Omaha has experienced record heat this summer, and these extreme conditions can be dangerous for pets. Our Urgent Pet Care Omaha team wants to help by providing pet heat safety do’s and don’ts to protect your pet during the next heat wave.

DO understand that heatstroke in pets is a veterinary emergency

Heatstroke occurs when a pet’s temperature rises above the normal range (i.e., 101.5 to 102 degrees) in response to excessive external temperatures or strenuous exercise. The heat causes severe inflammation throughout the pet’s body, and can damage several body systems, including:

  • Gastrointestinal (GI) tract — The gastrointestinal lining breaks down, leaving the GI tract walls vulnerable and allowing bacteria to enter the pet’s bloodstream.
  • Cardiovascular — When the pet can’t compensate for the excessive heat, their heart can no longer pump blood throughout the body, and their organs aren’t properly perfused, which leads to dysfunction.
  • Respiratory — Lung tissue damage results in respiratory distress.
  • Kidneys — Dehydration and inflammation from the heat cause kidney failure.
  • Central nervous system — Brain tissue swells, bleeds, and dies in response to the inflammation.
  • Coagulation system — In severe cases, a condition called disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC) causes uncontrolled bleeding throughout the pet’s body.

DON’T underestimate the heat’s effect on your pet

Pets are especially susceptible to heatstroke because they must rely on inefficient methods, such as panting, to cool themselves. This means they aren’t as capable as people in cooling down on a hot day. In addition, certain pets are more vulnerable to the heat. These include:

  • Senior pets — Cats and small dogs older than 7 years of age and large-breed dogs older than 5 years of age cannot effectively regulate their body temperature.
  • Brachycephalic pets — Brachycephalic breeds, such as bulldogs, pugs, Pekingese, and Persian cats, have less surface area in their mouth, so panting doesn’t cool them as effectively as larger-mouthed pets.
  • Overweight pets — The extra fat layer in overweight pets creates an insulating effect, making cooling down more difficult.
  • Sick pets — Pets affected by an underlying health condition are at increased risk.

DO ensure your pet remains well hydrated

Dehydration exacerbates heatstroke in pets. Ensure your pet remains well hydrated by following these tips:

  • Providing fresh water — Provide several fresh water sources throughout your home to ensure drinking is convenient for your pet.
  • Cleaning water bowls — Clean your pet’s water bowl and change out the water at least daily.
  • Packing water — Pack water and a water bowl for outings, so your pet can drink on a regular basis.
  • Offering a water fountain — Some pets are attracted to moving water and will consume more water when they have access to a water fountain.

DON’T leave your pet in an unattended vehicle

Temperatures inside parked cars elevate to dangerous levels quickly, putting your pet in serious danger. Parking in the shade and leaving your windows cracked aren’t enough to keep the temperatures at a safe level. Leave your pet at home if they can’t accompany you on your errands.

DO limit your pet’s exercise on hot days

Pets often get excited and do not stop exercising when they need to cool down. Tips to ensure excess exercise doesn’t cause your pet to overheat include:

  • Take frequent breaks — Give your pet frequent breaks in the shade when you are outside on a hot day.
  • Exercise during cooler times — Exercise your pet during the early morning and evening hours to avoid the hottest temperatures.
  • Leave at-risk pets inside — If your pet is a high heatstroke risk, leave them inside with air conditioning, except for brief bathroom breaks.

DO know heatstroke signs in pets

Learn to recognize heat stress signs, so you can help your pet cool down should they start to overheat. Signs include:

  • Excessive panting — Pets start to pant more to help air circulate over their mouth and lungs and cool their body.
  • Drooling — More saliva is produced to cause more evaporative cooling.
  • Lethargy — Overheated pets become sluggish and exercise intolerant.
  • Diarrhea — GI tract damage causes diarrhea and sometimes vomiting.
  • Seizures — Brain damage causes pets to seizure and collapse.

DON’T walk your pet on hot surfaces

Surfaces, such as asphalt, can reach temperatures that can burn your pet’s sensitive paws. Ensure you walk them on unpaved areas, or provide protective booties if you can’t avoid hot surfaces.

DO know pet heatstroke first aid

If your pet overheats, their prognosis depends on their temperature level and the time their temperature remains elevated. You can help improve their chances if you take immediate steps to cool them down. Tips include:

  • Move your pet to a cool area — Move your pet to a cool, well-ventilated area.
  • Offer your pet water — If your pet is conscious, offer them water, but don’t force water in their mouth.
  • Take your pet’s temperature — Use a rectal thermometer to take your pet’s temperature and monitor their progress, so you can relay the information to your veterinarian.
  • Cool your pet — Use lukewarm water or wet towels to cool your pet—never use ice or ice water, which can cause their temperature to drop too quickly, resulting in shock.
  • Take your pet to the veterinarian — Your pet will need veterinary care. They may seem to recover after you begin the cooling process, but they must still be evaluated by a veterinarian to ensure they didn’t sustain internal damage. 

Omaha’s excessive heat can be dangerous for your pet, but you can take steps to keep them cool. If your pet overheats, contact the Urgent Pet Care Omaha team, so we can ensure they get the appropriate care.