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What to Do If Your Pet Is Overheated

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Heat exhaustion, or heat stroke, is a common pet emergency during these warmer months.  Dogs are not able to cool themselves by sweating the way people do.  Instead, they primarily cool themselves by panting. They only sweat a small amount from their paw pads.  This makes them more sensitive to heat stress. If a dog is very active or left in a warm environment, such as a car, they can overheat very quickly.  In severe cases, heat stroke can result in death.

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How can you keep your pets cool and safe this summer? Here are some tips!

1. Recognize Heat Stroke

Early signs of heat stress are often subtle. Pet owners should watch for excessive panting, sluggishness (or lack of energy), dazed appearance, and stumbling.  As heat stroke worsens, pets develop vomiting and diarrhea.  Signs of severe heat stroke include difficulty breathing, elevated heart rate, collapse, shock, and death.

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2. Know if Your Dog is at Increased Risk

Some dogs have traits that make them more prone to heat stress. It is very important to be extra careful with these pets during warm weather.  Common risk factors include:

  • Brachycephalic breeds such as the pug, English bulldog, French bulldog, Pekingese, Shih Tzu, Boston terrier and boxer
  • Very active, working, or hunting dogs
  • Pets with medical concerns
  • Very young or geriatric pets
  • Obese pets

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3. Prevention is Best

Most people are aware that cars become extremely hot very quickly and dogs should NEVER be left in a car.  It is also important to remember that being in direct sun or being very active can also cause dogs to overheat.

  • To reduce the chance of heat stroke:
    • Limit activities to cooler times of the day
    • Encourage your dog to rest in the shade frequently
    • Provide easy access to cold water
    • Swim or play in the sprinkler
    • Have pets with a thick coat groomed by a professional

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4. Act Quickly

If you suspect your dog has become too hot, please take the following steps immediately:

  • Move to a cooler location.
    • This could be in the shade, near a fan or in an air-conditioned room.
  • Check the rectal temperature.
    • A dog’s normal body temperature is 100-102.5°F.  A rectal temperature above 103°F is abnormal and above 106°F is dangerously high. Monitor your dog’s temperature every 10-15 minutes as you start to cool them. Pets often become too cold after you start to cool them off.
  • Offer cool water.
    • If your pet is not interested or is vomiting, do not force them to drink.
  • Wet them down.
    • If your dog is alert and you are near a lake, assist your dog into the water to cool off.  You can also cool them with a cool bath or apply soaked towels to their belly, armpits and inner thighs.  Do NOT use ice because this will make your dog dangerously cold too quickly.

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5. Obtain Veterinary Care Immediately

Contact your veterinarian or local animal emergency hospital immediately.  Tell the staff how your pet is behaving and the rectal temperatures.  The veterinary professional will be able to help determine the degree of heat stress your pet is experiencing and provide recommendations for the next course of action.  Dogs that are lethargic, vomiting, having difficulty breathing or have collapsed require immediate emergency veterinary care to save their life.

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While heat stroke can be a fatal condition for your four-legged family member, the condition is easily avoided through awareness, prevention, and early intervention.  We hope this information helps your family safely enjoy the summer.

Find more warm weather resources for your pet here:


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