Soaring summer temperatures can be dangerous for humans, and more so for pets, who cannot sweat to cool down and are at high risk for heatstroke. Your pet can quickly develop heatstroke when their body temperature rises above normal because of outside factors, such as temperature, humidity, and exercise, and lead to devastating consequences. Little Animal Hospital wants to ensure your pet stays safe from the heat this summer, so we’ve put together some heat safety tips, and offer some activities that will keep your pet entertained indoors.

Pet heatstroke dangers

Heatstroke affects mostly dogs, because they often will not stop and rest if they are having fun, whereas cats are more likely to seek shade and cooler temperatures when they feel hot. Our discussion, therefore, will focus on dogs.

All dogs are at risk for heatstroke, but older dogs, obese dogs, dogs with certain medical conditions, and flat-faced, short-nosed (i.e., brachycephalic) breeds are more likely to develop the condition. Dogs cool off primarily through panting, which does not provide sufficient cooling in temperatures higher than 89 degrees—or lower in brachycephalic pets—or in high humidity. Heatstroke develops when a dog’s body temperature rises above the normal 99.5 to 102.5 degrees, and may occur when:

  • Dogs left outside don’t have sufficient shade or water
  • Dogs are left in enclosed spaces, such as a parked vehicle
  • Dogs are too active, take too few breaks, and drink too little water

Recognizing pet heatstroke

Early heat stress signs in dogs include heavy panting, drooling, red gums, incoordination, diarrhea, and lethargy, and they may later become confused, vomit, collapse, or seizure if temperature continues to rise. A high body temperature can damage tissue and organs, and lead to brain swelling, organ damage, clotting problems, sepsis, and shock. Heatstroke can be life-threatening and requires immediate veterinary care, although dogs may still develop serious complications that lead to death, despite appropriate veterinary treatment. 

Pet heatstroke treatment

If your pet develops heatstroke signs, move them to a cool indoor area immediately, and check their rectal temperature. If their temperature is 104 degrees or higher, you should begin cooling them at home by immersing them in cool—not ice cold—water, or wetting them down with a hose or towels, again with cool water. A fan can also help.

Once your pet’s temperature is 103.5 degrees or lower, they need veterinary care at our hospital or the nearest emergency room. Treatment will likely include tests to check for organ damage and clotting status, medications to reduce complications, IV fluids to counteract shock and poor kidney function, and hospitalization for several days to monitor for delayed organ damage.

Pet heat safety tips

Because heatstroke can result in serious damage or death, prevention is the best strategy. Keep your pet safe when temperatures rise by:

  • Maintaining awareness — Stay aware of environmental conditions, and assume that heat and humidity that makes you uncomfortable, also makes your pet uncomfortable—actually more so, because of  their difficulty cooling themselves. Always supervise pets during outdoor activities.
  • Providing shade and water — If your pet exercises in an outdoor area, ensure they have shade, and provide unlimited cool water. Never leave them outdoors unattended, or for long time periods.
  • Avoid enclosed spaces — Never leave your pet in a parked vehicle, which can quickly heat to dangerous temperatures, despite cracked windows and seemingly cool outdoor temperatures.
  • Limit outdoor exercise — Keep walks and outdoor activities short, take frequent breaks, and ensure you and your pet have adequate water.
  • Leave at-risk pets at home — If your pet is high-risk, avoid outdoor summer activities that may cause stress or overheating, and leave them home in air-conditioned comfort. 

Alternative summer pet activities

If you have a young, active dog, keeping them inside can be challenging, but these activities will keep them busy:

  • Swimming — Many pet rehabilitation facilities with pools offer indoor swimming to exercise your dog with a fun but tiring workout under instructor supervision. Dogs who are strong swimmers can cool off in outdoor lakes, ponds, and pools.
  • Bones and chews — Pet-safe chews, such as flavor-infused nylon or rubber, or digestible rawhide alternatives can provide long-lasting fun for your dog.
  • Puzzle toys — Like chews, puzzle toys can keep your dog busy. Choose a lick mat or Kong toy smeared with peanut butter, a snuffle mat with hidden treats, or a puzzle toy that requires your pet to open compartments or roll a ball to retrieve the treats inside.
  • Training — Use this time to reinforce your pet’s manners, or teach them fun tricks. Consult with a trainer about positive reinforcement techniques that can keep your dog mentally engaged.

Texas heat can be overwhelming for pets, so follow our heat safety tips to keep them cool and happy this summer. If you have questions regarding heat safety, or you are concerned your pet has been affected by the heat, do not hesitate to contact the team at Little Animal Hospital for guidance.