Protecting Your Pets from Heatstroke

Protecting Your Pets from HeatstrokeBy Madison Guthrie

Summer is great fun for everyone, especially here in sunny California. Beaches, hiking trails, camping – there is just so much to do during these toasty warm months and, as a pet owner, there is nothing better than getting the pups and hitting the road for a fun, sun-filled adventure!

Still, as much fun as summer can be, it can also be a dangerous time for our four-legged friends.

Here in Pasadena, we’ve seen a spike in temperatures in the last couple of weeks, leading many pet parents to ask us just how hot is too hot for their pets?

Heatstroke is a very real danger to our pets and, unfortunately, it is something we see quite commonly here at Petsadena Animal Hospital.

The good news is that heatstroke can be prevented.

So, how do you recognize the symptoms of heatstroke in your pet and what measures can you take to protect them from the sun?

Keep reading to find out!

What is Heatstroke?

Heatstroke, heat exhaustion, overheating, and hyperthermia are all terms used to describe what happens when your pet’s body temperature rises rapidly and your pet is unable to regulate their temperature on their own.

Heatstroke can be serious and sometimes fatal, and it’s important to remember that our pets are much more sensitive to extreme elements than we are due to the unique ways their bodies work to keep their bodies cool or warm.

Are Both Dogs and Cats At Risk For Heatstroke?

All of our pets can be at risk for heatstroke, but typically we will see more dogs brought to the vet suffering from heatstroke than cats.

This is because pet cats are less dependant on humans than dogs. Outdoor cats especially are much better at fending for themselves, finding shade and shelter, and finding access to water.

And while both dogs and cats only sweat through their paws, cats have learned to cool themselves by mimicking the sweating effect through grooming and licking.

Dogs, on the other hand, don’t groom themselves the way cats do and can tend to overheat more quickly than cats.

Dogs are also fairly dependant on us as their human counterparts to give them access to shade, cool water, and shelter.

Does this mean that cats are immune to heatstroke? Of course not. It’s important to keep an eye on both dogs and cats and remember that they can both be susceptible to heat exhaustion and the dangers of overheating.

Let’s learn more.

When Is My Pet Most At Risk Of Suffering From Heatstroke?

This is a common question we get at the hospital and the answer is, unfortunately, not so black and white.

Heatstroke can happen at any time of year depending on the weather, the breed of your pet, the age and overall health of your pet, and the environment in which your pet finds themselves.


The weather certainly plays a large role in whether or not your pet is at risk for heatstroke. For dogs, the weather can be especially dangerous during the spring and summer months.

But just how hot is too hot?

Most experts agree that when the weather spikes into the triple digits, it’s just too hot for your pet and you should wait to walk your dog when the weather has cooled, preferably early in the morning or later in the evenings.

We also want to warn pet parents of the possibility of paw burns as a result of hot asphalt or cement. At Petsadena, we recommend our clients use the ten-second rule.

The ten-second rule has you place your bare hand flat on the sun-soaked asphalt. If you cannot hold your hand there for longer than ten-seconds, then it’s too hot for your dog’s paws.


Is your dog or cat brachycephalic? This is a term used to describe dogs and cats with flattened faces or shorter noses.

Some brachycephalic dog breeds include French Bulldogs, Boxers, and Pugs, while a few examples of brachycephalic cats include the Exoctic Shorthair, the Himalayan cat, and the Burmese cat.

Typically, brachycephalic breeds are at most risk for heatstroke due to the structure of their skull and shortened airway.

Dogs and cats with shorter noses tend to have a less effective internal cooling system and may have more difficulty breathing normally under regular circumstances.

And the condition can be made worse for these types of pets when temperatures rise.


Very young pets and senior pets are more vulnerable to overheating and heatstroke due to their age.

Like humans, when pets are very young or very old their bodies tend to be weaker and their immune systems are less apt to help them cope with certain conditions or elements, making them more sensitive to extreme conditions or climates.


Your pet’s environment can also put them in harm’s way just as very warm weather can.

As we mentioned above, never leave your pet alone in a hot car. You should also never crate your dog or cat in a crate that isn’t properly ventilated, and make sure you check on your pet consistently and offer them time out of the crate and access to fresh water.

Symptoms Of Mild Heatstroke In Pets

Rarely does heatstroke hit all at once. There are red flags and signs an owner can look out for when it comes to their pet overheating or suffering from heat exhaustion.

Symptoms of mild heatstroke in pets include

  • Excessive panting
  • Excessive drooling
  • Dehydration
  • Lack of urine
  • Unwillingness to get up and walk

If you notice any of the above symptoms in your pet, it’s time to take it easy and let them rest and cool down.

If you are on a walk or hike with your pet and notice these symptoms, we suggest taking a nice long shade break until your pet gives you a sign that he or she is ready to go again.

You should also offer your pet fresh, cool water.

If the symptoms persist or get worse, contact your veterinarian immediately, as severe heatstroke can be life-threatening.

Symptoms of Severe Heatstroke In Pets

The symptoms of severe heatstroke in pets typically follow the above, more mild symptoms, especially if the mild symptoms are ignored.

Symptoms of severe heatstroke in pets include

  • Brick red, gray, or purple colored gums
  • Weakness, stumbling
  • Shaking
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Collapse

If you notice any of the above symptoms, get your pet to a cool, shaded spot, offer them water, and contact your vet immediately.

DO NOT try and cool your pet down by putting them in cold water, a cold bath, submerging them in a pool, or soaking them with a hose. Cooling your pet too quickly from heat exhaustion can lead to shock and cause more problems.

What To Do If You Think Your Pet Is Suffering From Heatstroke

If your pet is suffering from only mild symptoms of heat exhaustion, we suggest you relax with them in a cool space and offer them fresh water.

Let your pet give you the signs when he or she is ready to get up and go again.

If your pet is suffering from severe symptoms of heatstroke, do not try and cool them down using water or ice.

Remember, cooling your pet too quickly can cause them to go into shock, which can be fatal.

The best thing to do if your pet is suffering from serious heatstroke is to offer them fresh, cool water and get them to the nearest veterinarian facility as quickly as possible.

How To Protect Your Pet From Heatstroke

There are many ways pet parents can help protect their pets from heatstroke and heat exhaustion.

  • Never leave your pet alone in a hot car.
  • Take your pet on walks or hikes when the weather is cooler (either early mornings or later evenings).
  • Monitor your pet in their crate and make sure they have enough ventilation and access to fresh, cool water.
  • Keep your pet’s living space cool and comfortable.
  • If your pet is outdoors for extended periods during the day, make sure they have access to shade, shelter, and fresh drinking water.
  • Keep fresh, cool drinking water accessible to your pet at all times whether indoors or out.
  • Allow your pet plenty of shade breaks and rests during walks or hikes in the heat.
  • Bring extra water for your pet during walks or hikes, especially if the weather is warm.

Do you have questions or comments regarding heatstroke and other ways you can help keep your pet safe? We would love to hear from you! Drop us a comment in the comments section!

And to learn more about how you can help keep your pet safe and healthy, visit us at!

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