Protect Your Pets From Heatstroke

| July 25, 2023
Toronto Humane Society Releases Practical Guide on Protecting your Pet During Heatwaves

TORONTO, ON. – July 25, 2023 – This month millions of people experienced record-breaking heatwaves across the planet. These heatwaves can be deadly, not only for humans but for their pets. Overheating can lead to heatstroke, and a dangerous elevation of body temperature that can result in shock, organ damage, abnormal blood clotting and brain damage.

Toronto Humane Society is dedicated to promoting the welfare of animals and is here to provide you with practical information on how to keep your pets safe from heatstroke. By following these guidelines, you can help keep your furry family members safe and healthy.

“Animals are at risk of overheating if they exercise vigorously on hot days, have limited access to shade, are in a poorly ventilated space or have inadequate access to water. The single most dangerous scenario is being left unattended in a hot vehicle. Temperatures in closed cars can become dangerously high in just a few minutes, often with tragic consequences. We hope that this guide can help pet parents keep their furry family members safe during heatwaves,” explains Linda Jacobson, BVSc, MMedVet(Med), PhD, Senior Manager, Shelter Medicine Advancement at Toronto Humane Society.

Who is Most at Risk for Heatstroke?

Without a doubt, brachycephalic dog breeds with short noses and flat faces, such as English and French bulldogs and pugs, are most at risk for heatstroke. Flat-faced cat breeds, like Persians, also have less ability to deal with heat but are less likely to be jogging with their guardian out on the trails! Dogs lose heat primarily by panting. Brachycephalic breeds struggle to lose heat this way because their airways are permanently compromised.

Aside from brachycephalics, breeds like golden retrievers, Labrador retrievers and chow chows are at higher risk than others. Young male dogs are more likely to develop heatstroke from exertion, while older dogs with respiratory problems are more likely to overheat because of high environmental temperatures. Other risk factors for heatstroke include being overweight or obese, having long hair coats, and/or having medical conditions that affect the heart and lungs, or dehydration.

“Exercise-induced collapse” is a rare genetic condition of Labradors, and some other breeds, that causes overheating and muscle weakness, or collapse, at environmental temperatures that would not be expected to cause problems in a normal dog. If you suspect your dog might have this condition, here is some information to share with your veterinarian.

Recognizing and Managing Heatstroke

Early recognition is key: Excessive panting, drooling, exhaustion, weakness, or unwillingness to walk are warning signs. Seizures, collapse, or unconsciousness due to overheating is a life-threatening emergency.  The key to immediate management of heatstroke is getting the animal into a cooler place and providing active cooling. Once body temperature starts to climb, it can keep rising even without more heat exposure, so active cooling is essential.

Get a sense of the severity of the situation and react accordingly: Brachycephalic breeds with signs of heatstroke should always see a vet as soon as possible. Non-brachycephalic pets that are distressed, weak, collapsed, or unconscious, should also be seen right away. On the other hand, a healthy, fit, lean dog who is panting a lot, but is otherwise bright and happy, probably won’t need more than a rest, a good long drink, and maybe some time under the sprinkler.

If your pet shows severe signs, such as difficulty breathing or collapse, wet their coat thoroughly and get them to a veterinary clinic right away. Do not wait to see what might happen. This is one of those true emergency situations where excessive caution really pays off. Heatstroke can progress very quickly, and is extremely dangerous, but it is often treatable and reversible if care is provided soon enough. If possible, let your vet know you are on your way. The vet will measure and monitor the dog’s vital signs, monitor recovery, provide support such as oxygen and intravenous fluids, and treat more intensively if needed. They will also know when to stop cooling them, because temperatures can drop too far and too fast if cooling is too aggressive or too prolonged.

How to Help Pets Beat the Heat

The absolute best treatment is prevention.

  1. Provide regular moderate exercise and maintain healthy body weights.
  1. Ensure your pets are kept cool in hot weather and during heatwaves. Keep them indoors if possible, during these times.
  1. Limit exercise on hot days to early morning or evening hours when it is cooler.
  1. Asphalt can get extremely hot and burn the pet’s paws, so walk your dog on the grass if possible.
  1. Give them plenty to drink. Put ice cubes in their water. Wet their coats if they are feeling the heat.
  1. Do not ever place a muzzle on a dog in hot weather – they must be able to pant to be able to lose enough heat. For pets with dense, long coats, well-timed clipping can really help them keep cool on those sizzling days.
  1.  Share pet-safe frozen treats – including all-natural ice cream, popsicles, or a cold piece of refreshing fruit.

Speaking of sharing frozen treats, Toronto Humane Society has launched their Sweets of Summer campaign, which provides refreshing, frozen treats to animals in their shelter who are waiting to be adopted. You can support the campaign by purchasing frozen treats for the pets here. Your support not only helps a good cause but will be sure to get the animals licking their lips and wagging their tails.

A dog at Toronto Humane Society is enjoying a puppy picnic as part of the Sweets of Summer campaign.

About Toronto Humane Society

Toronto Humane Society’s mission is to improve the lives of animals. The organization excels in all ways an animal shelter should, with industry-leading shelter care, veterinary services, animal training and behaviour consultations. Toronto Humane Society believes in the importance of the human-animal bond, finds new homes for thousands of animals and helps keep families together.

Toronto Humane Society is more than an animal shelter. They are an educational resource and support system, a leading voice in animal welfare and accessible care. The organization is also a centre of excellence, a space where best practices and boundary-pushing knowledge meet with unyielding optimism and a love for animals to create something special. Toronto Humane Society is like no other. For more information, visit

For more information, or to arrange an interview please contact Lucas Solowey at or call 416-392-2273 ext. 2196