Miss Kira’s Corner

Heat Stroke & Your Pets

By September 5, 2017 No Comments

Heat Stroke Is an Emergency

If you suspect your pet dog or cat is experiencing heat stress, heat stroke or any heat-related emergency, please immediately call us because there are some things you should *not* do, as well as some steps you must take, to help improve their chance of recovery.

Some pets can go into organ failure in as few as 15-minutes of sustained duration with only a slightly elevated core body temperature.

And without proper care, pets can experience seizures, organ failure, coma, and death.

Why does Heat Stroke Happen in Your Pet Dogs and Cats?

Your pets’ natural cooling methods may not be enough to cool down their core body temperature when:

  • Outdoor OR Indoor temperatures climb to an unsafe level, or during a ‘High Heat Index’ event.
  • Linked to overexertion of physical activity – even on cool weather days.
  • An illness or predisposition makes it difficult to cool down – even on cool weather days without physical activity.

Your dog’s primary cooling method is heat dissipation through evaporation; panting.

Dogs do indeed have glands in their paw pads. However, these glands were designed primarily for scent marking, not for cooling down.

Bottom line: Dogs pant to cool down.

You’ve likely seen the following stages of your dog’s panting behavior:

Flat-faced, pug-nosed, short-snouted, or technically “brachycephalic” dogs such as Bulldogs, Pugs, Pekingese, Frenchies, and cats such as Persian, Himalayan, and Burmese have a more difficult time cooling themselves. These pets are much more likely to suffer heat stress or heat stroke and must be cared for accordingly. Prevention is the best medicine.

Slightly opened mouth.

Open-mouth panting showing a little bit of their tongue.

WIDE-open-mouth panting with an extended tongue. Dogs extend their tongues out in order to maximize the surface area for evaporative cooling.


Your cat’s primary cooling method is also heat dissipation through evaporation, except cats use their tongue in a slightly different manner compared to dogs, cats groom themselves to stay cool.

Cats will also pant when they are experiencing heat stress. However, if you see your cat panting, they are already feeling distressed.

Bottom line: Cats groom to stay cool.

Cats experience heat dissipation through evaporation as air flows over their wet fur. It’s almost as if cats attempt to use the fur on their bodies as their own personal mini evaporative coolers – and they control the thermostat by the level of grooming. Cats! They always need to be in control.

Special Needs Pets

In addition to the flat-faced breeds mentioned above, pay extra special attention to pets who are very young, elderly, obese, or ill as they are especially susceptible to heat stroke.

However, heat related stress and heat stroke can still happen in healthy animals. And we’ve seen it happen in healthy dogs on relatively cool weather days, as well.

Overexertion – Exercise – Activity Related Heat Stroke

Overexertion heat stress can happen to any dog, but is more often observed in prey driven, sporting, or highly motivated dogs who will push themselves beyond safe levels in order to continue a fun game of fetch, chase, or prey retrieval. These dogs must rely on their human handlers to know when to say, “Enough is enough!”

Signs of Heat Stroke or Heat-Related Stress

The ability for you to recognize the signs and take correct action to cool down the pet can mean the difference between life and death.


Common signs and symptoms include, but are not limited to:

  • Core body temperature of 104 degrees Fahrenheit or higher reading on rectal thermometer.
  • Excessive, rapid respiration or heavy panting.
  • Flushing; tongue, gums, or inside of ear flaps appear to turn a dark red color.

Additional signs may include:

  • Thick, sticky, rope-like saliva in their mouth (not their normal dog drool).
  • Glazed-over look in their eyes, mooneyes, or an otherwise distressed appearance
  • Rapid heartbeat.
  • Weakness.
  • Agitation or restlessness.
  • Lack of coordination including staggering, stumbling, tripping, or falling.
  • Dizziness including swaying, wobbling, or tipping over.
  • Collapse.
  • Seizures.

Common signs and symptoms include, but are not limited to:

  • Agitation or restlessness.
  • Open mouth panting
  • Excessive grooming.

Additional signs may include:

  • Rapid heartbeat.
  • Dark red color of the tongue and gums.
  • Lack of coordination – unsteady gait or staggering.
  • Lethargy.
  • Seizures.

Again, heat stroke is an emergency situation during which every minute counts.

If you suspect your pet dog or cat is experiencing a heat-related emergency, please immediately call us because there are some things you should not do, as well as some steps you must take, to help improve your pet’s chance for recovery.

During regular business hours we will offer guidance over the phone to help you:

  • First, to carefully and gradually cool down specific areas on your pet’s body using water (never ice or ice water as this can cause more harm than good).
  • Then, to make the plan for you to immediately bring your pet into our hospital or an emergency animal hospital for professional veterinary care where, once evaluated, the veterinarian may use additional cooling methods such as i.v. fluid therapy to cool your pet’s core body temperature in order to prevent organ damage, organ failure, coma, or death. Because heat stroke is an emergency.

With prompt and proper care, pets can and do recover from heat stroke.

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