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Heat Stroke in Pets

panting dog - Edna Winti.jpg
Edna Winti
Panting is how a pet cools itself in hot weather. Keep in mind that for animals with short noses, like this pooch, the process is less efficient.

Hot weather especially humid hot weather, can pose a serious health risk for our pets because of the way a pet’s body rids itself of excess heat. 

As humans, when we get hot we sweat – all over; the evaporation of the sweat helps to cool our bodies.  Dogs and cats sweat only on the pads of their feet - hardly enough area to do the job.  So they pant, moving the air in through their nasal passages then out through their mouths, taking with it the heat and cooling their bodies.  The more moisture in the air, the less efficient this process is.  Animals with very short nasal passages, like a Pekinese dog or a Persian cat, may have more difficulty cooling down.  Older animals, very young animals, animals who are overweight and those who are ill, may also be less efficient at cooling down in the humid summer heat.  And any overheated pet may experience heat stroke. 

Learning to recognize the signs of heat stroke could help you save your pet’s life. The symptoms can include excessive panting, confusion, failure to respond to simple commands, vomiting, and physical collapse.  Heat stroke is classified as a medical emergency; it can result in brain damage and can even be fatal.  If your pet exhibits any of the symptoms of heat stroke, get it out of the heat.  You can use cool water or damp cloths to help lower its body temperature; do not use ice water which could do more harm than good.  The best thing you can do for your best friend is to get it to a veterinarian as quickly as possible. 

The best cure for heat stroke is prevention. If your pet is outdoors during the day, make sure it has a place to stay that remains shaded and well-ventilated, with fresh water available at all times.  And keep exercise to a minimum during the heat of the day.

Heat stroke has been called the number one killer of pets during the summertime.  Your furry friend is depending on you to keep it cool and safe - to enjoy all the seasons, when you’re speaking of pets.


Mindy Norton has been “Speaking of Pets” on Alabama Public Radio since 1995.