Updated: Jul 5, 2021
Knowing how to prevent overheating, heat exhaustion and heatstroke is one of the most important factors when it comes to keeping your pets safe and comfortable during the hot summer months. Being able to identify the signs of heatstroke could save their life, particularly if your dog or cat is more at risk of heatstroke. Since dogs and cats regulate their body temperature differently to ours, it is important not to rely on temperature alone to gauge how hot your pet may be. Here are some tips for pet parents that tell you how to observe your their behaviour in order to prevent heatstroke:
Skip Ahead To:
Pets Most at Risk for Overheating:
Brachycephalic Breeds (Short nose and flat face) find it harder to breath: Bulldogs (French and English), Boxers, Boston Terriers, Pekingese, Pugs, Lhasa Apsos, Shih Tzus, Bull Mastiffs, and Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
Long Haired, Thick-Coated Dog Breeds Including Siberian Husky, Sheepdogs, Alaskan Malamutes, Samoyed, Pomeranians, Chow Chow, and Akita Inu.
Triple Coated Cats Including Maine coon, Birman, Angora, Balinese, Persian, Himalayan, Ragdoll, Somalí, Domestic Long Hair and American Curl
Giant Breeds Weighing over 50kg are three times more likely to develop heatstroke than smaller dogs: Irish Wolfhound, Saint Bernard, English Mastiff, Dogue de Bordeaux, and Newfoundland.
Overweight Dogs or Cats
High Energy Dogs Dogs with high energy levels (who don’t know when to stop!)
Very young or very old pets
Signs of Heatstroke in Dogs and Cats:
It can take only 5 - 10 minutes for your pet to succumb to heatstroke; they are especially at risk if they are being left in a hot car. Therefore, we highly recommend you never ever leave your pet alone in the heat unattended, especially in a hot car. If you can’t sit in a hot car for more than a minute without sweating, then this is becoming too dangerous for your pet.
Heavy Panting: Since dogs and cats can’t sweat like us (except for mainly through glands in their paw pads) panting is their way of regulating their body temperature. As they pant, the hot air inside is being replaced with cool air coming in, which internally cools their bodies. Rapid panting indicates a dog is getting too hot and if they can’t cool themselves fast enough they can get sick very fast. Panting to the point of near hyperventilation is a dangerous sign of heat stroke so it is important to watch for how hard your dog is breathing. Brachycephalic breeds or short nosed and flat faced breeds like pugs will begin to snort when they are getting really overheated. If you see them having a hard time breathing it's a sign to get them cooled down right away. Since cats are desert animals they are better at regulating heat than dogs. Panting is a very serious sign that they are already extremely hot or have a heart condition and they should be taken to the vet immediately.
Dehydration: The second biggest tell tale sign of overheating is foamy or tacky saliva, where they are not really able to drool due to dehydration. If you offer your pet water and they drink as if they can’t get enough, this is an indication that your dog or cat is dehydrated. If you offer them water and they're not interested in drinking, this is usually a good sign that they are regulating their body temperature and cooling themselves down. Sudden grass eating that is not typical for your dog is also another sign that your dog is very thirsty. It is important to always carry a lot of water even for short walks.
Rapid Heart Rate or Pulse: A pulse that is unusually fast or slow can be cause for concern. You can record your dog's pulse by gently feeling the beat near the inside top of their hind leg. For finding cats heartbeat, place your hand over their left side, just behind the front leg.
Inflamed or Red Eyes: If you look at the whites of your dog or cat's eyes they should be white. Red, bloodshot or inflamed can is a warning sign.
Colour Change in Gums: Gums of a healthy dog or cat should be a shade of pink, most commonly a bubble gum pink. If the gum colour becomes pale or white this is a warning sign.
Disorientation: Watch for unusual behaviour such as restlessness (pacing), confusion or weakness (stumbling)
Vomiting or Diarrhea
Collapse: If your pet becomes seriously ill from heat stroke they will collapse, but not before but you will see some of the above symptoms.
Overheating Treatment in Dogs and Cats
Is your pet suffering from any of the above symptoms? Here are a few things you can do to gradually cool them down before taking them to the vet.
Remove from Direct Sunlight Remove your pet from the hot environment and place in a shaded and cool environment like an air conditioned room or in front of a fan
Hose Down You can hose down your pet or place them in a cool bath to try and cool their body temperature to help get rid of the trapped heat in their fur. For cats, use a watering can or jug or stroke them with a damp washcloth. (Use cool water, and not frozen water to avoid shock)
Hydration Offer them a drink of small amounts of cool, fresh water.
Repeat Hose Down Continue to use a stream or bath of cool water over their head and body until their symptoms begin to settle.
Emergency Vet Visit Heatstroke is an emergency – Even if your pet looks like they may be recovering from their initial symptom(s) of overheating they should still be checked by a vet as soon as possible
How To Prevent Heatstroke in Dogs and Cats:
Avoid high intensity exercise: During the hottest hours of the day, avoid exercise that will raise their heart rate and body temperature. The best ways to exercise your pet in the heat is by taking short walks in the shade or by going swimming. High drive breeds in particular don’t know when to stop and will keep exercising even if they are exhausted, so keeping them leashed to keep their heart rates low may be necessary. Triple coated cats are most at risk of overeating so allowing them to run around in the heat should be avoided.
Avoid walking on hot concrete: If you touch hot concrete with your hand or bare foot and it feels too hot for you, it’s usually far too hot for your pets paw pads. A hot pavement can burn your pets feet and radiate heat throughout their body, especially if walking on black asphalt as it absorbs heat. Where possible walk on grass or in the shade, or if you cannot avoid walking on hot pavement, it is best to put protective booties on their feet.
Access to shade and cool down areas: When spending time outdoors, keep them out of direct sunlight, and set up a tent or umbrella in a shaded spot along with plenty of water, an elevated bed, frozen towels or a cooling mat. Never leave your pet alone outside in the heat. Set up a garden sprinkler or kids pool as a fun way to cool your pets down.
Cooling pet accessories: Cooling mats, vests and bandanas that you can put in the freezer or reflect UV rays are helpful for heat intolerant dogs or cats all year round. Alternatively giving them frozen towels to lay on or stroking them with a damp cloth is another way of manually cooling them down.
Access to lots of fresh drinking Water: When going for walks, always pack at least one litre of water for you and your pet and ensure to have fresh drinking water available both inside and outside at all times. You can encourage your dog to stay hydrated with frozen treats like a stuffed pumpkin and peanut butter frozen Kong, freezing a metal pet bowl with water and their favourite treats, or placing their favourite treats into a pool or bath.
Air conditioning or fan: When spending time indoors or traveling in a vehicle this is important to keeping them comfortable. Never, ever leave your pet alone in a hot car.
Grooming: Keep your pets hair brushed and short or shaven during the summer months. It is important to ask your vet or groomer for the most suitable trim type for your pet's breed (some breeds, including a few double-coated dogs, should actually not be shaved during the summer as it puts them at more risk).
Healthy diet: Reducing the risk of obesity by feeding a healthy and fresh diet will reduce your pets sensitivity to heat and a host of other health issues like dental disease and diabetes.
Extra Cool Down Tips For Your Dog or Cat:
DIY A.C Place a shallow bowl filled with ice cubes or frozen water bottles in front of or behind your fan.
DIY Cooling pad Freeze damp towels and lay them out for your pet
DIY cooling vest Freeze damp washcloths and stroke your pets with them
Wrap frozen water bottles or ice packs in a wash cloth and place them in your pets bed
Half fill a metal pet bowl with water, include their favourite treat or toy and freeze!
Freeze watermelon or cantaloupe and feed as a cooling healthy treat
Feed a frozen bone - see our free bone feeding guide
Bobbing for treats: Fill a cool bath, or paddling pool with water and add your pets favourite treat or toy
Spritzer bottle - Place a spray bottle in the freezer for a few minutes and gently spray your pets body