Summer’s extreme heat and humidity can lead to overheating in people and pets. Fortunately, you can keep an eye on the temperature and humidity levels and make safe choices that will help ensure you and your pet stay cool. Our team at Portside Veterinary Hospital explains overheating signs in pets, common heatstroke causes, what to do if your pet overheats, and why some pets are at increased heatstroke risk. 

Why do pets overheat?

When people sweat, heat transfers body moisture to the drier surrounding air, and the evaporation process cools us down. However, pets have only a few sweat glands, and have to pant to cool down. Panting pets, like people, inhale cool, dry air, through their nose and airways, and exhale warm, moist air, but when the air temperature is about the same as the pet’s normal body temperature, pets have difficulty cooling themselves, which can lead to heat-related conditions and heatstroke. 

What increases a pet’s overheating risk?

All pets can overheat, but certain factors can increase their risk. These include:

  • Breed — Brachycephalic (i.e., flat-faced, short-nosed) breeds, such as shih tzus, pugs, and bulldogs
  • Age — Young pets and senior pets
  • Health — Pets with underlying heart and lung diseases, or pets with a history of heat-related conditions  
  • Weight — Overweight or obese pets 
  • Coat — Pets with thick or long hair coats

What are heatstroke signs in pets?

Treating heatstroke in its earliest stages can prevent organ failure and death, so knowing the signs is imperative so that you recognize that your pet is overheating, and can take immediate steps to cool them and avoid an emergency. Some heatstroke signs include:

  • Excessive panting or drooling
  • Extreme thirst
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Bright red tongue 
  • Pale gums
  • Disorientation
  • Increased heart rate
  • Convulsion or collapse 

What should I do if my pet is overheating?

If you notice your pet panting heavily, bring them indoors and begin cooling them down immediately. 

  • Check your pet’s temperature — Determine your pet’s temperature with a rectal thermometer, if possible. A pet’s normal temperature is between 101 and 102.5 degrees, so they are overheated if their temperature is 103 degrees or higher. A temperature of 109 degrees is usually fatal.
  • Start a cool bath — Place your pet in the bathtub and run cool—not cold—water over them, ensuring you keep their head out of the water.
  • Use a fan — Place a fan near your pet to help speed the evaporation process. 
  • Continue monitoring their temperature — Check your pet’s temperature every five minutes, and stop the cooling process once the thermometer reads 103 degrees or lower.
  • Avoid wet towels and ice-cold water — Wrapping your pet in wet towels will actually trap heat, and ice-cold water can cause blood vessels to constrict, trapping the heat, and increasing their temperature. 
  • Seek immediate veterinary care — Your pet may respond well to your cooling measures, but they still need immediate medical care at Portside Veterinary Hospital or your local emergency clinic because they may have organ damage. 

How can I protect my pet from heatstroke?

You can prevent your pet from overheating and avoid a heat-related emergency by taking simple steps, including: 

  • Limit time outdoors — Keep an eye on the temperature and humidity level, and keep your pet inside on extremely hot days. Keep bathroom breaks quick, and if your pet does stay outside, ensure they have access to shade and water. Never leave your pet outside unattended in extremely hot weather.
  • Avoid the midday heat — Exercise your pet outdoors in the cooler early morning or late evening and avoid the hottest midday temperatures. 
  • Leave your pet home — The safest place for your pet on a hot day is at home. Never leave your pet in a parked car—if you can’t take them with you when you leave the car, leave them at home. 
  • Keep your pet hydrated — Ensure your pet has plenty of cool, fresh water throughout the day. Add ice cubes to keep their water chilled, or give your pet a hydrating snack such as frozen watermelon, bananas, or sweet potatoes.
  • Watch for heatstroke signs — Monitor your pet carefully for heatstroke signs, and act quickly if you see they are overheating. 

For many people and pets, summer is the best time of year, and you do not want a heatstroke episode to spoil everything. Ensure your pet stays cool and comfortable with our tips, and contact our Portside Veterinary Hospital team immediately for help should your pet have a heat-related emergency.