Saturday, July 21, 2012

Heat Stroke in Dogs and Cats

Hyperthermia, also known as heat stroke, is a life-threatening condition, and requires immediate help.  A dog or cat’s normal body temperature is 101.5°F plus or minus 1 degree, and any time the body temperature is higher than 105°F, it is an EMERGENCY.  The most common cause of heatstroke occurs in summer when dogs are left within cars.  However, heatstroke may also occur in other conditions, including:
  1. When any animal is left outdoors in hot/humid conditions without adequate shade.
  2. When the animal is exercised in hot/humid weather.  
  3. When left in a car on a relatively cool (70°F) day; a recent study found the temperature within a vehicle may increase by an average of 40 degrees Fahrenheit within one hour regardless of outside temperatureYup, you read that right, 110 degrees or more!!!
Other predisposing factors may be obesity and/or conditions affecting a pet’s airway, including laryngeal paralysis and other diseases of the throat region and having a brachycephalic (short-nosed) breed: (Pekingese, Pug, Lhasa apso, Boston terrier, Persian, Himalayan, etc.) These pets may suffer from heatstroke more readily due to their inability to move air properly through their short crowded noses and throats.

Initially the pet appears distressed, and will pant excessively and become restless.  As the hyperthermia progresses, the pet may drool large amounts of saliva from the nose and/or mouth.  The pet may become unsteady on his feet.  You may notice the gums turning blue/purple or bright red in color, which is due to inadequate oxygen.

  • Remove your pet from the environment where the hyperthermia occurred. 
  • Move your pet to a shaded and cool environment.
  • Begin to cool the body by placing cool, wet towels over the back of the neck, in the armpits, and in the groin region.  You may also wet the ear flaps and paws with cool water. 
  • Direct a fan on the pet for evaporative cooling, especially helpful if you can wet the pet down. 
  •  Transport to the closest veterinary facility immediately.
What NOT to Do:
  • Do not leave your pet unattended in a car or outdoors.
  • Do not use cold water or ice for cooling. 
  • Do not overcool the pet.  Most pets with hyperthermia have body temperatures greater than 105°F, and a reasonable goal of cooling is to reduce your pet’s body temperature to 102.5-103°F while transporting her to the closest veterinary facility. 
  • Do not attempt to force water into your pet’s mouth, but you may have fresh cool water ready to offer should your pet be alert and show an interest in drinking.

While ice or very cold water may seem logical, it fails to cool the inside of your pet where all the vital organs are its use is not advised.  Ice or cold water will cause the blood vessels in the skin to shrink in response to the extreme cold and cooling will actually be slower. Cool tap water is more suitable for effective cooling.   

It is important to seek medical care immediately to prevent further organ damage and to address complications that result from heatstroke.


Dr. Dana Lewis

Dr. Dana assists families with Pet Hospice and Euthanasia in the Raleigh North Carolina area (Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill and the greater Triangle, as well as Wake, Durham, Orange, and Chatham counties.)

Blog posted by:
Vet Mary Gardner


  1. How can I be sure my cat had heat stroke? She was out in the heat with me in Florida in the summer, after a little while her tongue was hanging out, here eyes were bulging and she look scarey. Was that heat stroke?

  2. Cats do get overheated/heat stroke as well - they have an even harder time expelling heat because they don't pant as well as dogs do (that is why you should never use a hot blow dryer to dry your cat). I can't be sure if your cat had heat stroke - it would require an exam as well as taking her temperature to be sure - but it does sound like she was in a state of distress. :( I hope she is ok now. You have to be careful with Florida weather - it can be really bad for our pets!


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