How to Protect Your Cat or Dog From Heat Stroke

With summer fast approaching, there are a few basic rules to keep in mind to help your pets enjoy the hot weather.

Thermoregulation is a process that allows your body to maintain its internal temperature by releasing excess heat. In humans, sweat plays a key role in thermoregulation and can occur on almost any surface of the body. This process is different for dogs and cats. Since pets sweat only through their paw pads, they have to compensate with other ways of getting rid of excess heat, such as panting.

Avoiding heat stroke for our pets

What is heat stroke?

It is a condition characterized by a marked increase in body temperature (fever or hyperthermia) resulting from exposure to outside heat, disturbance in thermoregulation mechanisms and the body’s inability to cool itself. In short, heat stroke occurs when the body can no longer regulate its temperature, which is potentially dangerous.

Which animals are at risk?

Although all animals are susceptible to heat stroke, some are more at risk. For example:

  • young dogs and cats
  • older pets with heart disease
  • overweight pets
  • some brachycephalic (short-nosed) breeds, such as Bulldogs, Pugs, Boston terriers, Boxers and Persian cats

Dog in a pool

Basic rules for avoiding heat stroke

Dogs and cats should have access to a bowl of fresh water at all times. This is even more important as the temperatures begin to rise. You can even put ice in their bowls for optimal freshness. If your cat tends to lie in front of a sunny window, just shut the blind or curtain.

For dogs that enjoy staying out in hot weather, don’t hesitate to wet down their fur once or twice a day, being careful to avoid their ears. You can also set up a small pool if they are interested.

Obviously, intense physical activity should be avoided during the day. Instead, save it for the morning or evening, being sure to bring water for you and your dog, and look out for signs of heat stress and paw pad burns. You can also equip your dog with light summer boots.

Never leave an animal in a vehicle (or an enclosed space) that has little or no ventilation in mild or hot weather, even if there’s no sun. Enclosed animals are at very high risk and dogs can die in a few minutes when outdoor temperatures reach 20°C to 25°C. When the sun’s shining, a dog should not be left tied up outside without access to shade.


Temperature of an enclosed space

Dog in the shades on a sunny day
Helpful accessories 

Aside from a bowl of ice water and a collapsible pool, there are several accessories on the market to help animals get through periods of intense heat.

Frozen objects similar to the icy toys designed for babies to chew on are available for dogs to enjoy. These items, filled with gel or water, are very effective. Some are even shaped like popsicles! There is even powdered ice cream that can be prepared if the temperatures skyrocket.

Cooling vests, bandanas, tanks tops and shirts: anything goes when it comes to keeping your dog comfortable. Filled with gel, these items are effective for several hours. For dogs that prefer to stay outside, a cooling pad or mat, or a raised bed, can really offer relief. To protect dogs from the sun, consider caps, UV clothing and sunscreen. And, no need to wait until the temperatures hit 37°C to start; 25°C is already hot enough.

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What to do in case of heat stroke

Signs of heat stroke are not always easy to spot in big dogs that tend to pant heavily. However, if the panting seems excessive, don’t hesitate to visit your veterinarian immediately. If the clinic is more than five minutes away by car, wet down the dog and use moist towels, for example, to keep it cool.

Since cats don’t pant, it may be more difficult to identify signs of heat stroke. If your cat is lethargic and doesn’t respond to your presence or calls, you should go to the nearest veterinary clinic.

When temperatures rise, the important thing is to be vigilant, and provide a suitable environment with plenty of bowls of ice water for your furry friends.