While we all love to spend time outdoors during the summer, the Southeast Texas heat and sun can be extremely dangerous for pets. One of pets’ most significant hot-weather hazards is heatstroke, which can be deadly in up to half of those affected. Pets cannot cool off as easily as people, and a temperature that is comfortable for you can overwhelm your pet. Our Neighborhood Veterinary Centers of NASA team is raising awareness about heatstroke and explaining how the condition develops, so you learn to recognize the signs and help your pet avoid a summer health emergency.

What is heatstroke in pets?

Pets develop heatstroke when their body temperature rises higher than 104 degrees because of outside factors, not a fever or illness. A pet typically develops heatstroke when they are exposed to high heat and humidity for longer than they can tolerate. Many pets who develop this condition do not survive. A pet’s heatstroke severity and survival rate are closely linked to the degree of body temperature elevation and how quickly they receive emergency veterinary care and cooling measures. When a pet has a high body temperature, their cells and tissues are damaged, which can rapidly lead to organ damage, brain damage, neurologic dysfunction, widespread blood clotting or bleeding, and, sometimes, death.

What causes heatstroke in pets?

To help prevent your pet from developing heatstroke, you need to keep your four-legged friend away from certain situations. The most common scenarios in which pets suffer heatstroke include:

  • Being left unattended in a vehicle
  • Being left unattended or tied up in a sunny backyard, having no adequate shade or water
  • Having exercised in the heat for too long

Dogs develop heatstroke more often than cats, who seem to have a lower risk because they are more likely to actively seek a cool spot. Dogs, on the other hand, often overdo it because they don’t want to miss out on any action. Dogs primarily cool down by panting or lying on cool surfaces, but these methods can be extremely inefficient under hot or humid conditions.

Do some pets have a higher heatstroke risk than others?

All pets are at risk for heatstroke, which is most likely to develop when the temperature spikes suddenly, and they are given no time to acclimate. By gradually increasing your pet’s time outdoors, they can acclimate safely to the high temperatures. Even if they have been given time to acclimate to high temperatures, some pets may have a high heatstroke risk because of the following conditions:

  • Obesity or excess body weight
  • Brachycephalic (i.e., flattened muzzle) conformation
  • Seniors or young puppies
  • Airway conditions (i.e., tracheal collapse, laryngeal paralysis)
  • Endocrine disorders  
  • Heart disease

What are heatstroke signs in pets?

Pets’ heatstroke signs may begin with excessive panting, vomiting, diarrhea, or muscle cramps. If heat exposure continues, the following signs related to elevated body temperature may develop:

  • Reddened gums
  • Elevated or irregular heart rate
  • Weakness or collapse
  • Disorientation or stumbling
  • Seizures
  • Bleeding or bruising
  • Death

How can I prevent my pet from developing heatstroke?

You can protect your pet from heatstroke by learning about their risk factors and keeping them inside when temperatures rise. You can also help reduce your pet’s heatstroke risk by doing the following:

  • Avoid outdoor exercise during the hottest midday hours.
  • Gradually (i.e., over several weeks) increase time your pet spends outdoors when high temperatures occur.
  • Always provide water, shade, and supervision when your pet is outdoors.
  • Do not leave your pet unattended in a vehicle or the yard.
  • Allow your pet to swim or provide them with a splash pool or sprinkler while supervised.
  • Outfit your pet with a cooling vest or give them a cooling mat if they like to spend time outside.
  • Provide frequent breaks inside your air-conditioned house to help your pet cool off.

What should I do if my pet exhibits heatstroke signs?

If your pet has been outdoors when the temperature and humidity levels are high and they exhibit heatstroke signs, immediately bring them into your air-conditioned house. Call our Neighborhood Veterinary Centers of NASA team or your nearest veterinary emergency facility for instructions on how you can best cool down your pet while transporting them to the hospital for immediate, life-saving care. The more quickly your pet receives care, the better their chances for a full recovery.

To help prevent your pet from overheating during the scorching summer months, you must remain aware of outdoor conditions at all times and understand your furry pal’s individual heat and exercise sensitivities. Schedule a visit with the Neighborhood Veterinary Centers of NASA team or another nearby location to assess any pre-existing conditions that could increase your pet’s heatstroke risk or to discuss other summer safety and wellness care measures.