First Aid for Pets

bandaged face cat in a bag





The normal body temperature of a dog or cat ranges between 38 - 39°C. Our pets maintain this temperature through panting however sometimes they are unable to lose enough heat. Dogs and cats probably do suffer from heat cramps and heat exhaustion like us humans but the symptoms are mild and we don't recognize them. The condition that we see, and may cause the death of a pet, is heat stroke.


  • Never leave your pet in a parked car in sunlight. The car heats up to be like a sauna even on mild days.

  • Minimize exercise in the heat of the day.

  • Avoid exercising your dog in unusually hot or humid conditions especially at the start of summer. Most heat stroke cases are seen at the start of summer.

  • Make sure your pet has plenty of shade to escape into during the day.

  • Make sure your pet has plenty of fresh cool water (the water should be placed in the shade) available at all times.

  • Working dogs should be encouraged to take dips in dams etc.


  • Your pet may feel very hot to touch.

  • Vomiting or drooling may occur.

  • Rapid breathing or panting. Your pet may be panting so hard that it has trouble swallowing and may look very distressed.

  • Loss of coordination.

  • Collapse.

  • Coma.


  • Remove the animal from the hot environment.

  • Run cold water over the back of your pet's head. Place cold packs wrapped in towels between the back legs, on the belly and in the arm pits. Wet towels can be used instead.
  • If your pet is collapsed then transport your pet to your nearest veterinarian. While in transit it is important to continue to apply cool wet towels to the back of the neck.
  • Our local emergency medicine specialists no longer recommend that you immerse your pet fully in a cold bath (this was the recommended treatment). This treatment does bring your pet's temperature down but tends to overcorrect it and then your pet may be seriously unwell, cold and wet. If you do have to use this technique it is important you dry your pet off well afterwards. It can be used for the pet who is hot but is not collapsed.

  • Once your pet is comfortable again offer cool water in small amounts often until your pet has had its fill. If your pet drinks lots of water at once it is very likely to vomit. Once your pet is refusing water you can leave the bowl of water with it.

An animal who has suffered from heat stroke is more prone to heat stroke in the future.


Hypothermia is rare in healthy pets and is usually secondary to injury or illness and then collapse, often in the rain. A typical case would be a cat hit by a car that is found in the gutter by the road on a rainy night. It is unable to escape the rain and is often in shock as well. The very young, the very old and small pets are also more prone to hypothermia. Puppies and kittens may be pushed away from their mothers and can become very cold.


  • Always provide a dry shelter for your pets where they can make a warm place for themselves.

  • Ensure that young, old or unwell animals are given more care than normal.

  • Keep a close check on puppies and kittens with their mother and make sure they are eating and appear well.

  • Give adequate food. In cold weather pets need more food than in warm weather simply to keep warm.


  • A cold, and often, wet pet.

  • Your pet may shiver but very cold pets generally don't.

  • A slow pulse and shallow breathing

  • Your pet may appear disorientated.

  • Puppies and kittens may appear abnormally quiet and refuse the teat.

  • Your pet may collapse and lose consciousness.


  • See your veterinarian if your pet is unconscious, if you are concerned, or if the hypothermia is due to another cause that requires treatment.

  • The colder your pet the slower the warming process should be.

  • If wet, dry your pet thoroughly.

  • Place your pet in a warm draught free environment.

  • Do not warm your pet in front of an open fire place or radiator.

  • Hot water bottles can be wrapped and placed between the back legs on the stomach and chest. However the water in the bottles should not exceed 50°C, and if your pet is collapsed then they should be about blood heat (37°C).

  • Cover with a blanket.

  • Small pets, especially puppies and kittens can be placed under your shirt or sweater, against your skin.

  • Once your pet is warm encourage it to eat. Heat the food slightly.



  • Sudden whiteness in the skin.

  • Lack of sensation in the affected area. Your pet may show signs of pain once the skin has thawed.

  • Loss of fur.

  • Red or black skin if the skin dies.


  • Move your pet into a warm draught free environment.

  • Dry your pet thoroughly if wet.

  • Allow the skin to warm slowly by body heat.

  • Do not rub the frostbitten area.

  • Do not apply snow or warm water.

  • Seek veterinary care if the area becomes dark, if a large amount of skin is involved or if your pet is distressed.


Send mail to Administrator with comments or questions about this site                Fiona Anderson 2001