Heat stroke in pets is a condition in which body temperature rises to a dangerous level, rapidly causing organ damage and, without prompt intervention, death. This can result from leaving a pet inside a car, putting them outside on a hot day without sufficient shade and water, or allowing them to engage in intense activity when it is hot outside. Even with the windows cracked, the interior of a parked car heats up very rapidly—the temperature can climb 20 degrees in just 10 minutes, and over 40 degrees within an hour.

While dogs with thick heavy coats have an increased risk of overheating, the breeds that are at greatest risk of developing heat stroke are the short-nosed breeds, such as English Bulldogs, French Bulldogs, and Pugs. This is because dogs do not sweat, and rely primarily on breathing out hot air to cool themselves down. Due to their abnormal airway anatomy, short-nosed breeds are not able to dissipate heat efficiently in this manner.

Signs of heat stroke include intense panting, drooling, difficulty breathing, vomiting, diarrhea, incoordination, weakness, collapse, and seizures. A rectal temperature over 103.0 degrees in a pet showing these signs confirms that they are suffering from heat stroke.

If a pet is suffering from heat stroke, they should immediately be brought into a cooler area (ideally air conditioned). Towels soaked in cool (not cold) water should be applied to the neck, armpits, belly, and groin areas, and a fan should be directed at the pet. Once these measures have been instituted, the owner should get the air conditioning going in their car; once the car has cooled down, the pet should be transported (with the wet towels) to the closest veterinarian for further treatment.

In order to minimize a pet’s risk of heat stroke:

  • Never leave a pet in a parked car during the summer for any amount of time, even if the car is parked in the shade and the windows are rolled part way down.
  • When leaving a pet outside on a hot day, make sure they have access to an area that remains shady throughout the day, as well as an abundant supply of fresh water.
  • On hot days, limit your pet’s physical activity to the coolest parts of the day–early in the morning and in the late evening, make them take frequent rest breaks, and decrease the duration of their activities.

Moore Lane Veterinary Hospital