down. Heat stroke affects vital internal organs like the brain and kidneys, possibly causing permanent organ damage and even death. It’s important to know not only how to identify the signs of heat stroke, but also how to prevent it.
Heat stroke is more of a risk in dogs than cats, in part because cats typically don’t go on as many car rides or spend as much time outside as dogs. However, cats are not in the clear when it comes to heat stroke.
Top 10 Signs of Heatstroke in Pets
- Body temperatures reaching 104 – 110⁰F
- Excessive panting
- Dark or bright red tongue and gums
- Sticky or dry tongue and gums
- Staggering or being unable to walk straight
- Bloody diarrhea or vomiting
Breeds Most Susceptible to Heat Stroke
Short-nosed breeds like Bulldogs and Pugs and large, heavy-coated breeds like Siberian Huskies are susceptible to heat stroke.
Other Risk Factors for Heat Stroke
Dogs who are muzzled can develop heat stroke because the muzzle makes it harder for them to pant. Excess body weight and heart and respiratory problems can also increase the risk for heat stroke. Pets who are very young or very old are less able to regulate their body temperatures, putting them at risk for heat stroke.
What to Do If You Think Your Pet Has Heat Stroke
- Get your pet in a cool, shady place.
- Use cool water (not ice water, as it can shock their system) to cool your pet down until you can get to a veterinarian.
- Apply cool wet cloths to the head and neck area, and on the paws.
- Offer your pet ice cubes to lick until you can reach a veterinarian.
- Monitor your pet’s rectal temperature with a digital thermometer (make sure to lubricate the thermometer). Stop cooling your pet once your pet’s body temperature reaches 103 degrees (any lower and pets can become hypothermic).
- Even if your pet looks okay on the outside, always make sure to get them checked out by a vet, who will be able to identify and start treating heat-stroke related illness.
Preventing Heat Stroke
- Give your pet access to plenty of shade and fresh, cool water.
- Keep your pet groomed appropriately.
- Avoid long walks, hikes, and jogs in the middle of a warm day.
- Never leave your pet in the car, not even for a quick errand. If you sit in your car for a few minutes and start to feel too hot, your pet will too.
Things to Remember About Heat Stroke
- Heat stroke can occur even on relatively mild days.
- There is usually a progression from mild heat stress to more moderate heat exhaustion to heat stroke, but this progression can happen very quickly.
- The temperature in a car increases about 19 degrees every 10 minutes. That means a car can go from a comfortable 70 degrees to nearly 90 degrees in just over 10 minutes.
- Walking, hiking, or jogging outside during hot days can burn your pet’s paws. If the sidewalk is too hot for you to walk on barefoot, then it’s too hot for your pet.
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