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How To Prevent Heatstroke In Your Pet

We all struggle in the heat, but when it is hot it can be deadly for pets.

Find out more in our blog.

Heatstroke is when the body's core temperature rises so much that without taking measures to bring it down, it may be fatal (particularly as temperatures rise above 27c). It is easily avoidable when you know how to help your pet.

Unlike humans, animals are not always able to move away to cooler, shaded areas, remove their layers or find a water source. They are not always sensible when it comes to keeping cool - so we have to do their thinking to protect them from the heat.

All animals can get heatstroke, but certain animals can be more at risk.

Examples of such animal's include:

  • Overweight animals

  • Brachycephalic breeds (flat-faced breeds) such as Pugs, Bulldogs, Boxers, Bull Terriers, cats such as Persians, rabbits such as the Netherland Dwarf.

  • Any pet with a thick coat, such as huskies

  • Senior and very young animals

  • Animals with predisposed disorders such as heart, lung or kidney problems.

Recognising the signs of heatstroke and taking the appropriate action quickly can save your pets life.

These symptoms can range from mild to severe heatstroke as it is a progressive disorder. The earlier these signs are recognised and acted on, the better the outcome for the animal.

Mild signs may include:

  • Panting/difficulty breathing

  • Tiredness

  • Change in behaviour/unwillingness to play

  • Restlessness

  • Not wanting to eat or drink

Moderate signs may include:

  • Gastrointestinal disturbances such as diarrhoea or vomiting

  • Drooling

  • Collapse

  • Single seizure

Severe signs may include:

  • Multiple/continuous seizures

  • Loss of consciousness

  • Confusion

  • Blood/vomiting with blood

Other signs include:

  • Red gums and tongue

  • Increase in heart rate

How to help your pet to avoid heatstroke:

  • Avoid travelling in cars at peak times such as midday. Cars should be air-conditioned, and trips should be as short as possible and essential. A dog can overheat in a moving vehicle- heatstroke doesn’t just occur in parked cars! Remember, if your dog is travelling in the boot, your air-con may not reach or circulate well in this area, so consider using additional fans to add circulation of air.

  • Pets should never be left unattended in a car when the weather is hot.

  • Having shaded or window tints on the rear and back windows in the car can help keep them cool.


  • Always make sure your pet has access to water.

  • Animals should always have a shaded area where they can go.

  • If the pavement and ground are too hot for you to walk barefoot on, then it will be too hot for your animal to walk. Pets can get heat burns on their pads.

  • Having your dog groomed regularly can help remove extra layers of hair that can trap heat.

  • Do not leave your pet in poorly ventilated rooms. Heatstroke is very common in cars, and the second most common area where heat stroke happens is in conservatories!

  • Do not excessively exercise your animal in warm weather, as it doesn’t have to be ‘hot’ for them to get heatstroke. Pets should only be walked early in the morning or late in the evening to avoid the hottest part of the day. Dogs have died being walked on hot days, but no dog has died from missing a walk.

Active cooling techniques:

  • MOVE YOUR PET OUT OF THE HEAT - seems absurd to state the obvious, but it is common that some people forget to move their pet away from the heat before trying to cool them down.

  • Take your animal into a shaded/well-ventilated area.

  • Apply or spray tepid/cool water onto the animal’s fur and paws.

  • Apply a cold wet towel over their body or a wet t-shirt, changing it every 5-10 minutes.

  • Using fans to maximise heat loss and improve air circulation in your home.

  • Wetting down the area around your pet can also help (i.e using wet towels in a dog basket).

  • Using surgical spirit sprayed onto the bottom of your dog’s paws can help cool them down as it evaporates quickly.

  • Using water/pet water fountains encourage your pet to drink more.

  • Placing ice cubes in their water bowls helps to keep them cool. There is a very dangerous myth that putting ice cubes in water bowls is fatal, this is untrue! Some pets may not want to drink from a bowl with ice in, so place two bowls, one iced and one normal.

  • Paddling pools are a great way for dogs to cool down and can be lots of fun for them too, make them more appealing by adding their favourite toys.

  • Ice Kongs are brilliant for pets to cool down or using ice cubes in general. These can be flavoured with stock cubes (be careful of the salt content).

*Warning* Do not immerse your pet in ice-cold water as this is counterproductive, causing the capillaries to constrict, reducing heat loss, making the internal temperature rise.

It's not only dogs and cats who can get heatstroke. Rabbits, guinea pigs and hamsters can too.

Signs of heatstroke in these small furries may include:

  • Taking small quick breaths

  • Panting

  • Not wanting to eat or drink

  • Diarrhoea

  • Being tired (lethargic)

  • Seizures

  • Unconsciousness

  • Death

  • Drooling

  • Hutches and runs should be kept in the shade- out of direct sunlight. This may mean moving them throughout the day depending on where the sun is or moving them indoors.

  • Do not use plastic housing in external runs as these get incredibly hot inside and have poor airflow. Instead, use cardboard boxes as a tunnel (a hole in each side).

  • Give them a litter tray filled with water so they can get in and cool down.

  • Regularly check on them and make sure their water bowls are topped up, using ice cubes in the bowl to keep the water cool.

  • They should be well ventilated.

  • Clip-on rechargeable fans clipped to housing helps airflow and prevents hot pockets from forming.

  • Using marble tiles or frozen plastic milk bottles wrapped in a wet towel for your small animal to sit or lay against will help them cool down. Keep a spare in the freezer so you can change them as they defrost.

  • If your guinea pig or rabbit is long-haired, consider a haircut to keep them cool.

  • Keep their fibre intake high to avoid diarrhoea and do not give too much fruit, however tempting it may be. Although you are increasing their water intake, you risk upsetting their gut function. Fruit can be used in limitation. Melon skins (scoop out the melon first) and spray or damp herbs such as coriander, parsley and even romaine lettuce can be great.

  • Half-cut frozen grapes for rats, rodents and birds are also a great way to keep cool.

Remember that overweight, young, old and long-haired small furries are more at risk.

When To Seek Veterinary Attention:

  • When mild/moderate symptoms are being displayed and are not improving as you cool your pet down.

  • In cases of more severe symptoms (i.e. your pet is seizing or collapsing), immediate veterinary treatment should be sought.

The vets can place your pet on cooled intravenous fluids to help bring their internal temperature down and also give medications with supportive treatment to help their body cope.

We understand that the changes in your companions routine could cause them to become bored and restless. Here are some handy activities to do which won't cause them to get overheated.

  • You can have a paddling pool in the shade with tapered water that they can paddle in. You can place toys in the pool too.

  • Ball games inside where it is cool.

  • Try hiding food in your home that they have to sniff out. There are lots of nose work games you can access online.

  • Try puzzle feeders. Puzzle feeders can help with energy build-ups as they are using their brainpower to figure out the puzzles.

  • You can freeze their food in popsicle moulds and ice trays. Cats tend to enjoy a frozen tuna ice cube.

Other things to think about in the hot weather!

Pets can get sunburn too, and this skin damage can lead to skin cancer. There are pet-safe sun creams available for you to apply to your furry friend. Areas such as the ears, nose and anywhere that your pet's fur is thin are at risk of getting sunburnt.

Pets that are more at risk of this are:

  • Pets that have thin/patchy coats.

  • Pets with pale or white fur.

  • Pets that have pink skin exposed on their ears, nose or stomach.

  • Rabbits and dogs with long ears.

Another problem that occurs during warmer months is flystrike. Flystrike is very serious and needs veterinary attention. It occurs when flies are attracted to damp fur, urine or faeces stuck on your small furry friend. Usually, they will lay their eggs on their rear end. So daily inspections of your small furries, especially around the rear end is a must.

You can also use preventive treatments such as Rear Guard if you have a rabbit that has the occasional dirty bum.

Also, bear in mind that usually, during warmer weather, our companions may not exercise as much, so be mindful of the amount you feed them. They may need food to be reduced depending on their physical output.

Whilst this can be an overwhelming situation to be in, knowing some of these handy tips for your pets can help you and them have safe fun in the sun.

If you are worried or concerned about heatstroke, feel free to contact the clinic to discuss any worries or concerns.


Order Dr Hannah Parkin's Amazing Guide To Caring For Your New Puppy.
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