When a pet is exposed to high temperatures either by being left in the sun without any shade or being locked in a car on a warm day heatstroke or hyperthermia can occur. If dogs are too hot and are unable to reduce their body temperature by panting, they will develop heatstroke which can kill.
This is a very serious condition that requires immediate emergency treatment. Once heat stroke has been diagnosed there is very little time before death can occur.
If you see a dog in a hot car displaying any signs of heatstroke, dial 999 immediately as the dog could soon lose consciousness and experience internal organ failure.
All pets can suffer from heatstroke but some dogs may be more susceptible such as:
- Dogs with short snouts
- Thick coated breeds
- The very old or the very young
- Dogs that are overweight
- Any dogs suffering from respiratory or cardiac disease
Signs to look out for include:
- Heavy panting
- Tacky or dry mucous membranes (gums/lips)
- Excessive salivation/drooling
- Rapid heart rate
- Very red gums and tongue
- Lack of coordination leading to eventual collapse
What to do if you suspect heatstroke
For the best chance of survival, pets suffering from heatstroke urgently need to have their body temperature lowered gradually.
- Firstly you must move your pet out of the heat to a cool area
- Cover your pet with cool (not cold) wet towels and seek veterinary advice immediately
- Do not use ice cold water as the extreme cold can cause blood vessels to constrict, preventing the body from cooling.
- In addition over cooling can cause hypothermia and additional problems.
- Allow them to drink small amounts of cool water
- Internal damage may have occurred so veterinary treatment is always necessary immediately
If you do see a dog suffering from heatstroke in a car on a hot day and there is no one around the advice is to first dial 999.
If the situation becomes critical for the dog and the police are too far away or unable to attend, many people’s instinct will be to break into the car to free the dog. If you decide to do this, please be aware that without proper justification, this could be classed as criminal damage and, potentially, you may need to defend your actions in court.
Make sure you tell the police what you intend to do and why. Take pictures or videos of the dog and the names and numbers of witnesses to the incident. The law states that you have a lawful excuse to commit damage if you believe that the owner of the property that you damage would consent to the damage if they knew the circumstances (section 5(2)(a) Criminal Damage Act 1971).
Once removed, if the dog is displaying signs of heatstroke, follow emergency first aid advice available on our website. This could mean the difference between life and death for the dog.
If the dog isn't displaying symptoms of heatstroke but you are concerned you must establish how long the dog has been in the car. A ‘pay and display’ ticket could help if the car is in a car park or if you’re at a shop, venue or event ask the staff to make an announcement to alert the owner of the situation.
Make a note of the car’s registration. If the owner returns, but you still feel the situation was dangerous for the dog, you may still report the incident to the police.
If possible, get someone to stay with the dog to monitor their condition. If they begin to display signs of distress or heatstroke, you must be prepared to dial 999 and follow the advice above.
- Make sure your pet always has access to water at all times
- Do not exercise or walk your dog during the heat of the day. Cooler early mornings and evenings are best.
- Never leave pets especially dogs, in cars in warm or hot weather. Even on the coolest of days a car can very quickly become hot even if you leave a window open.
- Have a shallow paddling pool available for your dog to splash in.
- For small furries pop a plastic drinks bottle full of water in the freezer. Once frozen wrap it in a towel and pop it somewhere they can lie next to cool down.
- Offer small furries water bowls as well as bottles as bottles can take effort to use.
- Never leave your pets or small furries in the conservatory. Garages can be a cool temporary place for your rabbit or guinea pig and kitchen tiles can also be cooling for them to lay on.
Animals are susceptible to sunburn too especially:
- White cats, particularly their ears and noses. Over a period of time, exposure to the sun can cause skin cancer and surgery is often required to amputate their ear tips.
- Hairless dogs
Please be aware it is best to use an animal specific sun cream as some children's ones contain substances poisonous to animals.