Heat Stress in Animals

Without even realising it, many pet owners make tragic mistakes that just shouldn't happen. Dogs, tethered animals, aquarium fish, horses and even pet budgies and guinea pigs commonly suffer heat stress because of human error.

Unlike humans, most animals can’t sweat to reduce body heat. Instead, dogs and cats lose heat by panting but there is a limit as to the amount of heat they can shed in this manner.

Pets in Cars

The commonest mistake is where a dog dies after being left in a hot car. This should never happen, but it does, time and time again.

The rules are simple. During warmer weather, don’t leave your dog unattended in your car, even with the windows down. Many say, “But I’m only going into the shop for a litre of milk - I’ll just be a minute”. The ‘just a minute’ extends very quickly if the shop is busy or if you happen to meet a talkative friend.

The type of car you drive is also relevant. Those with large glass areas such as hatchbacks and those that are dark in colour heat up more quickly than other cars. Studies on various makes of popular cars have determined that dark coloured hatchback cars heat up the quickest with temperatures reaching 73 degrees centigrade during testing. This was almost double the outside temperature. In six minutes the temperature of most cars is up to 55 degrees centigrade. If your dog is in the car at this temperature, it will be near death

No matter how healthy your dog is it will not survive if locked in a hot car.

Are Some Animals More Susceptible to Heat Stress?

  • - very young and very old pets
  • - pets with a previous history of heat stress
  • - pets with cardiovascular or respiratory disorders
  • - short-nosed breeds such as Bull Dogs, Pugs and the Pekingese
  • - overweight pets


Extra care needs to be taken when you are out jogging with your dog this summer. Naturally, jog or walk in the cooler times of day, either early morning or late evening, and stop if your dog is struggling to keep up. A dog is so faithful that it won't want to be left behind and will ignore those vital messages from its body that say ‘stop’ and is in danger of collapse from heat stress.

Stop regularly to give your dog a rest and a drink, or even better a cooling swim.

Backyard Dangers

Many animals in gardens, yards and paddocks also suffer heat stress. Any animal tethered is at risk. We have seen dogs, goats, cattle and horses die from heat stress when tethered. Animals confined in concrete pens or even birds in cages are also at risk, as they cannot escape the unforgiving heat.

If you must tether your animal be absolutely sure that it has ample shade. Many animals twist their tether around a post or tree. They get ‘strung up’ by the neck as they wind themselves around the post. Therefore, as well as partial asphyxiation (choking), they cook in the sun.

If you have an animal in an enclosure, be sure that you provide shade. An aluminium kennel in the full sun is nothing other than a giant cooker. Kennels must be in the shade and you should insulate the roof, and aviaries and birdcages must be in the shade for the whole day.

Consider having a sleeping area under your house for your dog. The house will provide excellent insulation.

Naturally, all animals need water and the bowls should always be placed in the shade. In this heat, two water bowls are needed, should one be tipped over.

Farm Dangers

Farm animals have been found to be suffering or died from heat stress because the automatic waterer in their paddock malfunctioned or because the header tank providing the water had gone dry. It is extremely important that automatic waterers and the water source are checked regularly. Young foals are also susceptible to heat stress so make sure they are getting milk from their mothers and move them into a shady area as they do have a tendancy to lie out in the sun.

What does Heat Stress Do?

 Heat stroke causes incredible damage. Affected animals will first show excitation, followed by loss of balance and seizures, as the blood vessels in the brain engorge. A coma will follow. Heart failure is common and many other changes in body organs occur. The animal is at grave risk. Signs to look for include:

  • - profuse panting and salivation
  • - staring or an anxious expression
  • - failure to respond to commands
  • - warm, dry skin
  • - high fever and/or rapid heartbeat
  • - fatigue, muscular weakness or collapse

First Aid

Emergency first aid is vital and you will need to get prompt veterinary attention. While you are contacting us, cool the animal by placing it in a room temperature (not iced) water bath or by hosing it. Place the wet animal in front of the fan and apply ice packs to its head.

We will need to give medication to control any seizures and to prevent further damage being caused to the animal’s brain. He or she may give it a water enema to reduce its body temperature. It is likely that your pet will be placed onto an intravenous drip. We may also anaesthetise your pet to prevent seizures.

Please pay extra attention to your animals and pets during hot weather.


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