How to avoid heatstroke and keep your pet safe in summer weather

Each year, Oregon veterinarians see cases of heatstroke, some fatal, in animals that are left in cars. Even when outside temperatures are a moderate 70 degrees, a vehicle can quickly become overheated and unsafe, with inside temperatures quickly climbing to over 110 degrees within just 30 minutes. Leaving a window cracked is not sufficient to prevent a vehicle from becoming too warm.

Leaving your pet in a car while running errands or going into a store for even "just 5 minutes" can have serious consequences. If not caught in its earliest stages, heatstroke is life-threatening.

"Dogs don’t sweat to regulate their body temperature like humans do. Instead, they pant to take in cooler air. The distress of a hot car can make them panic, which only aggravates the problem," says Dr. Becky Marks of Timberland Animal Clinic in Portland. "Short-nosed breeds, very young, senior pets, or pets with weight, respiratory, cardiovascular or other health problems are especially susceptible to heat-related stress."

Symptoms of heatstroke include:

  • Panting
  • Dehydration
  • Excessive drooling
  • Increased body temperature - above 103° F (39° C)
  • Reddened gums and moist tissues of the body
  • Production of only small amounts of urine or no urine
  • Rapid heart rate

If you notice these symptoms in your pet, contact your veterinarian immediately.

It's not just hot vehicles that can be harmful to dogs in summer. Exercising your dog is important, but it is better to do so in the early morning or evening hours when the temperatures are lower, and pavement isn't so hot, as your dog's pads can be damaged or blistered from walking on hot asphalt. Humans don't walk on hot pavement without shoes on, but that is what your dog would be doing, so consider walking on the roadside or grass instead.

If you run with your dog, gradually build up an exercise program that your dog can handle, as dogs can suffer from heatstroke if overworked. "Always carry water for your pet, and, if your pet appears to be tiring, be sure to give him time to rest and recover before continuing," says Dr. Marks. You may consider using an ice pack collar for your dog to help keep her cool.

The Oregon Veterinary Medical Association is a nonprofit organization of veterinarians who are dedicated to helping people give their animals a high quality of life. For more pet health care tips, visit or talk to your veterinarian.