The heat brings serious health risks for pets, but Best Friends Veterinary Care wants your pets to be cool cats—and dogs—rather than hot dogs—and cats—this summer. Read on to learn how to keep your pets safe in the summer heat and sun.

Heat stress risk factors for pets

When the summer heat strikes, prevent pet heat stress by avoiding the risks. For example, be aware that dogs, who always want to be part of the action and to please their owners, are notorious for overheating because of too much activity. Several risk factors contribute to heat stress in pets:

  • Lack of acclimation to sudden temperature changes
  • Long, thick, or dark-colored hair coats
  • Overexertion, despite the heat
  • Obesity
  • Brachycephalic syndrome
  • Lack of shade and drinking water
  • High humidity
  • Confinement
  • Breathing problems (e.g., a collapsing trachea)
  • Any airway restriction (e.g., a too-tight collar)

Awareness of these risk factors can prevent progression to pet heat stress or—worse—heatstroke.

Heat stress and heatstroke signs in pets

The first signs that you will likely see in your overheated pet are distressed or loud panting, or labored breathing, and you may then notice bright red gums, drooling, gagging, vomiting, restlessness, agitation. Next, your pet will become weak, unsteady, and unwilling to move around as they become more stressed as their temperature rises, and their condition will eventually progress to heat prostration or heatstroke. Without intervention, your pet may collapse and have bloody diarrhea, which indicates severe heatstroke.

Heatstroke is more common in dogs than cats, who usually are affected by external environmental factors, such as being trapped in a hot car or clothes drier, rather than overexertion. Cats rarely pant unless they are extremely distressed, so if your cat is open-mouth breathing, they need emergency veterinary attention.

Heat stress treatment in pets

If you suspect your pet is overheated, take the following steps to cool them down gently:

  • Move your pet to a cool, shaded, or air-conditioned area
  • Mist them with room-temperature water
  • Direct a fan toward them
  • Take a rectal temperature, if possible
  • Bring your pet to Best Friends Veterinary Care as soon as possible, first letting us know you are on your way so we can be ready for your pet.

Overcooling your pet can do more harm than good, so don’t cool them with cold wet towels or ice packs. Normal pet body temperature can be up to 102.5 degrees, with a temperature higher than 105 having serious consequences. Severe pet heatstroke can result in multiple organ system failure, with a guarded-to-poor prognosis. Only 50% of pets hospitalized with heatstroke survive. 

Heat stress prevention in pets

Plan for your pet’s safety during the summer months and be prepared by carrying:

  • Water — Pack a pet bowl and plenty of water in a cooler with ice packs, and take frequent water breaks throughout the day.
  • Shade — Stay in the shade, or rest in a portable tent, when possible.
  • Sunscreen — Pets with thin hair or non-pigmented skin need high SPF baby sunscreen without zinc, a pet safe sunblock, or a UV-protective pet sunsuit.
  • First-aid kit — Whether traveling for a day or a month, keep handy a pet first aid kit that includes pet urgent care clinic contact information, your pet’s immunization record, medical history notes, and medications.

Summer vehicle safety for pets

Never leave pets unattended in a vehicle. On Long Island on a moderately warm day, the temperature in a parked car can rise 20 degrees in 10 minutes, and parking in the shade or cracking the windows does not make a difference. Also, dark metal or plastic car surfaces can be extremely hot to the touch, and parking lot surfaces can be hot enough to burn your pet’s paw pads. If you cannot take your pet with you when you leave the car, they should stay home. If you will be traveling by car this summer, ensure the vehicle’s air conditioning is working properly—for your sake, as well as your pet’s.

Special heat-risk factors in some pets

Brachycephalic syndrome refers to the unique anatomy of short-nosed pets such as pugs, bulldogs, and Persian cats, and its effect on their health. Pets mostly cool themselves by panting, but many factors restrict brachycephalic pets’ panting ability, including: 

  • Mouths — The flat faces mean less roomy mouths, and extra palate and tongue tissue that becomes irritated and swollen when they are distressed and trying to pant, which restricts air movement more.
  • Nostrils — To make matters worse, brachycephalic breeds often have tiny nostrils, and resort to panting more quickly than other breeds.
  • Windpipes Flat-nosed pets have smaller windpipes, which exacerbates the situation.
  • Neck — Use a harness for brachycephalic pets, because straining against a collar further restricts  their breathing.
  • Hair coat Consider clipping a long-haired brachycephalic pet’s coat for the summer.

This summer, let the only hot dogs be those on your backyard grill. Best Friends Veterinary Care is here to answer any questions or address any problems you may encounter as the months get warmer. We hope your pet never experiences life-threatening heat stress or heatstroke, but if the worst happens, our emergency service is fully equipped and staffed to treat your pet as quickly as possible.