May is Heatstroke Awareness Month

Monthly Awareness


While people are smart enough to know the risks of hot temperatures and take the necessary precautions to avoid becoming overheated, we sometimes forget to consider our animals' needs. Heat stroke can be a life-threatening condition for anyone-- animals included. This article will focus on the risk factors for heat stroke as well as the signs, treatment, and prevention of heat stroke in animals.

Animal risk factors

Animals are at an increased risk for heat stroke if they are very old or very young, overweight, not used to being outside for long periods of time, not conditioned for prolonged exercise, or if they have heart, respiratory, or certain neurological diseases. Animals that have had problems with heat stroke previously are at risk for recurrence. In addition, animals on certain types of medications, including diuretics like Lasix, are at an increased risk for heat stroke.

Environmental risk factors

Certain environmental conditions also increase the odds of heat stroke happening. Obviously, the higher the temperature the greater the risk. Relative humidity also plays a critical role. With a higher relative humidity, lower temperatures can predispose to heat stroke. For example, if it were 85 degrees outside, there would be a much higher risk for heat stroke if the humidity were 75% versus if the humidity were only 20%. Lack of shade, lack of water, and poor ventilation are other environmental factors that can increase the risk of heat stroke.


Animals with heat stroke will generally have a high body temperature. Normal body temperature for many of the common domestic species is about 100-102 degrees. In heat stroke, animals can experience body temperatures as great as 109 degrees. Temperatures at this level are life-threatening. Brain damage can occur at temperatures above 106 degrees. Increased panting, bright red mucus membranes, such as the gums, weakness, increased heart rate, lethargy, stupor, seizures, coma, vomiting, and diarrhea can occur. Liver, kidney, and heart problems can all result as well.

Signs of Heatstroke

  • Rapid heart rate

  • Intense rapid panting

  • Fever – high body temperature

  • (Normal temperature is 100-102˚ - Brain damage can occur at temperature above 106˚)

  • Cardiopulmonary failure

  • Lethargy

  • Stupor, staggering, weakness

  • Pale gums

  • Bright red or purple tongue

  • Seizures


Since heat stroke can be fatal, quick medical attention is critical. The main goal of treatment for heat stroke is to reduce the body temperature to a more appropriate level while avoiding overcooling. Body temperature can be decreased by placing towels that have been soaked in cold water on the animal, moving the animal to a cooler environment, using fans to help cool the animal, etc. IV fluids and other medications may be necessary to help stabilize the animal as well. Frequent temperature checks are necessary to assure that the body temperature does not fall below normal.

What to do…

  • Remove pet from area

  • Place in shade and start cooling with cool water (Do NOT use COLD water!)

  • Place water soaked towels on head, neck, feet, chest, and abdomen

  • Apply rubbing alcohol under paw pads

  • Fans may be used to speed cooling

  • Take rectal temperature frequently to assure that the body temperature does not fall below normal

  • Stop cooling when the temperature reaches 103-104° because the cooling effects will continue to bring the temperature down even further

  • Seek veterinary attention as soon as possible!


As with many things, prevention is your best defense against heat stroke. When it is hot out or when there is a high relative humidity, allow animals that are not used to hot temperatures to remain outside for short periods of time only. If an animal must be outside for long periods of time, assure that there is adequate shade and water available. Avoid intense exercise during the hottest part of the day. And most importantly, monitor animals frequently if they are outside for long periods of time, especially if they have any of the risk factors for heat stroke.

Emergency First Aid for Heatstroke

If your dog is showing the first signs of heat exhaustion, rapid breathing, rapid heart rate, the first thing you must do is remove him from the confining area. Nine times out of ten, heat exhaustion occurs while the dog is confined, whether it is in a car, crate, or doghouse.

Take the dog to shade, and soak him with cool water. Do NOT use extremely cold or iced water. This will cause blood vessels to constrict and will stop the heat from escaping.

You can apply ice packs to the areas underneath his front legs, and to the groin area for rapid blood cooling. Give your dog enough water to wet his mouth and throat, but do NOT allow your dog to drink copious amounts!

Take your dog's temperature, this is done anally to get the most accurate reading.

Prepare your dog for transport to the nearest emergency animal clinic.

Do NOT cover your dog, even with a cold towel. This will prevent the heat from escaping.

Do NOT place him back in his crate, but keep him with you, with windows down and air conditioning on high, to allow evaporation which will aid in the cooling process.

Yes, there is also a danger that dog can become too cold. Monitor the temperatures and stop the cooling process as soon as your dog's temperature reads normally again.

Continue on the vet's, your dog is not saved yet!

Did you know…

  • It only takes a few minutes for the temperature in a vehicle to rise forty degrees above the outside air temperature

  • The higher the temperature and humidity, the greater the risk

  • Senior pets are more susceptible to heatstroke​​​​​​​

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