Heatstroke in Dogs and Cats

Imagine you are a dog or cat: It is a slightly cloudy but warm day, you are covered in fur, your body is not made to perspire well, you especially overheat in high humidity and you tend to be active and excited in the car.

Then a loved one leaves you alone in the car stating, “I’ll be right back!” Minutes pass and the car begins to get hot. You pant harder and harder, but all the air you are taking in is hot. Your body temperature starts to rise. You begin to panic…

The main methods of counteracting overheating that the dog and cat body can utilize are panting (but the air being taken in must be cool), drinking cold water, immersion in cool water or being wet down with cool water to allow evaporation, and being in circulating air that is cool. Pets, due to their poor ability to cool themselves, are in danger of overheating if left in a car even for a few minutes. Death or permanent organ dysfunction from overheating can occur in a matter of minutes! Please note that even if you leave the air-conditioner in your car running, computers in many cars today will shut the system off or cause it to blow hot air fairly quickly.


  • left alone in a car (minutes can mean heatstroke)
  • isolated in one area of a car that is not as cool as the “people” area
  • trying to keep up with an owner who is jogging or hiking
  • who are overweight (40% of American pets are obese)
  • who have a short-face such as Boston Terriers, Pugs, Pekingese, etc.
  • who are older or very young (less physical ability to cope)
  • who have thick coats
  • who are excited or ones that just exercised or overexerted
  • with any disease


  • frantic panting in a dog and any panting in a cat
  • dilated eyes
  • weakness, staggering, non-responsive, vomiting &/or diarrhea
  • red gums
  • body temperature above 103 degrees may mean your pet is overheating


If you suspect that your pet is overheated, and he or she is losing consciousness, you must act quickly. Begin to gently cool your pet even without confirming a high body temperature:

  • wet the pet down or use a tub of cool (not cold) water
  • provide cool drinking water if the pet is able to drink
  • stop aggressive cooling of the pet when rectal temperature drops to 103 to 104 degrees F.
  • have pet examined by a veterinarian ASAP


  • NEVER leave any pet unattended in a car or isolate them to a warmer area of your car while you are driving
  • with any summer activity, remember pets overheat easily and don’t know when to stop or pace themselves
  • an inexpensive thermometer in your pet’s first aid box is valuable
  • keep fresh cool water available at all times

At Animal Hospital of North Asheville, we see heartbreaking cases of heatstroke that could have been prevented had the pet’s family just realized how easy heatstroke can occur in dogs and cats. Our own Drs. Dave and Betsy Thompson experienced a terrifying heatstroke in their dog, Ding, while she was riding in their van with them on a spring day. Ding had chosen (she was not restrained) to ride towards the back of their 1975 panel van which did not have a rear air conditioner, when she suddenly got up, came forward to them, and collapsed as she lost consciousness. Due to immediate treatment, thank goodness, Ding survived, but the incident brings home just how vulnerable our pets are. Please be very careful with your pet this summer! Always remember that they have less ability to cool themselves than you do.


Our groomer is encouraging us to have our dog’s medium length coat clipped to keep him cooler in summer. Yet I’ve also heard that animal coats insulate them against both heat and cold, and their natural shedding processes regulate that somewhat through the year. Our dog is typically inside in air conditioning, or on a shady porch, but of course we take walks in the morning or evening. What do the Animal Hospital of North Asheville vets recommend?

p.s. This and the toxic food article were both great!

I used to have two corgi dogs who live to be 15. During the summer they acted like dogs who were very elderly - laid around and would not play. They were house dogs and went on walks frequently and to parks. I decided to have them shaved one summer and could not believe the difference in their personalities. They hopped around, played, ran, etc. I don't believe an animals coat helps unless the dogs is constantly outdoors and do not have changes in temperature like air conditioning. The thick coat helps prevent sunburn in dogs. Hope this helps