Preventing Heat Stress and Injury in Pets

Preventing Heat Stress

Never assume that it is OK to leave your dog or cat in a car unattended during warmer weather, and carefully monitor and limit strenuous exercise periods for your dog in high temperatures. Reduce the time you allow your dog to walk, run or jog with you, or to follow you during bike rides. If it’s hot enough, you may need to postpone the activity altogether. Keep in mind that obese dogs or ones that only exercise occasionally are particularly vulnerable to overheating. 

Even on a reduced exercise schedule, take frequent rest breaks in the shade. Remember to take water and even ice cubes along for your dog to drink when outdoor temperatures are above 80 degrees. Towels that can be wet with cool water and placed over your dog can help bring his body temperature down following exercise bouts — but be sure to remove the towels once they become warmed from body heat. Exercising in dog parks early in the morning or later at night when outside temperatures are lower will also reduce the risk for heat-related injury. Restrict exercise when outside temperatures are above 80 degrees, especially in locales with high humidity. Finally, dogs with long hair may benefit from being clipped or shaved for the summer months.  

My Own Personal Experience

Recently, my own dog was vigorously exercising in the dog park — running around with two other dogs and having a great time. The ambient temperature was about 92 degrees, and the humidity was quite high. He was fine for about five minutes, but then started to salivate a lot and was panting very rapidly. We removed him from the park and walked back to the car. He could not jump into the car on his own, and I had to lift him into the vehicle. He was extremely quiet and didn’t move during the five-minute drive home. I kept the air-conditioning on high with the vents directed his way. Upon arrival at the house, I hosed him down for five minutes with cool water from the garden hose. He revived over the next 10 minutes. Had he not come around right away, we would have been on our way to the emergency clinic for IV fluids. This incident underscored for me just how easy it is for a dog to get into trouble in the heat — even with a watchful veterinarian as an owner. If you see any potential signs of distress in your dog, be sure to take prompt steps to cool him. And if you have any doubt about how serious the situation may or may not be, call your veterinarian immediately.


Dennis Chew, DVM, Diplomate ACVIM, is a board-certified Veterinary Internal Medicine specialist, a vetstreet.com board member, and a frequent lecturer and author of numerous scientific books and publications. He is a Professor Emeritus of The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine where he taught for many years. He has a special interest in nephrology and urology in small animals and pioneered many of the diagnostic procedures used today for urinary endoscopy in dogs and cats.

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