Heatstroke is a serious problem for our pets and can even be fatal. Find out the signs to look out for and how to avoid it.

Imagine it's a hot, sunny day and you've got a warm coat on. It would be difficult to keep yourself cool and comfortable. This is what summer weather can feel like for our pets. It's easy for them to overheat and start suffering from heatstroke.

But what is heatstroke? How does it affect our pets and what can you do if they overheat?

 

What is heatstroke?

Heatstroke is a serious illness which happens when your pet overheats and their body temperature rises. It’s an emergency situation and needs treatment right away. Without first aid, pets will first become uncomfortable and distressed, then their organs could start to shut down. It can even be fatal to leave them.

Our pet’s small size and furry coats means they can’t cool down as easily as we can. Dogs and cats can’t sweat and have to pant to try and control their temperature. Small pets like rabbits and guinea pigs can overheat easily. Some pets are more likely to suffer from overheating:

  • Flat-faced breeds like Pugs, Bulldogs, Shih Tzus, Persian cats, and Netherland dwarf of Lionhead rabbits.
  • Pets with very thick fur.
  • Old or very young pets.
  • Overweight pets.
  • Pets with breathing or lung problems.

The signs of heatstroke are different for different species so it’s important to be aware of the symptoms to look out for in your pet.

 

Signs of heatstroke in dogs and cats

Early signs

  • panting heavily
  • appearing to be upset or distressed
  • dribbling more than usual
  • foaming at the mouth

Advanced signs

  • bright red gums
  • collapsing or not being able to stand up
  • blood coming from the mouth or nose
  • tremors or seizures.


Signs of heatstroke in rabbits, guinea pigs and small pets

  • drooling
  • taking short, quick breaths
  • acting very sleepy or lethargic
  • falling unconscious or having fits.

 

What to do if you think your pet has heatstroke

Heatstroke is an emergency and your pet will need to see a vet as quickly as possible. Phone your vet right away and follow their advice.

The vet might advise you to give your pet some first aid. This will most likely be advice to gradually try to cool your pet down. You can:

  • Pour small amounts of cool water on them – don’t use ice cold water as this can cause shock. For small pets, it’s better to use a cool, wet towel to dampen their fur as pouring water on them can do more harm than good.
  • Put them in front of a fan.
  • You can drape a cold towel over your pet – although make sure not to leave this on for more than 5 minutes, as the towel will start to act as an insulating blanket and make the problem worse.
  • Let them drink small amounts of cool water.
  • Once their breathing has begun to settle, take your pet to your vet, even if they seem to have made a full recovery.

 

How to stop your pet from getting heatstroke

The best way to protect your pet from heatstroke is to keep them cool and hydrated in warm weather. Here are some tips that might help:

  • Keep your pets out of the sun during the hottest part of the day.
  • Check your pet has constant access to plenty of fresh water. They might need to drink more than normal on a hot day.
  • Make sure outdoor pets have plenty of shade to cool down in.
  • Walk dogs in the mornings and evenings – it’s usually cooler at those times.
  • Move small pets into a cooler part of the house or garden and keep their enclosure out of the heat of the sun.
  • Give long haired pets’ fur a trim throughout summer to help them cope with the heat.
  • Keep your pets at a healthy weight. Being overweight causes a lot of health problems for pets including making it trickier for them to stay cool.
  • Take a look at our tips for keeping your pets hydrated with these tempting summer treats!

Sun safety

Read our vet's top tips on keeping your friend safe in the sun and how to protect them against skin cancer.

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Emergency care

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Pet care in Summer

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