What To Do if Your Pet is Overheating

Written by Small Door's medical experts

With summer around the corner, it’s easy for your pet to become overheated on a hot or warm day. They are wearing fur coats, after all! It’s important to look out for signs of overheating and learn what to do if you suspect heatstroke.

How to know if your pet is overheating or experiencing heatstroke

Pets get hot just like we do, and they are susceptible to overheating when the weather is warm. Pets with thick, long fur and brachycephalic (flat-nosed) breeds are particularly prone. There is a big difference between a mildly overheated pet and one experiencing heatstroke.

A mildly overheated pet will have a temperature over 102° F and display the following symptoms:

  • Heavy panting

  • Mild fatigue

  • Unwillingness to exercise or play

A pet is dangerously overheated if their temperature rises above 105° F. When their temperature reaches this elevation, it is known as heatstroke and can be life-threatening. Symptoms of heatstroke include:

  • Hyperventilation and excessive panting

  • Dry, red gums

  • Thick salivation

  • Rapid pulse

  • Confusion

  • Weakness

  • Diarrhea (sometimes with blood) and/or vomiting

What to do if your pet is overheating

If your pet is mildly overheated, splash cool water or use cool towels on their body, particularly on their neck, belly, armpits, and paws. Do not use freezing cold or ice water, as this can cause their blood vessels to constrict and cause their body to go into shock.

Bring your pet into a room with air conditioning, or position a fan near them to help with slow cooling. You can also use cooling treats like ice cubes or a frozen kong toy.

If you think your pet is suffering from heatstroke, place cool wet towels on their body to cool them gradually and take them to the nearest emergency vet immediately.

Stay away from frozen treats like ice cubes if your pet is experiencing heatstroke. The goal here is to cool the pet gently rather than suddenly. Giving a dog suffering from heatstroke a number of ice cubes could cause their body to go into shock, preventing the cooling process from occurring.

Pay close attention to your dog in hot weather, even if they are swimming or playing in water. Dogs can get heatstroke even when swimming in cool water, so never let them swim unsupervised.

If you think your pet is suffering from heatstroke, place cool wet towels on their body to cool them gradually and take them to the nearest emergency vet immediately.

Preventing heatstroke and overheating

It’s best to keep pets inside during the hottest parts of the day, ensure they always have access to fresh drinking water, and refrain from long bouts of exercise especially during the peak heat of the day.

Never leave your pet unattended outside or in a car on warm or hot days. Remember, dogs can become overheated when swimming and playing in water, too.

Make sure you limit their activity on hot outdoor surfaces – even long walks outdoors can be painful for their paws when the sidewalk is hot. As a rule of thumb, place your bare hand or foot on the pavement. If it’s too hot for you, it’s too hot for your dog. When inside, use fans or air conditioning to keep your pet comfortable.

Consider a cool gel bed if your pet tends to overheat during the summer months. The hard, flat surface provides a supportive substrate for them to lay down, while helping to cool them off.

Finally, consider some cooling treats to keep your pet stimulated and cool. Here are some ideas to try as the weather gets warmer:

  • Ice cubes: Many dogs love these as a crunchy treat!

  • Frozen Kongs: Stuff a Kong toy with a soft food and freeze it to create a tasty, long-lasting treat. Good options include unsweetened plain yoghurt, some mashed banana, canned pumpkin, mashed sweet potato, or canned pet food.

  • Pet ‘pupsicles’: You can freeze chicken or beef broth in an ice cube tray for a fun spin on an ice cube. Ensure the broth is fat-free, has a low salt/sodium content and doesn’t contain any onion or garlic (toxic to dogs). You could also make fruity pops by diluting fruit juice so it’s not too sugary. Ensure the juice does not contain any artificial sweeteners like xylitol (also toxic to dogs).

  • Pet-specific ice cream: Regular ice cream is dangerous for pets, as it contains too much sugar and dairy, but pet-friendly “ice cream” can make a great cooling treat. There are a number of brands that sell it, such as Pupper Cup, or you can make some yourself, with a mashed up banana, a few ounces of plain, unsweetened yoghurt, and a tablespoon of creamy peanut butter. Mix well and freeze for a few hours before serving.

  • Frozen chunks of watermelon/other melon: Just ensure the rind and any seeds are removed, as these can pose a choking hazard. Like ice cubes, these have the added bonus of a high water content – very useful to keep your pet hydrated on a hot day.

If your dog is experiencing heatstroke or the associated symptoms, seek immediate assistance from a veterinarian. Small Door remains open for our members, and we are always available through the Small Door app.

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