Staying Cool When Temperatures Rise: Identifying Heat Stroke in Pets

It’s hot! Like, really hot. Your pets feel it too.


Most pets cool themselves through convection – a heat exchange between their bodies and the air. If the surrounding air is not considerably cooler than the animal’s’ body temperature – as in the case of a hot, stuffy automobile – the “cooling system” will not work.

Heat stroke is a very serious condition that requires immediate medical attention. Once the signs of heat stroke are detected, there is precious little time before serious damage – or even death – can occur.


Dogs do not perspire the way humans do; in fact, the only sweat glands that they have are on the pads of their feet.  Once the dog’s temperature reaches 106°, damage to the body’s cellular system and organs may become irreversible.

What are the signs of heatstroke in dogs?

Signs of heatstroke include:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Excessive panting
  • Increased salivation
  • Bright red tongue
  • Red or pale gums
  • Thick, sticky saliva
  • Depression
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Vomiting (sometimes with blood)
  • Diarrhea

What should I do if my dog gets heat stroke?

Remove your dog from the hot area immediately. While transporting him immediately to your veterinarian, lower his temperature by placing cool, wet towels over the back of the neck, under the forelimbs, and in the groin area. If possible, increase air movement around him with a fan. Be careful, however, as using very cold water can cause the blood vessels to constrict, preventing the body’s core from cooling and actually raising the internal temperature.


Cats do not tolerate heat any better than people. Like dogs, cats only pant or sweat through their foot pads in order to get rid of excess heat. When your cat is distressed by the heat, they will act restless – changing positions and locations often in an effort to find a cool spot. You may also see them panting and grooming excessively as they try to cool themselves off. If they cannot cool themselves down, it will lead to heat exhaustion and eventually heat stroke.

What are the signs of heatstroke in cats?

As your cat’s body temperature begins to rise, signs of heat exhaustion become evident, including:

  • Rapid pulse and breathing
  • Redness of the tongue and mouth
  • Vomiting
  • Lethargy
  • Stumbling, staggering gait

Eventually, elevated body temperature will cause the cat to collapse and have seizures or slip into a coma.

What should I do if my cat gets heat stroke?

If your cat is just starting to show signs of being stressed by the heat, move him to a cool quiet place and be sure he has plenty of water. If he is showing any of the more serious signs of heat exhaustion, follow the same procedure and take him to the vet immediately. If possible, have somebody else drive while you attempt to bring down the temperature on the way.


Like humans, horses sweat. A lot. And, like humans, their bodies are unable to rapidly dissipate that heat generated during exercise when it’s hot and humid outside. Heat builds up just as easily in horses confined to enclosed trailers, small dry lots with no shade and closed or poorly ventilated barns.

What are the signs of heat stroke in horses?

A horse that is overheated will act strangely and will display the easily identifiable symptoms, including:

  • Restlessness/Lethargy
  • Rapid pulse and breathing
  • Heavy breathing/panting
  • Increased sweating
  • Excessive salivation
  • Redness of the tongue and oral area
  • High body temperature
  • Erratic heart beat
  • Muscle spasms
  • Stumbling gait
  • Collapse

What should I do if my horse gets heat stroke?

Treatment for heat exhaustion must be done as quickly as possible in order for the horse to survive. Remove all tack and move to a cool, shaded area, preferably with a fan. Cold water should be applied to the skin, usually poured over the horse’s body; adding ice to the water can help in severe cases of heat stroke.


Birds, like other warm-blooded animals, can overheat. Birds have no sweat glands and cannot dissipate heat through perspiration. Their only option is to find a breeze or create air movement by flying to cool themselves down. When that is not an option (as when left in a car) heat stroke can come on rather quickly, sometimes in a matter of minutes.

What are the signs of heat stroke in birds?

Signs of heatstroke in a bird include:

  • Panting
  • Holding the wings away from the body
  • Anxiety or agitation

As the condition worsens, the panting will become very heavy, and the bird will rock back and forth on the perch and have a hard time keeping its balance.

What should I do if my bird gets heat stroke?

To treat a bird with heat stress or heat stroke:

  • Move the bird to a quiet, cooler location
  • Mist the bird with water until his skin is wet
  • Keep the bird’s feet and legs moist with cool water
  • Do not additionally stress the bird
  • Monitor the bird closely and contact your veterinarian

Like any type of chronic stress, “heat stress causes a release of chemicals in the body that can bring on bacterial or yeast infections or metabolic diseases in birds that aren’t perfectly healthy,” explained Dr. Gregory Harrison, a South Florida veterinarian, in an interview with

An Ounce of Prevention

The best way to treat heat stroke is to ensure that it never happens in the first place! When it’s hot out, there are a few things you can do to be mindful of your pet’s health and safety:

  • Provide access to water at all times
  • Avoid excessive exercise
  • Never leave your pet in a parked car, even for a short period of time. The car can quickly turn into a furnace under the hot summer sun, even with the windows open. Plus, it’s illegal in several states.
  • Make sure they have access to shade or air conditioning.

Additionally, animals with flat faces, like Pugs and Persian cats, are more susceptible to heat stroke since they cannot pant as effectively.

These pets, along with the elderly, the overweight, and those with heart or lung diseases, should be kept cool in air-conditioned rooms as much as possible.

You can prevent your pet from suffering heat stroke. Just imagine what it might feel like to be stuck wearing a fur coat on a hot summer day, and use your best judgement to come up with some ideas to keep your pets safe and healthy this summer.

What are some things you like to do to keep your pets cool? Tell us in the comments below!


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