Prevent Heatstroke in Dogs and Cats

Every summer, countless dogs and cats die from heatstroke. These tragic deaths are entirely preventable.

Prevent heat stroke with these tips. By: Wheany
Prevent heatstroke with these tips. By: Wheany

Heatstroke is a silent killer. Every year, countless dogs (and some cats) die after being locked in cars while their caretakers run an errand, often for “just a few minutes.” These tragic deaths are entirely preventable.

What Is Heatstroke?

Heatstroke occurs when your pet’s temperature becomes dangerously high, generally about 106 degrees Fahrenheit. It can be because of being locked in a hot car or exercising in hot and/or humid weather.

A chemical reaction breaks down the cells in your pet’s body. Heavy panting, rapid pulse or heartbeat, bright or dark red gums and tongue progress to unconsciousness. The end result is brain damage, organ failure and death.

What Happens?

Remember how hot it can get inside your car on a summer day, even though it is not that hot outside? That’s because a car acts like a greenhouse, trapping the sun’s heat.

A Stanford University test found that even if it’s only 72 degrees outside (i.e., not hot at all), a car’s internal temperature can rocket to 116 degrees within an hour. In other words, this can happen outside of the summer period as well.

When it’s 85 degrees, the temperature inside the car increases to 102 degrees in 10 minutes, and 120 degrees in 20 minutes. And keeping the windows open barely helps.

What Is the Emergency Treatment?

  • First, try to lower the temperature by moving your pet to a cool area.
  • Soak your pet with cold water.
  • Stop cooling measures when your pet reaches 103 degrees, or your pet may actually become too cold.
  • Call the clinic ahead of time so that the staff can be prepared for your arrival (a good idea with any emergency).
  • Take your pet to your family veterinarian or the emergency clinic as quickly as possible.
  • At the vet, similar measures will be taken, in addition to IV fluids.

What Is the Outcome?

It depends on 3 things:

  1. Early detection
  2. Early and aggressive treatment
  3. Internal organ and brain damage

The largest study indicates a 50% survival rate.

Prevent Heatstroke in Dogs and Cats

Here are some simple suggestions:

  • On hot, humid days, keep your pets indoors, except to eliminate. Try to go out in the early morning and late evening.
  • If they must be outside, provide plenty of shade and fresh water.
  • Make sure that your pet can’t spill the water source. Or use several bowls in different places.
  • Add ice cubes to the water bowl to keep water cooler longer.
  • Plan ahead and make sure the shade will still be available as the sun changes.
  • NEVER leave a pet unattended in a parked car, even for “just a minute.”
  • Leaving the windows partially rolled down will not help.
  • Carry water with you when walking your dog.
  • Notice any heavy panting, loss of energy, weakness, stumbling or any of the signs listed above.
  • If your pet seems to suffer from the heat, stop in a shaded area and give some fresh water.
  • If things don’t improve quickly, please don’t procrastinate — take your pet to the vet.
  • Cool your pet down with a spray bottle or a garden hose.
  • Let your pet play in a cool water “bath” or a kiddy pool.

My Take

Heatstroke in dogs or cats is no joke. Don’t let it happen to your pet.

Ask your vet or a nurse to show you how to take your pet’s rectal temperature safely with a digital thermometer. If you see a pet locked in a car, call your local animal authorities immediately. You may feel weird about it, but you may save a life! Check out this video for more advice on what to do if you see a dog left in a hot car:

And That’s Not All…

Want more summer safety tips? See my previous article, “5 Common But Deadly Summer Dangers for Pets.”


This pet health content was written by a veterinarian.

Dr. Phil Zeltzman, DVM, DACVS, CVJ

View posts by Dr. Phil Zeltzman, DVM, DACVS, CVJ
Dr. Phil Zeltzman, DVM, DACVS, CVJ, is a traveling, board-certified veterinary surgeon in the Allentown, Pennsylvania area. He is a certified veterinary journalist, an award-winning author and a prolific speaker. He co-wrote Walk a Hound, Lose a Pound, about weight loss in dogs and humans. He also writes a free weekly newsletter, available at

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