Keeping Pets Safe In Hot Weather

Written by Shula Berg BVSc CertAVP(GSAS) GPAdvCert(SASTS) MRCVS
Clinically reviewed by Elizabeth McLennan-Green BVM&S CertAVP(SAM) MRCVS

Table of Contents

- Why is hot weather dangerous?
- Which pets are at risk?
- What are the signs of heat stress?
- How do we keep pets cool?
- Dogs
- Cats
- Rabbits

Although it sometimes feels like winter lasts 10 months of the year, hot weather dangers for pets don’t just affect those travelling abroad. The UK can experience severe heatwaves and, especially for those pets at increased risk, even temperate summer weather can prove risky.

Why is hot weather dangerous?

Unlike us, pets have no understanding that hot weather can be harmful. We control their environment, their access to water and their exercise, and they can’t speak up if they start feeling unwell. Heat stroke can rapidly progress and, even with veterinary treatment, is often fatal.

Worryingly, heat stroke often occurs when the ambient temperature is not excessively hot. When the mercury rockets, we are all aware of the dangers and often keep our pets inside with us as we hide from the sun. During the pleasant warmer days, however, it is easy to forget that our pets can be at risk. Most people are aware that a locked car in full sun will rapidly heat up, even if the air temperature is only moderate. However, this also applies to conservatories, caravans and other enclosed spaces. Likewise, dogs that struggle to cool themselves, such as flat-faced breeds, can over-heat during exercise from spring onwards.

Which pets are at risk?

While all pets can be affected by heat stress, some are at much higher risk than others. Pets that are very young, very old or overweight are likely to find it harder to control their body temperature. This particularly applies to older or overweight pets with reduced mobility, such as arthritis. On the other hand, some very active dogs, such as Border Collies and Spaniels, need close monitoring as they are prone to high levels of activity regardless of the weather!

Dogs that have short faces (known as brachycephalic) are at a significantly increased risk of heat related problems. This includes breeds such as Pugs, Bulldogs, French Bulldogs, Shih Tzus, Boxers and Dogue de Bordeauxs. Their anatomy makes it harder for them to cool themselves down, and the added stress makes the problem worse. Often, these dogs already find it harder to exercise, and warm weather can push them quickly past their coping point.

What are the signs of heat stress?

Heat stress starts as a reversible condition, but if not managed it will develop to heat stroke, which is extremely dangerous. Signs that should raise concern of heat stress include:

  • Heavy panting (that does not stop after a few minutes)
  • Excessive salivation
  • Rapid heart/pulse rate
  • Very red gums and/or tongue
  • Lethargy

If your pet shows any of these signs, they should be moved to a cool area and offered plenty of water to drink. Panting is a normal response and is how dogs and cats take in cooler air if they’re really hot, but should settle down quickly. You can use fans and apply cool water to help reduce their temperature, but never expose pets to cold water as this can send them into shock. If signs are not improving within 5 minutes, seek immediate veterinary advice. Cats pant more rarely than dogs, so any heavy panting should be cause for concern.

Pets that are severely affected and develop heat stroke, may go on to show:

  • Vomiting and diarrhoea
  • Lack of co-ordination
  • Reluctance or inability to stand
  • Loss of consciousness

These signs require immediate veterinary attention; heat stroke is an emergency and can prove rapidly fatal. If your pet shows the above signs do not try to treat them at home, seek urgent veterinary care.

How do we keep pets cool?

There are lots of simple steps you can take to dramatically reduce the risk of heat stress in your pets. Our top tips are:

  • In hot weather, keep outdoor time restricted to cool or shady areas, and move indoors as needed
  • Keep indoor spaces cool and well ventilated; if in direct sunlight, consider closing any curtains and open a window if there is a breeze
  • Offer your pet plenty of fresh water, refilling regularly, and keep other liquids out of reach
  • If your pet seems uncomfortable, try wetting their feet and/or using a cooling mist - this is an option for dogs, cats and small animals, though dogs are most likely to enjoy a paddle
  • Apply non-toxic sun cream to the nose and ears of pale coloured cats and dogs to avoid sunburn - if in doubt, please ask your local veterinary practice for advice
  • Make sure pets with longer coats are groomed and free from matts. Dogs that are routinely clipped will appreciate a trim, but don’t be tempted to suddenly shave your pet as this can disrupt their normal hair growth and expose their skin to risk of sunburn


Dogs should preferably be walked during cooler times of day, such as early morning or evening. If this is not possible, it is better to skip a walk than put them at risk of over-heating. Be especially mindful of the temperature of tarmac during truly hot spells, as this can blister footpads. Always take water with you when out walking and, if possible, choose shadier areas such as woodland rather than open fields.


Cats generally cope better with hot weather than dogs, as they have the sense to hide indoors and sleep through the hottest part of the day! Make sure they don’t hide away somewhere unsuitable, however, such as a shed or greenhouse. For younger, more adventurous cats, consider keeping them inside during the middle of the day, and be especially cautious if they have access to metal roof tops or similar as these can heat up in the sun and cause burns.


Rabbits are very sensitive to heat stress, and need close monitoring. You can improve ventilation in the hutch by elevating it off the ground on bricks or something similar, and if possible, relocate to a shady area. This may mean moving the hutch throughout the day. If there is no or limited shade available consider moving rabbits indoors temporarily. Always provide fresh water, and you can offer more water rich fruit and veg than usual on hotter days.

A particular danger for rabbits in hot weather is flystrike, as numbers of flies increase. Meticulous hygiene is essential along with twice daily checks of your rabbits’ underside.


Please note that the content made available on this webpage is for general information purposes only. Whilst we try to ensure that at the time of writing all material is up to date and reflects industry standards, we make no representation, warranties or guarantees that the information made available is up to date, accurate or complete. Any reliance placed by yourselves is done so at your own risk.

Page last reviewed: 19th April 2024

Next review due: 19th April 2026