Heat Stroke – know the risks and symptoms


Summer heat is in full swing. When pets get hot without a way to cool down effectively, they can overheat, become dehydrated, or even suffer heat stroke. Heat stroke occurs when the body becomes overheated and the natural cooling mechanisms are not effective in bringing the temperature down. Early symptoms can include restlessness, panting, drooling, elevated heart rate, and elevated body temperature. The high temperature then begins to effect the entire body and other symptoms including vomiting (possibly with blood), bloody diarrhea, trouble breathing, seizures, acute kidney failure, clotting abnormalities or even death can occur.

One of the most common reasons a dog suffers heat stroke is because they were left in a car that got too hot. While there are of course sad stories of dogs being left alone in cars for extended periods, a “quick” trip into the store can also easily be the cause. It only takes about ten minutes for the inside of a car to reach 102° on an 85° day (even with cracked windows). By 30 minutes, the inside of the car can reach 120°. Even on a 70° day, the inside of the car can be 20° hotter than the outside temperature.

Although being left in a hot car is the more common reason we see heat stroke in pets, it is important to consider other possible causes. Outdoor pets who do not have access to shade or fresh cool water are also at risk. Surfaces that retain heat, such as asphalt, can contribute to making a pet get even hotter (and can burn the paw pads). Any pet that is over-exerted, especially on a hot day, may struggle to cool down quickly enough. Additionally, geriatric pets, overweight pets, flat face breeds (Pugs, Bull-dogs, Persian cats, etc.), and pets with heart or lung disease may also be at increased risk for overheating more easily.

In order to help prevent overheating problems with your pet, never leave your pet in a parked car. Keep your pet in the air conditioning on hot days. All pets should always have access to fresh, clean, cool water. For outdoor pets, make sure there is plenty of shade. Limit the amount of outdoor activities on hot days, and try to time walks in the cooler parts of the day. Supervised water activities can be fun as long as precautions are taken since not all dogs are good swimmers.

Have fun and be safe in the heat with your pet this summer!


ASPCA hot weather information

Author: Dr. C. Noureddine, DVM, MS