Bright summer days, warm weather, and rising temperatures can pose a serious risk to your pet. While heat tolerance can vary with different species, all pets can succumb to heat prostration. Heat prostration is commonly referred to as overheating or heatstroke. It is important to provide your pets with ample fresh water and shade during these times.

Most rabbits and rodent owners are very aware that temperatures rising above only 80-85 degrees Fahrenheit can be life-threatening to rabbits, guinea pigs, chinchillas, and many other small mammals. In general, the small mammals we keep as pets can handle cooler/colder temperatures much better than warmer/hotter temperatures. This even means indoor pets may be at risk for overheating. In an indoor setting, this can occur when there is insufficient cool and moving air in the home situation. Therefore, if the home is too hot and stuffy, an owner may need to keep the air conditioner on at a moderate temperature and/or have some fans running to keep their pet(s) at a pleasant temperature.

Most people think that reptiles aren’t affected by heat prostration. Yet, most reptile owners are very aware of how reptiles can get thermal burns by resting/staying in one location (that is too hot) for too long. An owner will quickly seek veterinary care for this oftentimes difficult and severe occurrence. However, if a reptile’s entire enclosure becomes too hot, and the reptile is unable to properly thermoregulate (dissipate the excess heat), overheating can be a potentially life-threatening situation.

The most common and potentially disastrous situation involves owners leaving pets unattended in a car. Every year pets lose their lives to heat prostration in this situation. On a warm day, temperatures can soar to over 100 degrees Fahrenheit inside a vehicle within as little as 10 minutes. This is true even if the car is parked in the shade, it is an overcast day, and the windows are partially opened! If you don’t believe it, try sitting in a car in this situation with a thermometer and see/feel what it is like! Pets left in cars for only a few minutes can suffer from heat exhaustion, heatstroke, brain damage, or even worse, they can die.

Hot cars aren’t the only danger for pets on warm/hot days. Pets spending time outdoors performing any activity should be carefully monitored for overheating. Intense activity during the warm/hot hours of the day is especially problematic for certain pets. For example, a Labrador or Golden Retriever can tolerate running and playing ball on a warm/hot afternoon much better than the family Bulldog.

To reduce the risk of heat prostration with your pet(s), we encourage you to take precautions during the warmer months of the year:

  • Make sure pets have plenty of cool, fresh water available at all times.

  • Make sure outside pets have adequate shade. For example, for rabbits in outdoor hutches, keep them under a tree. Also, in the case of outdoor rabbits that can’t be housed indoors on a hot day, you can freeze water in cardboard milk cartons or plastic water/soda bottles. This will provide a cool surface for them to lie against, and hopefully lessen the chance for heatstroke. (Note: Be careful that your bunny doesn’t eat the plastic.)

  • Never leave a pet unattended in a parked car on a warm/hot day. This includes the proverbial: “I’ll only be gone for a minute”. Overheating can even occur on milder warm days in spring and fall. If in doubt, leave your pet at home.

  • Limit pet exercise to cooler hours of the day such as morning and evening.

  • Be aware that pets with thicker and/or heavy coats (i.e. Angora rabbits, Collies, Chow Chows, Old English Sheepdogs) can overheat more readily than those with thinner and/or shorter coats.

  • Be aware that pets who are older, very young, overweight, and short-nosed  (i.e. Bulldogs, Pugs, Boxers, Boston Terriers, Shar-peis) may not be able to pant efficiently. Since our pets lose excess body heat mostly through panting, it may be more difficult for pets in these categories to decrease higher body temperatures very easily. This puts them at increased risk of overheating more quickly.

If your pet shows signs of heatstroke, call your veterinarian immediately and seek medical care as soon as possible! Remember, a delay can cost your pet its life!

If time permits, try to lower your pet’s body temperature right away. Move your pet into the shade or an air-conditioned area. Apply ice packs or cold towels to the head, neck, ears, feet, and chest, or immerse it in cool (not cold) water. Encourage your pet to drink small amounts of cool water or lick ice cubes. But, above all else, seek veterinary care as soon as possible!!