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Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources

Keep your pets safe from heat stress/stroke this summer

STILLWATER, Okla. – With the official start of summer just a few short weeks away, Oklahomans have noticed a warming trend. And so have their furry friends.

Pet owners who enjoy spending time outdoors in the warm weather often bring their pets along. Just as a person takes heat precautions for themselves, they should do the same for their pets, said Dr. Elisabeth Giedt, director of Continuing Education, Extension and Community Engagement at the Center for Veterinary Health Sciences at Oklahoma State University.

“Heat stroke, also known as hyperthermia, occurs when your pet severely overheats,” Giedt said. “Many people enjoy soaking up some sun, but the heat definitely can take a toll on the human body and your four-legged friends as well. Heat exhaustion can be even more dangerous for animals than it is for humans because they don’t sweat like people do. Dogs rely on panting to cool themselves. If an animal is confined to an enclosed space with poor ventilation, such as inside of a car or garage, it can quickly suffer from heat stress, heat exhaustion or heat stroke.”

This is especially true for young, old or overweight dogs and cats. Brachycephalic breeds such as pugs, English bulldogs and Persian cats, are specifically prone to problems during the summertime.

While you may enjoy taking your pet in the car while you run errands this summer, do not leave the animal in the car while you go inside the store, even if it is just for a few minutes. The interior of a car can quickly heat up to 120 degrees Fahrenheit, even if parked in the shade with the windows cracked.

At home, shade is an absolute must for pets that live confined to the yard. Do not tether your animals because the leash or rope can become tangled and the animal could get stranded in the sun.

“Providing a shady and well-ventilated spot for outdoor pets will keep them cooler. You can even place some cold, wet towels in your pet’s sleeping area,” Giedt said. “If your pet sleeps in a dog house, wet towels are especially good because the temperature inside the house can get quite hot.”

In addition, outdoor animals require a continuous supply of cool water in containers that cannot be tipped over. If possible put ice cubes or small frozen containers of water in the pet’s water bowl every morning. This will help the water stay cool longer.

Another suggestion for helping your pet stay cool in the hot summer months is to put a small kiddie pool in the yard and keep it filled with cool water.

Pet owners who are fitness minded may enjoy jogging with their animals, but it is imperative to keep in mind over exertion in hot weather can easily cause them to overheat quickly, especially long hair breeds. Humid weather makes pets even more susceptible to heat exhaustion, even if the dog jogs with you every day in cooler weather and is in excellent shape.

Giedt said clinical signs and symptoms of a dog that is overheated or suffering from heat stress or stroke may include body temperature 104 degrees Fahrenheit or above, elevated heart rate, excessive panting, dark or bright red tongue and gums, staring and unresponsive, staggering, seizures, bloody diarrhea, vomiting or even in a state of collapse.

Emergency treatment for this condition includes sponging the animal’s neck and groin area with cool water till its body temperature is lowered. Contact your veterinarian immediately because the pet may require further treatment to prevent serious complications that can occur with heat-related illness. Heat stroke can lead to severe organ dysfunction and damage.

Some pet owners believe clipping a dog’s hair coat will help pets stay cool during the summer months. However, Giedt said some hair left on the dog can protect the skin and if the hair is clipped too short, the skin can burn, just as human skin does.

“It’s always a good idea to keep your pet’s fur trimmed, if necessary, and this is especially true for animals with thick, heavy coats. Talk to your veterinarian about what kind of clip would be beneficial,” she said. “Some animal’s coat protects their skin and can actually trap cooler air next to their body and help keep them cool on hot summer days. Your veterinarian is a great source of information about keeping your pet safe during the summer heat. Keep in mind your pet depends on you to provide the very best care possible.”


Oklahoma State University, U.S. Department of Agriculture, State and Local Governments Cooperating: The Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service offers its programs to all eligible persons regardless of race, color, national origin, religion, gender, age, disability, or status as a veteran, and is an equal opportunity employer.

Trisha Gedon
Communications Specialist
Agricultural Communications Services
136 Agriculture North
Oklahoma State University
Stillwater, OK  74078
405-744-3625 (phone)
405-744-5739 (fax)


Oklahoma State University - Stillwater, OK 74078

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