Watch Tip: Cooling Overheated Pets

Posted on July 5th, 2011 by Anna Nirva


Learn how to recognize and early-treat heatstroke in dogs and cats, so you can improve the odds if your pet gets heatstroke, a frequent killer. Heatstroke requires immediate action to reduce body temperature followed by urgent veterinary treatment. Learn symptoms and treatments to reduce body temperature. Remember, prevention is the best cure. On warm days, prevent exertion and never leave your pet in a vehicle. It is a truly dangerous myth that cracking a window open will prevent heat stroke.

What should you look for? What should you do?

Your dog or cat could be suffering from heatstroke if you observe

  • rapid panting
  • drooling, foamy mouth
  • swollen tongue
  • uncoordinated movements, wobbly walking
  • anxiety
  • diarrhea
  • hot ears, top of head, legs, paws.

EMERGENCY: take immediate action or your dog or cat could die. First, if your pet is conscious and alert, responding to your words, start cooling where you are. Cool the your pet with cool, continuously flowing air or water that draws heat out of the body. (Attempting to cool your pet by laying him or her in a pool of cool unmoving water might actually make your pet worse by causing the surface blood vessels to constrict, shunting heat back to the body’s core!) Don’t forget to cool ears, head, paw pads, feet, and legs, anywhere blood flow is nearer the skin.

But if your pet is unconscious or is fully collapsed or seems confused and groggy, drive immediately to a vet clinic; enlist a friend to attempt to cool your pet as you drive. It’s too late to delay treatment; your pet could die. Call the vet clinic en route so they are prepared for immediate treatment to save your pet’s life.

Allow your pet to drink some but not a lot of water, so that the mouth stays damp for more effective panting. Drinking a lot of water is not important at this time. Water in the stomach does not effectively cool your pet and can even cause bloating that can become an urgent medical issue as well.

If outdoors at an event, for example, get your pet into shade and begin cooling. Position the pet’s head, belly and legs to benefit from any breezes. If available, gently spray or mist water from a garden hose. You can pour water from containers and bottles, wiping as you pour. You can fan your pet vigorously with a magazine or a jacket; use whatever you have available. You could wipe ice-filled towels over the fur—always moving the cooling agent (air, water, ice towel).

If you have access to air conditioned space, bring your pet indoors and position near as possible to an air vent; set up a fan if available. Don’t confine your pet in a small space or crate to cool down; it traps the body’s heat as well as preventing airflow.

IMPORTANT: Get a thermometer and take the temperature rectally every three minutes. When the temperature begins to drop, STOP all cooling efforts. You have achieved your goal and the body’s core will continue to cool down on its own. If you over-cool, your pet’s life can be endangered, strange as it may seem. Then proceed to the vet clinic for further treatment; heatstroke can produce other health issues. Your pet must be examined.

The normal temperature for a dog is 100.5 to 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit for a cat, and for a dog, 101 to 102.5.

Important preventive tip: learn your pet’s resting temperature before an emergency occurs, so you can make better judgments in an emergency.

This post includes some information provided by Nate Baxter, DVM, of Lebanon, Ohio, USA. Thank you Nate!

3 Responses to “Watch Tip: Cooling Overheated Pets”

  1. Jen says:

    What is a normal temp range for dogs??

  2. Anna Nirva says:

    Thank you for your question Jen—I’ve added the resting temperatures for dogs and cats to the post.

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