Hot Dog! Recognize the Signs of Overheating

Underwater photo of golden retriever diving under the water and swimming

The dogs days of summer are upon us! That means spending time at the lake, frolicking in the sun and, unfortunately, the threat of heat stroke.

Pets are especially susceptible to overheating because they can’t sweat like humans do. Instead, they cool themselves by panting, which isn’t the most efficient way to dissipate heat. This increases their risk for overheating and heat stroke, which can cause brain swelling, kidney or liver damage, and cardiac arrest. But the good news is that it’s completely preventable.

Preventing Heat Stroke

The main cause of overheating is from pets left in parked cars. You should never leave your dog or cat in a parked car (not even for a few minutes!). On an 80°F day, it doesn’t take long for the temperature inside your vehicle to top 120°F — and cracking open the windows doesn’t help. In fact, leaving your pet in your car is such a bad idea that it’s illegal in some cities and states.

Other prevention methods include making sure your pet is hydrated and has access to fresh, clean water; staying indoors when it’s 90°F or higher; making sure your house isn’t too warm, and avoiding hot pavement. You can also trim your pet’s fur if he has a long coat (just don’t make it too short or he might get sunburned). You should also limit outdoor time on hot days. If you do need to be outside, try to stay in the shade to keep cool.

If your pet needs exercise, find activities that will reduce the potential for overheating. Go swimming, let him run through a sprinkler or take a walk during the early morning and late evening, the coolest parts of the day. And be sure to bring along water so your pup can hydrate along the way.

Recognize the Signs

One of the biggest indicators of overheating is your pet’s body temperature. Over 103°F is cause for concern, as your pet is suffering from heat exhaustion. Severe heat stroke, which can be fatal, hits at 106°F for dogs and 105°F for cats. Other signs include:

  • panting
  • excessive drooling
  • sweaty paw pads in cats
  • extreme thirst
  • bright red tongue
  • rapid heart rate
  • glazed eyes
  • weakness
  • dizziness
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • lethargy
  • convulsions or seizures
  • loss of consciousness

Is Your Pet At Risk?

Any pet is at risk on a hot or humid day given the right conditions, especially like not having a shady spot when spending time outside or sitting in a hot, parked car (don’t do it!). But some animals are more susceptible than others, like dogs and cats with thick coats and long hair, the very young and very old, obese pets and those with chronic health issues.

Brachycephalic dogs and cats (those that are “snub-nosed”) are more prone to overheating — dogs like pugs, bulldogs, and boxers, and cat breeds like Persian, Himalayan, and Scottish Fold. Active dog breeds, such as shepherds, spaniels, and retrievers, are also at a higher risk. Since they naturally need to expend more energy than other breeds, you’ll have to keep a close eye on them during hot days and watch for signs of overheating.

If You Suspect Overheating

  • Move your pet to a cool location, ideally somewhere indoors with air conditioning. If you’re outdoors and can’t get to a cool, indoor location, find a shady spot outside.
  • Give your pet water, but don’t force him to drink as he could inhale the water and get it into his lungs.
  • Check your pet’s temperature. If it’s 106°F or higher, your pet has severe heat stroke and you should call your veterinarian immediately. She will be able to provide extra advice as you work to bring down your pet’s temperature and make arrangements for you to bring him in for an exam.
  • Start the cooling process by using water to bring down your pet’s temperature. Put your dog in cool water (not cold), such as a lake or kiddie pool. You can also put him in a bathtub and fill it with cool water. The bathtub method works for cats, but you can also use wet towels or bags of frozen vegetables instead. Place the towels on your cat’s his head, neck, armpits and between the legs. You can also put a fan on your pet to help speed up the process.
  • Continue the cooling process until your pet’s temperature drops below 103°F.
  • Take your pet to your veterinarian. They will be able to treat the heat stroke and assess any damage that may have occurred.