While increasing temperatures during summer allow for more time outdoors, they also can become dangerous for pets. Living in a northern temperate climate means we have the luxury of four seasons, but three of those are relatively cool compared to the summer months. Heatstroke can affect any pet, often leading to death within hours or days. The Animal Hospital of Stoney Creek team wants pet owners to help their furry friends avoid a tragic heat-related illness, so we’re sharing more information and tips to keep pets safe in the summer.

Heatstroke in pets

Pets cool down in various ways. Dogs mainly use panting, which cools them through evaporation, but panting isn’t effective in high temperatures or high humidity. Other cooling measures might include lying on a cold floor, being immersed in cool water, using a cooling vest, or sitting near a fan. Heatstroke occurs when these cooling measures are overwhelmed and a pet’s body temperature rises above normal. Body cells cannot function above a certain point and begin to die, causing organs and body systems to fail. Heatstroke is deadly in 20% to 50% of pets because of organ damage, brain damage, internal bleeding, or shock.

Heatstroke is preceded by heat stress and heat exhaustion, marked by muscle spasms, weakness or lethargy, vomiting, or diarrhea. If heat exposure continues, the body temperature will rise and lead to the following potential heatstroke signs:

  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Stumbling, stiff, or uncoordinated movements
  • Seizures
  • Bleeding, including in the gastrointestinal or urinary tract
  • Pinpoint bruising
  • Elevated or irregular heart rate
  • Collapse
  • Death

Which pets are at risk for heatstroke?

All pets, including dogs and cats, are at risk for heatstroke, but cats are affected less often than dogs. Dogs get overly excited to be outdoors and are less likely to seek out cool places and regulate their activity like a cat would. Certain dogs are considered high risk because they have characteristics that reduce their body’s ability to cool down. High-risk groups include:

  • Brachycephalic (i.e., short-nosed) pets
  • Seniors and young puppies
  • Pets with endocrine disorders, including diabetes, Cushing’s disease, and thyroid disease
  • Overweight and obese pets
  • Dogs with airway disorders, including laryngeal paralysis and collapsing trachea

Tips to avoid heatstroke in pets

You can avoid heatstroke by understanding your pet’s risk, supervising them closely to watch for signs they are overheating, and following these tips:

  • Never leave pets in an unattended vehicle, which can heat up quickly in the sun.
  • Provide pets with shade and water while outdoors, and do not leave them in the backyard unattended.
  • Avoid exercising outside during the hottest daytime hours—choose early morning or late evening instead.
  • Take frequent breaks during walks, and bring plenty of water for you and your pet.
  • Keep high-risk pets indoors in the air conditioning whenever possible.
  • Give pets time to acclimate to outdoor exercise by increasing time gradually.

Other summer pet dangers

Heatstroke isn’t the only danger your pet could face during the summer. Follow these tips to avoid other possible disasters:

  • Always supervise pets during water activities and use a life jacket in open water.
  • Stay away from hot asphalt or metal, which can burn your pet’s feet or skin.
  • Use an effective parasite preventive to protect against fleas, ticks, and heartworms; ask our team for recommendations.
  • Keep fertilizers and pesticides away from pets.
  • Learn which plants are toxic to pets before updating your yard or garden.

When to seek emergency care

Your pet’s life could be at stake if they suffer from heatstroke, so take action as soon as you notice a problem. Call our office during normal business hours—or a veterinary emergency hospital after hours—to let us know you are on your way. We can tell you the best way to cool your pet during transport, which will greatly increase their chances of recovery. Expect your pet to remain hospitalized for monitoring and intensive care for several days.

Enjoy the summer sun and keep your pet safe by staying vigilant and following our heat safety tips. Schedule a visit with the Animal Hospital of Stoney Creek team for a wellness examination, parasite consultation, or to learn more about your pet’s heat tolerance. Contact the nearest veterinary emergency center if you think your pet is suffering from heatstroke or another heat-related illness or injury.