Dog in bath
Dog in bath

Heatstroke in cats and dogs - the facts

Fresh air, hot sunny days – and your favourite feline or canine friend to enjoy them with. Summer is a hugely fun time to be a pet parent. Seeing a cat stretched out in a sunny spot or a dog splashing around in the water is so heart-warming. But it’s also a time for us to be really careful because our cats and dogs can easily overheat in the warm weather and, if the issue isn’t spotted and dealt with swiftly, this can be life-threatening. Heatstroke symptoms in cats and dogs are very similar, so here’s what to look out for – and what to do if your pet is showing signs of heat exhaustion.

What is heatstroke?

Heatstroke happens when a cat or dog’s core body temperature rises too high for them to lower it. Unlike us humans, they don’t have sweat glands all over their bodies to tackle the heat, so they rely on panting and external cooling to do the job. That’s easier said than done when you can’t take off your furry coat. 

Heatstroke is a serious illness and can happen fast, so it’s up to us to look out for the tell-tale signs and avoid situations that can cause it – such as exercising pets in hot weather (or simply having them outside when it’s too hot) and, crucially, not leaving a pet in a hot car.

Dog in grass in summertime
Dog in grass in summertime

Signs of heatstroke in dogs

  • 1. Rapid panting or breathing, or excessive panting

  • 2. Excessive drooling

  • 3. Bright red tongue and/or gums

  • 4. Lethargy, drowsiness

  • 5. Dizziness or staggering

  • 6. Shaking

  • 7. Vomiting/diarrhoea

  • 8. Collapse

...and in cats

  • 1. Take a look at the signs for dogs, which can also be seen in cats with heatstroke, but those signs may be more subtle in our feline friends. Plus, cats may show some other symptoms:

  • 2. Agitation or anxiety, for example excessive pacing

  • 3. Nose bleeds

  • 4. Muscle tremors

  • 5. Seizures

What to do if a pet has heatstroke

If you think your cat or dog may be suffering from heatstroke, act fast and follow these first aid steps.

1. Get them out of the heat and indoors, or to a shaded area or air-conditioned car

2. Call a vet for advice

3. Offer them a drink of cool (not cold) water

4. Carefully spray or sprinkle cool (again, not too cold) water to fur, skin and feet 

5. Use a fan over them if you have one, after the pet has been dampened

6. Never use ice or very cold water as this could cause shock

7. Once they’ve cooled down, get them to your vet ASAP. Your vet will determine how serious the heatstroke is and whether your pet needs to be put on a drip, be given oxygen or medication or have blood tests to see if their organs have been affected.

How to prevent heatstroke

As with any pet ailment, prevention is always better than cure, so here are our experts’ top tips to help keep pets cool and safe from the harm of heatstroke.

1. Provide some shade

Whether it’s a trip to the park, a day at the beach or just time spent in the garden, always make sure pets have access to shade when they’re outdoors in warm weather.   

2. Keep them hydrated

Our pets should always have ready access to clean drinking water, whatever the time of year – and even more so during summer. Remember, as well as our pets drinking more in summer, water evaporates faster in warm weather – so bowls will need refilling more regularly. If you’re going to be out and about, a travel bottle and bowl is a great solution to keep pets hydrated and happy.

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3. Let the fresh air in 

Our pets always appreciate a well-ventilated space. This is especially important for dogs as they pant to cool down, so good airflow is crucial.

4. Never, ever leave a pet in a hot vehicle

Even with the windows open, a car, van or motorhome can quickly become unbearably hot for a pet on a sunny days. Sadly, this can kill pets, so it's extremely important not to leave pets in vehicles. 

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5. Avoid hot-weather walkies

We need to avoid exercising our dogs at the warmest times on hot days (usually between 11am and 3pm, but check the weather report). Stick to cooler times of day – usually mornings and evenings. And avoid walking them on surfaces that are too warm – sand, concrete and tarmac can get especially hot and our pets’ poor bare paws will be exposed to all that heat. Try walking where there’s shade or water to help with keeping cool.

With the right treatment given as soon as possible, pets can recover fully from heatstroke. But a delay in treatment, or a severe heatstroke, can cause serious harm. Always contact your vet if you suspect your cat or dog has suffered from heatstroke – even if they seem to be recovering. Your vet will be able to give the right treatment for your pet so they have the best chance of getting back to their old self soon

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