Dog Days of Summer: Heat Exhaustion

The National Weather Service has issued an excessive heat warning for this weekend.
* Heat index values Fri-Sun... 105 to 110 degrees.
* Impacts... the combination of the heat and humidity will increase the risk for heat related health issues... especially for the elderly... those with chronic health problems such as lung and heart disease... those working outdoors... and other heat sensitive groups of people.

It is great that the weather service puts out these alerts, but what group is conspicuously missing? Pets!

OK, we all know never to leave our pets untended in a car as temperatures can climb rapidly, even with the windows left partially open. When the temps get in the 90s or higher and the dew points climb over 75, pet parents must be on the look out for signs of hyperthermia, commonly known as heat exhaustion, at ALL times.

The initial symptoms to look for are:

  • elevated heart and respiration rate
  • drooling
  • vomiting
  • dearrhea

As body temperature continues to rise:

  • gasping for breath
  • staggering
  • general weakness
  • seizure

If left untreated, hyperthermia can lead to coma, brain damage and the death of your pet.


Though I expect that most cats are indoor pets, pet parents should still ensure plenty of water is available, especially if their home does not have air conditioning. Do not confine your cat to a sunny room while you are at work. Also, though outdoor cats should be adept at finding shady places to avoid the sun, if you live in an area with no natural shade features, make sure to provide some type of shade covering with good ventilation and plenty of water.


Unnecessary activity should be avoided until temperature and humidity levels are more reasonable. This means no dog park except perhaps very early morning. And whether at dog park or just in the backyard, do not encourage or condone excessive running about. Young dogs and high activity breeds often will run themselves into the ground. Do not count on your dog(s) being sensible.

If your dog is an outdoor pet, be sure that they have plenty of shade and water available and that any shelter they use is extremely well ventilated. And do make sure that the water dish you are counting on is heavy enough (or secured) to prevent accidental tipping. A small inflatable wading pool can also provide needed relief.

If your dog is a working dog, such as a border collie or cattle dog, make sure there is a cooling water bath or pool available nearby. Keep a very close eye on the dog's appearance while working and immediately stop at any sign of duress. Frequent breaks and cool downs are critically important to preventing heat stroke.

The breed of the dog can also play a role in susceptibility to the heat. Short snouts, like those of pugs, make breathing much harder in hot and humid weather. Even going for a walk may prove to be too much exertion for these dogs and pet parents should factor that into their schedules.


If you suspect that your pet may be suffering from symptoms of hyperthermia the first thing to do is move them to a cool, well ventilated area out of the sun. Next, it is imperative to lower their body temperature. This is best done by giving your pet a bath or shower in cool water.

Note well, the water temperature should be cool, not cold. Cold faucet tap water during the summer should run between 60 and 75 degrees in most locations. Anything cooler than that is too cold.

Putting your dog (or cat) in the sink or shower is one way to apply a cool, gentle water spray. You can even let the tub or sink fill up a bit, but remember to always keep the water level below the neckline. In some cases, an outdoor kiddie pool or hose may be the most readily available option. When using a hose, keep the water pressure low and use a fine mist if a spray nozzle is available.

Regardless of the method used to get cool water on the pet, it is important not to go overboard. The idea is to gradually reduce the body temperature. Dropping it too fast can lead to other problems such as shock. If it is available, a thermometer should be used to monitor the pet's temperature. This information can also be passed on to your vet.

It is important to contact your vet as soon as possible. Heat stroke can lead to other serious problems that are not immediately visible to a pet parent such as kidney failure, improper clotting of the blood and swelling of the brain. Travel to a vet in a cooled car and if possible, with a companion who can monitor your pet and provide additional cooling water via a spray bottle or cloth. A bag of frozen peas or corn can even be briefly applied to the pets forehead.

By keeping an eye out for problems and exercising heightened caution, pet parents should be able to protect their pets from hyperthermia. Stay cool!

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