Dehydration, heatstroke and other summer pet hazards to avoid

Longer days, fun in the sun and water, trails to hike and beaches to comb – our furry four-legged friends love summer as much as we do. But the summer months bring many hazards for our pets, and our emergency department sees a corresponding increase in visits. In fact, July is designated as National Pet Hydration Awareness month as dehydration is one of the most common emergency cases veterinarians see during the hot months of summer. In addition to the heat, there also are many other summer hazards to be aware of with your pets.

We hope you never need an emergency vet, but if you do, Boundary Bay Veterinary Specialty Hospital is open 24/7, walk-ins welcome. We are VECCS Level 1 certified and capable of handling even the most critical emergencies and trauma, with specialists on staff and on call to handle even the most life-threatening emergencies and trauma.

Heat stroke and keeping your pet hydrated

Heatstroke happens when your pet is unable to cool itself down. It is important to remember that dogs and cats cannot control their body temperature by sweating as humans do since they only have a relatively small number of sweat glands located in their footpads. Dogs’ primary way of regulating body temperature is by panting; cats will sweat more through their paws and may also groom more – the evaporating saliva can help cool their body.

One of the most common causes of heatstroke happens when pets are left in hot cars. Please do not leave pets in your car on warm days. Even on a mild 21C day, a car can heat to 32C in 10 minutes! Cracking a window is not enough. Please see our blog on pets in hot cars for more information about what to do if you see an animal in distress in a hot car.

Signs and symptoms of heatstroke in pets

Heatstroke can lead to neurologic issues, irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia), respiratory distress, bleeding, and death if not treated quickly. Other symptoms include:

    • Inability to catch breath.
    • Heavy panting that doesn’t resolve with taking them inside and stopping activity.
    • Vomiting and/or severe diarrhea.

Risk factors for heatstroke in pets

Certain pets are more susceptible to heatstroke. The following factors may increase their risk of overheating:

    • Breed (large breeds, retrievers, anything brachycephalic* or “squish-faced”, like French and English bulldogs, pugs, etc.) *Brachycephalics like bulldogs have an anatomy which prevents them from cooling effectively when they pant. When they get hot and pant heavily, they can very quickly develop severe respiratory distress and airway obstruction alongside heat stroke, which is life-threatening.
    • High temperature and/or humidity outside, or in the space they are in (like being left in a hot car or on a hot deck or patio.)
    • Poor fitness.
    • Lack of acclimation (pet goes to a new place that is hotter than it is used to.)

How to prevent heatstroke in your pets

    • Never leave pets in a car or a hot room (e.g. conservatories).
    • Restrict exercise on warm days (dogs should be walked early in the morning or later in the evening to avoid the hottest part of the day).
    • Do not encourage strenuous exercise when it is hot (running hard, playing with other dogs.)
    • Keep cats indoors with air-conditioning.
    • Always bring water with you on hikes and outdoor activities.
    • Make sure your pet always has access to a cool shaded area, both indoors and outside.
    • Remember, hot pavement can burn paws! If it’s too hot to hold your hand on, it’s too hot for your pet to walk on.
    • Ensure your pet always has drinking water available, adding ice can help keep it cool.
    • Ensure your pet is regularly groomed if this is advised for their breed

First aid for heatstroke in pets

If you are concerned that your pet is overheating, you should act immediately, as heatstroke can rapidly become a life-threatening emergency.

We recommend “cool first, transport second” as the immediate first aid response for pets with heatstroke. Owners should also seek veterinary advice as soon as possible.

    • Take your pet somewhere cool, ideally a well-ventilated area or use a fan.
    • Offer them small sips of water (do not force them to drink).
    • Cold water immersion is an effective approach for young, healthy animals.
    • Evaporation method: Pouring water of any temperature that is cooler than your pet over them and combine with air movement from a breeze, fan, or air conditioning (evaporative cooling) for older pets or pets with underlying health problems.
      • It’s important not to use ice-cold water as this can reduce blood flow to the skin, reducing their ability to cool down or even cause them to shiver, increasing heat generation.

Once you’ve started these steps, call your veterinarian or an emergency veterinary hospital like Boundary Bay, who will be able to advise you further. Even if your pet seems to be ok it’s important to have them checked, as the more serious signs of heatstroke may not be immediately apparent.

A veterinarian will examine your pet and carry out a full assessment including a temperature check. If they are concerned that your pet is suffering from heatstroke, they may advise that they are admitted for tests, supportive treatment, or observation until the signs of heatstroke have resolved.

Early recognition and quick action can help to reduce the risks of any serious consequences, but prevention is always best.

The importance of keeping pets hydrated

While often overlooked, hydration is a crucial component of overall health and well-being in companion animals — just as it is in humans. Dogs’ and cats’ bodies are made up of roughly 70 percent water, and this water is vital for all bodily processes. From moisturizing the air in their lungs and regulating body temperature to supporting nervous system function and transporting nutrients and oxygen in the bloodstream to cells, water performs countless functions for pets’ bodies.

Dehydration is common during hot weather, and it can quickly turn deadly. Keeping your pet’s bowl filled with cool, clean water is a crucial step in warding off this problem, but sometimes it isn’t enough. In these instances, prompt veterinary care is essential. As a pet parent, it’s up to you to keep your four-legged family member well-hydrated and to recognize the early warning signs of dehydration.

Symptoms Of Dehydration In Pets

The symptoms of dehydration are similar for both dogs and cats. They even share some symptoms with humans. Recognizing the signs and seeking veterinary care right away could save your pet’s life, so we strongly recommend familiarizing yourself with them.

    • Vomiting
    • Diarrhea
    • Lethargy
    • Drowsiness
    • Dry mouth
    • Dry Nose
    • Dry and sticky gums
    • Thickened saliva
    • Sunken eyes
    • Decreased skin elasticity
    • Loss of appetite
    • Excessive Panting

How to check for dehydration in your dog or cat

Here are some simple ways you can check for dehydration in your pet and for these symptoms:

    • Skin test: Lift the skin between their shoulder blades up, then drop. If their skin comes back into place almost immediately, they are likely fine, but if takes time for their skin to go back to normal and reshape itself, they’re likely dehydrated.
    • Gum check: Lift their lip and touch their gums with your fingers. If their gums are dry or overly sticky, they may be dehydrated.
    • Eye check: Check their eyes and the skin around their eyes for sunken appearances and dryness.
    • Observation: Keep an eye on them throughout the day, especially on hot days, for changes in their behaviour, like lethargy.

What should I do if my pet is dehydrated?

Do you think your cat or dog is dehydrated? Check for the dehydration symptoms listed above, and provide them with fresh water and a safe, cool spot to relax in. Depending on their symptoms and the length of their dehydration, they may be able to recover with enough water, careful observation and some time to reset.

However, we always recommend seeking veterinarian advice with any medical issues for your dog or cat. If your dog or cat is severely dehydrated, they will need medical attention right away to avoid worsening their condition. Consult with your veterinarian right away if you believe your cat or dog is suffering from dehydration, especially if their symptoms are not improving.

Other common summertime hazards

In addition to heatstroke and dehydration, summer can be fraught with other hazards for our pets.

Beach dangers

Sand Impaction

      • Playing fetch at the beach, nosing around in the sand, etc., can lead to dogs ingesting enough sand that it obstructs their intestines.
      • If playing at the beach, play fetch on the grass or somewhere that the dog can’t ingest sand.
      • Signs and symptoms: vomiting or not eating. If a dog starts vomiting after being at the beach, it should be evaluated at emergency.

Salt Toxicity

      • Ingesting a lot of salty seawater (or saline pool water) can happen when swimming and playing fetch in the water.
      • Don’t allow your dog to drink seawater or pool water; sodium levels in the blood can rise quickly which can cause neurologic signs such as seizures.
      • Signs and symptoms: vomiting, dull mental activity or weakness, tremors, and seizures.

Allergic reactions to insect bites and stings

With the increase in bugs in the summer, hiking or playing outside makes insect bites more likely. Rarely are allergic reactions life-threatening. If a dog develops sudden facial swelling or swelling/redness around the eyes, or hives (sudden appearance of bumps all over the skin), they should be evaluated right away for treatment of an allergic reaction.

If a dog experiences anaphylaxis (a severe allergic reaction) their symptoms could include sudden vomiting or diarrhea followed by collapse, sometimes difficulty breathing. This is life-threatening and should be treated immediately and aggressively at a veterinary emergency hospital.


Pets can fall into a pool easily and if unsupervised, can drown. Even if a dog can swim, they may not be able to get out, and can drown due to exhaustion. The best way to avoid a drowning incident is to not allow your dog unsupervised access to the pool.

If your dog has fallen into the water unsupervised and they seem normal, they should still be evaluated immediately in the emergency room, as drowning events and lack of oxygen can lead to lung injury, brain injury, and arrhythmias (irregular heartbeat.)

Check out our blog on drowning in pets and how to treat and prevent it.


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