In this article you’ll find an outline of the first aid steps you should take to treat a cat or dog suffering from heat exhaustion or heat stroke.You’ll also find important warnings and principles of first aid for heat-related illnesses.
Please keep in mind that while many of the more mild cases of heat exhaustion can be successfully staved off with the basic first aid steps provided below, all cases of heat stroke (and many of the more severe cases of heat exhaustion) will require veterinary care following your initial first aid. When in doubt, just bring your pet for veterinary evaluation, as heat-related illnesses are nothing to be trifled with. These are cases where it’s truly better to be safe than sorry.
When NOT to attempt first aid for pets with heat-related illness
- There are important things to do and not do when cooling an overheated pet.
- If your pet has heat stroke or even severe heat exhaustion, your pet will require veterinary care.
- When in doubt, take your pet to your veterinarian.
If any of the conditions below are present, then it’s in your and your pet’s best interest for you to skip first aid and just go immediately to the veterinarian for evaluation and treatment. You can find a local Animal ER here.
- Attempting first aid will unnecessarily delay veterinary treatment
- You don’t have a thermometer handy or easily accessible
- You don’t have ready access to cool water
- Attempting first aid will unduly stress your pet
- Your pet is vomiting, having diarrhea, or is noticeably bleeding or bruised
- Your pet is collapsed, unresponsive, or having seizures
Crucially important aspects of cooling in cases of heat exhaustion and heat stroke in cats and dogs
- Do NOT pour water into the mouth of a collapsed or unconscious pet, and don’t force any pet to drink water either.
- Do NOT use ice water or an ice bath to cool an overheated pet. Doing so will lead to constriction of the blood vessels under the pet’s skin which will actually prevent the pet from cooling off.
- Do NOT cool your pet too fast or too far – overcooling can be as disastrous as overheating.
- Do monitor rectal temperature every 30-60 seconds.
- Do stop cooling once rectal temperature reaches 103.5°F.
- All pets suffering from heat stroke (and many suffering from heat exhaustion) still need to be evaluated by a veterinarian once your initial cooling measures have been completed.
How to treat heat exhaustion in cats and dogs
- Move your pet into a safe, shady or air-conditioned environment to prevent injuries and further heat absorption.
- Offer small amounts of water frequently.
- Measure rectal temperature with a thermometer (preferably digital, rather than glass) and plenty of lube (you can also use water or saliva, if no lube is readily available). If your pet’s temperature is below 104°F(40°C), continue on to step #4 in this list. If his temperature is above 104°F(40°C), proceed to step #5 in the list below (treating heat stroke).
- Continue to monitor your pet and allow him to rest and drink small, frequent amounts of water.
- Once he is back to his normal self, return home with him, but continue to keep a close eye on him for the next 24 hours. Bring him for veterinary evaluation immediately if he doesn’t return back to his normal self or if there are any episodes of vomiting, diarrhea, lack of appetite or any other concerning signs.
How to treat heat stroke in cats and dogs
- Move your pet into a safe, shady or an air-conditioned environment to prevent injuries and further heat absorption. Put a cool, wet towel or blanket underneath him.
- If he is alert enough and able to drink water, offer him small amounts frequently. You don’t want him drinking too much or too fast, as either of those can cause problems of their own.
- Check and take note of the time. This will be helpful when you arrive at the vet, and it will also keep you from performing first aid too long and unnecessarily delaying veterinary treatment.
- Measure rectal temperature with a thermometer (preferably digital, rather than glass) and plenty of lube (you can also use water or saliva, if no lube is readily available).
- If his temperature is above 104°F (40°C), begin cooling by spraying cool (not cold) water over their body. If you have a fan handy, you can turn it on and have it blow over him – this will improve evaporative cooling.
- Stop cooling once his temperature reaches 103.5°F (39.7°C).
- Check and take note of the time that cooling was stopped and at what temperature he was at when cooling was stopped.
- If there is a dry towel or blanket available, use it to dry your pet off slightly. This can help prevent continued and excessive cooling.
- Bring your pet immediately for veterinary evaluation and care. Ideally pre-cooling your car before getting you pet in and calling ahead to the veterinary hospital to let them know you’re on your way with a pet that has suffered heat stroke.
And if you find a pet in a car, especially on a warm day, take these steps before and after breaking the window.