Veterinary Considerations: Keeping pets and livestock healthy during the summer heat

Monday 1 August 2022

Media Contact: Kaylie Weir | Coordinator, Marketing & Public Relations | 405-744-6740 | [email protected]

Daylight saving time in Oklahoma usually means high temperatures. It is important to keep pets and livestock properly hydrated and protected from heat.

dogs and cats

Pets don’t tolerate heat as well as humans. This is especially true for young, old or overweight cats and dogs. Brachycephalic breeds (pets with indented snouts) like pugs, English bulldogs and Persian cats are particularly prone to problems in the summer.

Heat stroke is one of the most common problems pets face in warmer weather. Signs of heat stroke are:

  • Heavy wheezing and drooling
  • Elevated body temperature (>104F)
  • Fast pulse rate
  • Cannot calm down even when lying down
  • You may not be able to get up or stand properly
  • The pet’s gums may be brick red
  • They can also develop vomiting and diarrhea

Here are some tips to keep your pets safe in the heat.

Never leave your pet unattended in the car. The interior of the car can heat up quickly and lead to life-threatening situations for pets.

Heatstroke can cause brain damage, kidney failure, and in more severe cases, death.

Limit exercise as the heat can lead to further fatigue. If you want to walk your pet, go during the cooler times of the day like morning or evening. Make sure you bring plenty of water for you and your pet.

Keep your pets mostly indoors in an air-conditioned environment on hot days. If this is not possible, provide your pets with a shaded and well-ventilated space outdoors to keep them cooler. Note that kennels can get quite hot inside. Some pet owners also occasionally add ice cubes to their pet’s drinking water to keep the water cool.

Another suggestion for keeping a large outdoor pet cooler is to purchase a small children’s pool and fill it with cool water. This only applies to pets enjoying the water. Adding ice cubes to the pool provides a cool place for pets to rest on hot summer days.

Watch out for light-colored, hairless, and shaved dogs, as they can be prone to sunburn. To protect your pet, use a special pet sunscreen to keep their skin healthy and sunburn-free. Also, be sure to keep your pet’s paw pads away from hot surfaces such as hot asphalt, concrete surfaces, and hot sand.

If you think your pet is suffering from heat stroke, immediately move them to an air-conditioned or shaded area and begin cooling the pet with cool, damp towels, ice packs, and cool (not cold) water. Let your pet drink small amounts of water. Then consult a veterinarian immediately, as heat stroke can lead to serious organ disorders and damage.

Vets can help cool your pet down with IV fluids and other medical supplies.

horses and cattle

Livestock can also be subject to heat stress in hot weather, especially when the heat is prolonged or temperatures are extremely high.

Cattle, sheep, goats, and horses can regulate body temperature to some degree through sweating, but pigs lack this ability. Black or dark colored animals may be more affected than light colored animals as they absorb more heat and may have more trouble dissipating it.

Monitoring animal behavior and physical cues can help producers determine if animals are experiencing heat stress. Signs of heat stress can include:

  • Crowding around water tanks or shade
  • lethargy, loss of appetite
  • Increased respiratory rate or breathing with your mouth open
  • drooling
  • Elevated rectal temperature (>102F horses, >104F cattle)
  • Staggering or aimless wandering

Management practices to mitigate heat stress include managing water supply and availability during hot weather. Providing unlimited cool, fresh water at all times is essential for every animal. Placing shade over water tanks or moving irrigation sources to shaded areas decreases water temperature, increases consumption, and lowers internal body temperature. Temporary shading can be provided by tarpaulins, shading cloths, wagons and the like. Ensure that such temporary structures do not become a safety hazard for livestock, especially inquisitive small ruminants.

Heat loss through evaporation requires significant amounts of water in excess of maintenance needs. Water requirements can increase significantly in hot weather. For example, cattle require two gallons per 100 pounds of body weight per hour when the temperature reaches 80 F. A horse resting in the heat of an Oklahoma summer can use at least 1 gallon per 100 pounds of body weight. That’s at least 11 gallons of water for a 1,100-pound horse.

Equestrian athletes, like humans, need supplemental water for performance activities. The horse’s primary method of cooling is through sweating. Water is the basis for sweat. Horses need to restore their body water to prevent dehydration during exercise.

In hot weather, airflow can increase animal comfort by increasing the amount of body heat lost through convection. In some situations with horses and small herds, fans can keep the air moving and the animals feel cooler.

Handling animals in hot weather requires common sense – don’t overload the animals, move them slowly if at all, and work them early in the morning if absolutely necessary. If possible, delay any work, treatment, transport, or handling until hot temperatures subside.

Sheep, hairy goats (e.g. Angora), llamas and alpacas can also be affected by heat stress. Wool, hair or fibers are excellent insulators and protect these species from cold temperatures. Annual shearing before warmer months (e.g. April or early May) is considered a best practice to reduce the likelihood of developing heat stress in these species.

About the author: dr Melanie Boileau is a professor in the Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences in the College of Veterinary Medicine at Oklahoma State University. She holds McCasland’s clinical professorship and serves as chief of the food animal service and chief of the hospital’s large animal department. Boileau is a diplomat with the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine.

Veterinary Viewpoints is provided by the faculty of OSU Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital. Certified by the American Animal Hospital Association, the hospital is open to the public and provides routine and specialized care for all animal species, as well as emergency care. Call 405-744-7000 for an appointment or more information.

OSUs College of Veterinary Medicine is one of 33 accredited veterinary schools in the United States and the only veterinary school in Oklahoma. those of the college Boren Veterinary Hospital is open to the public and offers routine and specialized care for small and large animals. The hospital offers 24-hour emergency care and is certified by the American Animal Hospital Association. For more information visit or call 405-744-7000.

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