what to do if pet has heatstroke

What to Do if Your Pet Has Heatstroke

When summer hits, and the heat starts to set in, it is important to remember that your pet will need extra care during this time. With the rising temperatures and humidity, you can easily become dehydrated and overheat. This can result in falling unconscious at best, and at its worst, vital organs can fail, and it can even be fatal. This all applies to your pets as well!

We tend to think of animals as tougher than humans, but in truth, dogs and cats begin to experience heatstroke at the same internal body temperature (104° F) as humans do. Severe heatstroke begins at 105° to 106° F internally. With smaller pets it is more difficult to gauge temperature, but there is always one practice to keep in mind. Constantly keep your eye on the heat index. Meteorologists use the heat index to determine what the true temperature is once humidity is applied; it’s this balance of heat and humidity that are dangerous to the health of you and your pet.

When the heat index reaches 90° F, you need to start taking heatstroke precautions to protect your pets. They can’t ask you to turn on the air conditioning or request extra water. They also can’t verbalize when they’re starting to feel ill. Your pets depend on you to monitor the weather conditions and give them what they need to survive.

Pet Heatstroke Prevention

Animals work differently than humans. Specifically, how their bodies function versus ours. For instance, cats and dogs only sweat through the pads on their feet and other animals, such as rabbits, disperse heat through their ears. What keeps you cool may not keep your pets cool, and vice versa. If you’re ever hesitant about how to care for your pet, please ask us!

Tips & Tricks to Help Your Pet Avoid Heatstroke:

  • Air conditioning! Because of the way animals sweat, a fan by itself will not be enough to help them release body heat.
  • Try to always be prepared for severe weather that could disable the power in your home. Especially during the summer months! This will increase the risk of heat stroke, as you will have a harder time providing cool air and water.
  • If you have a basement, consider leaving your pet in their when you aren’t home. Since it’s underground, it will be naturally cooler.
  • Provide plenty of shade and ventilation. This is extremely important when you’re indoors AND outdoors. Also check to make sure there is nothing that could keep your pet from reaching the shade like their leash getting stuck on something or furniture blocking the available shade.
  • Keep your pets indoors as much as possible during the extreme weather seasons. This is important on very hot days, especially during the hottest part of the day. Always avoid keeping your pet on surfaces that will retain heat, such as asphalt and sand.
  • NEVER leave your pet in the car unattended! No matter how quick your errand or how shady your parking spot is, cracking the windows is not enough to ensure the safety of your pet. Pets left in vehicles for too long is a leading cause of hyperthermia-related pet deaths.
  • Try to limit muzzling larger pets as much as possible. Panting is part of their cooling process! How they pant will help you determine how well or how poorly they’re reacting to the temperature.
  • Make sure your pet has easy access to water. If you’re going out, consider using a pet fountain that will prevent spillage and provide a constant flow of water. Ice cubes are also great for cooling down their water and helps keep their internal temperature down. This is especially important for older or impaired animals. They typically drink less water than other pets so keeping their water cool and accessible is critical.
  • Experiment with ice packs or similar DIY options (e.g., frozen water bottles) to help your pet cool itself. Your can put these in your pet’s cages for them to play with or lay against.
  • Physically apply water to your pets to keep them cool. This could be something small, such as misting them, or letting them have a dip in the pool or setting up sprinklers in the yard for them to run through.
  • Give your pets cold treats such as homemade peanut-butter popsicles or chilled wet food. Note, avoid ice cubes as they can injure teeth.
  • High risk animals should be taken extra care of! Such as pets who suffer from heart or lung disease, obesity, or thicker coats.

Heatstroke Symptoms

The early stages of overheating can be treated at home. However, you should always check in with your veterinarian to make sure your pet isn’t suffering from anything internal or other serious side effects. If you catch these symptoms quickly, hopefully, you can prevent heatstroke from progressing. Once the condition of your pet has moved to heatstroke, you will need to take immediate action and bring your pet to your veterinarian or emergency clinic as quickly as possible.

Signs of Pet Heatstroke

If your dog experiences heatstroke, you might notice some or many of these symptoms:

  • Excessive panting and drooling
  • Red gums or tongue
  • Increased heart rate
  • Dry nose
  • Being unusually quiet
  • Not wanting to or not being able to get up
  • Vomiting

If heatstroke progresses and your dog’s body temperature continues to rise, they might experience the following symptoms:

  • Bloody mouth or stool
  • Muscle tremors
  • Seizures
  • Incoordination or a staggering walk
  • Weakness
  • Collapse
  • Coma
  • Death

All types of animals can experience heatstroke. Even lizards and birds! Stiffness, discolored skin or tongue, rigidity, lethargy, and loss of appetite are a few signs that these pets may be experiencing heatstroke. Be sure to ask us about your specific pet so you will know what to watch out for and be prepared.

Side Effects

Even after normalizing your pet’s body temperature, there is still room for potential injury or lingering side effects. Regardless of their better condition, always bring your pets into your veterinarian for assessment in order to diagnose and prevent more serious internal problems.

Types of internal issues can include:

  • Kidney failure
  • Cardiac or pulmonary distress
  • Blood clot dysfunction or disorder
  • Systemic inflammatory response system
  • Liver disease, disorder, or cell breakdown
  • Depression or other mental changes
  • Hydrocephalus (abnormal accumulation of fluid around the brain)
  • If left untreated, heatstroke can result in death


The first thing you should do if your pet is suffering from heatstroke is to contact your veterinarian immediately. Next, you will need to handle your pet with extreme care. For instance, making them too cold, or too cold too quickly, can trigger problems like an increased risk of shock or hypothermia. The latter will cause the blood vessels to tighten, decreasing blood flow and preventing your pet from being able to cool down.

For small pets, wet their paws and ears with cool water. Next, wet the fur as it will mimic the process of sweating. It is especially important to slowly cool small pets because there is a heightened risk of life-threatening complications. Once their temperature has started to normalize, gently wrap them in a wet towel to keep them cool while you transport them to the closest emergency veterinary hospital.

For larger pets, the process is similar. Saturate their fur with cool water or use wet cloths to place at the back of the head and armpits to bring their body temperature down to a safe level of about 103° F. Let them drink water or lick ice if they are thirsty. However, don’t give them cold water or try to force them to drink. A good trick is to try a children’s re-hydration drink or add a little salt to their water. This will help restore electrolytes and minerals lost from overheating. Once they are at a normal temperature, dry your pet thoroughly to prevent hypothermia and bring them to an emergency veterinarian immediately.

If your pet is unconscious, bathe them in cool water. This is a delicate process, and you must make sure to not to let water get into their nose or mouth as this can result in aspirated pneumonia. When transporting them to your nearest emergency veterinary hospital, keep some type of cold pack against their belly. Frozen water bottles or bags of frozen vegetables can be used an ice pack.


Once your pet is in the hands of our veterinary team, we offer an array of services to meet the specific needs of your pet. Including:

  • Temperature regulation
  • Respiratory aid
  • Blood tests
  • Clot tests
  • Full body exam
  • Tests for damage to internal organs
  • Treatments based on our diagnosis

In many cases, pets can fully recover complication-free. For pets who don’t 100% recover, they may temporarily or permanently need a specific diet based on their complications. Remember, pets that have experienced heatstroke once have a greater risk of experiencing it again.

If your pet’s behavior has not returned to normal after a few days, it is important to bring your pet back to your veterinarian for further assessment. If you are local to the Portland, OR area, we would love to have you at Vista Pet Hospital. You can request an appointment by giving us a call at (503) 297-2218.