How Hot is too Hot? Auburn Veterinarian Provides Insight into Warning Signs of Heat Stress in Pets

Heat and humidity during the summer can affect us all, including our pets. Dogs and cats can easily suffer from heat stress, heat stroke, and other heat-related illnesses during the hottest months of the year.

Dr. Kendon Kuo, an emergency and critical care faculty clinician at The Bailey Small Animal Teaching Hospital, offers insight into how heat can affect our pets and what steps to take to keep them safe on those brutally hot days.

Dog drinking water

There is a broad spectrum of heat-related diseases in pets that can vary from simple heat cramps to organ failure and death, Dr. Kuo said. “There is a wide range, and symptoms can go from not looking serious to very serious very quickly.”

It is important for pet owners to be on the lookout for abnormal behavior in their pets during the summer. Symptoms of heat stress include moving more slowly, breathing more heavily, or acting lethargic.

While all pets can suffer from heat stress and illnesses, dogs are more likely to be active outdoors and more prone to heat-related illnesses. Pets that have moved to warmer climates from other regions may not be acclimated to the temperatures and be intolerant of the higher temperature and humidity.

“Normal dog temperatures are around 100-102 degrees Fahrenheit,” Dr. Kuo said. “A dog may look okay, but its temperature could unknowingly increase to 105 or even up to 109 degrees.”

If your pet looks like they are getting weaker, has an increase in salivating, heavy panting, or not wanting to participate in its normal activities, you should take them to a local veterinarian.

When it comes to heat-related issues and illnesses, Dr. Kuo shared that prevention is key. “It is much easier to prevent a heat-related illness from happening than to treat it,” Dr. Kuo said.

Heat-related illnesses can be broken down into exercise and non-exercise-related causes. To prevent exercise-related illnesses, walk your dog during the cooler times of the day, make sure they always have access to water, keep your eye on your dog during outdoor activities, and watch for abnormal behavior.

To prevent non-exercise-related heat stress, make sure to never leave your pet locked in a car for any period of time or chained outdoors in an area with direct sunlight. Heat can build quickly in these enclosed spaces and overheat your pet in a short amount of time. If pets are kept outdoors, shade WITH circulating air is essential. Shade alone is insufficient to prevent heat stress.

Dog breeds with “smushed” faces, or brachycephalic breeds, are more prone than other dogs to suffer from heat-related illnesses because they are unable to pant and breathe as well as other dogs and are often unable to cool themselves sufficiently. Owners with English bulldogs, Boston terriers, pugs, and other similar breeds should be especially attentive to their pets’ needs during the summer.

Now is a critical time during the summer to look for heat-related issues with your pet. If your dog is not acclimated to being outdoors in the heat and humidity, it can be easier for them to suffer from heat stress. The Bailey Small Animal Teaching Hospital’s Emergency and Critical Care Service has seen up to multiple cases of heat stress a day during the hottest times of the summer.

If you believe your pet is suffering from heat stress, call your primary veterinarian or the Auburn Vet Med Emergency & Critical Care Service immediately at 334-844-4690.