Heat is an often underestimated but life-threatening risk to pets and people. And, less than extreme temperatures can create tragedy—in fact, what most would consider a mild spring day can prove deadly for dogs and cats.
Prevent heat-related heartbreak and learn proper warm weather pet care with this heat safety list from Village Veterinary Hospital.
Defining and recognizing heat-related stress in pets
First, know thine enemy—heat stress and heatstroke are temperature-related emergencies caused when internal body temperatures reach excessive levels (i.e., hyperthermia). Pets are especially prone to these conditions, because unlike humans who rely on evaporative cooling through the skin (i.e., sweating), our furry friends depend on panting to remove excess body heat. Although panting is generally efficient and effective for cooling, the process cannot keep up when the surrounding temperature is too high. Once a pet’s internal temperature—normally between 100 and 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit—exceeds 107 degrees, irreversible organ damage, shock, and death occur.
Heat-related emergencies often begin with mild signs but then progress rapidly, catching pet owners off-guard and leaving them scrambling for urgent care. The signs listed from mild to severe include:
- Excessive panting
- Elevated heart and respiratory rate
- Mental dullness
- Discolored gums (e.g., brick red, blue, grey)
If your pet is displaying any heat stress or heatstroke-related signs, move them to a cool location right away and offer fresh water. Wet the pet down with cool—never cold—water, and immediately contact Village Veterinary Hospital for further directions.
Heat emergency risk factors in pets
Heat doesn’t discriminate and can affect pets of any age, breed, and size. However, certain pets with the following characteristics are at increased risk for heat stress and heatstroke:
- Overweight pets — These pets often already have some level of cardiovascular compromise.
- Brachycephalic pets — Flat-faced breeds, including bulldogs, pugs, and boxers have narrow nostrils and a small airway, which make effective cooling almost impossible.
- Senior or young pets — These age groups are weaker and more sensitive to heat.
- Enclosed spaces — Temperatures inside poorly ventilated spaces (e.g., parked cars and garages) can soar to deadly levels in minutes.
- Outdoor pets — That some domestic pets can be safely acclimated to prolonged heat exposure is a myth.
- High-intensity exercise — Pets who are exercised during warm weather feel additional heat.
Be cool—protect your pet from heat-related injury
Dogs and cats are companion animals who desire our company and—at least for dogs—our favor. Their desire to be part of the family—or to fetch the ball one more time—can get them into trouble fast. Your pet will not tell you when they’re too hot, so you must be vigilant and proactive about their heat safety.
Any time the mercury rises above 70 degrees, follow these guidelines to protect your pet outdoors.
- Provide ample water and shade — Ensure your pet always has access to fresh water that is replenished often. Avoid metal bowls, which can quickly heat up, and glass bowls, which can act like a magnifying glass and start a fire if placed on a wood surface. Keep all water sources in the shade to prevent evaporation, and don’t forget to frequently reassess the shaded areas, which will change throughout the day. Also, never leave your pet unsupervised.
- Limit your pet’s outdoor time — No matter how much your pet loves being outside, you must restrict their access during warm weather. Allow them regular breaks in a cool location to rest, recover, and avoid overheating. During extreme temperatures, keep pets indoors except to eliminate, and reschedule their exercise during the dawn and dusk.
- Never leave your pet in a parked car — Despite increased public awareness, countless pets die every year after being left in a parked car. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, temperatures inside a parked vehicle can rise 20 degrees in as little as 10 minutes—and that’s on a mild 70-degree day. Cracking the windows or parking in the shade make no difference, so pet owners have only one solution—if you cannot take your pet inside at your destination, leave your pet at home.
- Groom wisely — Long feathering or excessive undercoat can trap heat and make pets miserable. Ask your groomer to trim your pet’s legs or belly of excess hair, or request an all-over short trim, but do not ask them to shave double-coated breeds (e.g., Akita, Siberian husky, golden retriever, Labrador), because this can permanently damage proper coat growth and function.
- Postpone or reschedule pet exercise — Exercise is crucial to pet health, but warm weather activity can do more harm than good. Consider exercising brachycephalic, senior, and young pets indoors using food puzzle toys, nose work games, and positive reinforcement training. If you need to exercise your pet outside, reduce the intensity level and duration, and go out during the cooler hours (e.g., dawn and dusk). Avoid walking your pet on dark surfaces during the day, as hot asphalt and artificial turf can cause painful paw pad burns.
Heat is an invisible but deadly health hazard for pets, but with careful consideration and extra precautions, you can ensure your beloved companion stays safe, cool, and comfortable—no matter the heat outside.
For additional pet care tips, or if you are ever concerned that your pet is suffering from the heat, contact Village Veterinary Hospital right away.