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Heat stress in animals

Hot weather affects animals in different ways. It's important to know how to keep animals safe and healthy during hot weather, as heat stroke and heat stress can be serious illnesses.

If you're worried about your animal or think they may be suffering from heat stress, please contact your veterinarian immediately for advice.

If you're worried about a dog locked in a car, please call the Police or your local SPCA immediately.

Species-specific advice

Cats tend to enjoy warm weather and are usually quite good at keeping themselves cool. You may find they sleep more than usual and gravitate towards cooler parts of the house.

Tips for preventing heat stress in cats

  • Provide fresh, clean water at all times. On particularly hot days, you may want to add ice cubes to their water to keep it cool. If you notice your cat isn't drinking from their water bowl much, try moving it to a different area of the house (preferably away from their food).
  • Make sure your cat has access to cool, shady areas either inside or outside your home.
  • Stroke your cat's paws and ears with a damp cloth (if they let you!)
  • Wrap some ice cubes or a frozen water bottle in a towel to help your pet cool off.
  • Brush your cat regularly to avoid matted fur, which can have an insulating effect.

Symptoms of heat stress in cats

  • Excessive panting
  • Restlessness
  • Excessive drooling, vomiting and diarrhoea
  • Unsteadiness
  • Abnormal gum or tongue colour
  • Seizures and collapse

If you think your animal is experiencing heat stress, please contact your vet immediately.

Dogs can only sweat small amounts through their paws, which means they can struggle to regulate their temperature. They rely on panting to cool down and can quickly overheat in hot weather. Dogs with flat faces (such as bulldogs and pugs) have a particularly hard time because they can't always breathe or pant as effectively as other dogs.

Tips for preventing heat stress in dogs

  • Provide fresh, clean water at all times. On particularly hot days, you may want to add ice cubes to their water to keep it cool.
  • Make sure your dog has access to cool, shady areas either inside or outside your home.
  • Set up a shallow paddling pool for your dog to cool down in.
  • Never walk your pet on hot footpaths. If it’s too hot for your hand, it’s too hot for their paws.
  • Avoid exercising dogs during the hottest parts of the day, especially if they're older, overweight, have an underlying disease such as a heart condition, or are a flat-faced breed. Take extra care in high humidity when panting becomes an inefficient way of cooling down.
  • Do not leave dogs in parked vehicles during the warmer months. If it is humid and hot, parking in a shady spot with the windows down may not be enough to mitigate the risks of heat stress.

Additional tips for preventing heat stress in working dogs

  • Avoid working dogs during the hottest parts of the day.
  • Give them regular breaks and plenty of fresh, clean water. On particularly hot days, you may want to add ice cubes to their water to keep it cool.
  • Park vehicles with dogs on board in shady areas. Never leave dogs inside vehicles on hot days!
  • Move kennels to a shady area and make sure there is plenty of airflow.

Symptoms of heat stress in dogs

  • Heavy panting
  • Drooling
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Restlessness
  • Bright red or very pale gums
  • Poor coordination
  • Tremors or seizures

If you think your animal is experiencing heat stress, please contact your vet immediately.

Tips for preventing heat stress in small animals

  • Provide fresh, clean water at all times. On particularly hot days, you may want to add ice cubes to their water to keep it cool!
  • Move small animals to a cooler part of your home.
  • Move any outdoor enclosures to a shady area with plenty of airflow.
  • Wrap some ice cubes or a frozen water bottle in a towel and place it in your animal's enclosure so they can cool themselves off.
  • Never leave animals inside a hot vehicle!

Symptoms of heat stress in small animals 

If you think your animal is experiencing heat stress, please contact your vet immediately.

  • Excessive panting or laboured breathing
  • Restlessness
  • Excessive drooling
  • Unsteadiness, lying on their side
  • Abnormal gum or tongue colour
  • Seizures and collapse

Cattle, especially darker breeds, can start feeling heat stress at temperatures as low as 20 degrees Celsius.

Tips for preventing heat stress in cows:

  • Provide fresh, clean water at all times. Non-lactating cows need at least 45 litres of water each per day, and lactating cows need around 100 litres. Make sure your water troughs have a good flow rate so they keep refilling throughout the day.
  • Install sprinklers or misters in paddocks or yards. Make sure the water runs off the animals, as simply being wet can increase humidity for cows. Try using fans to encourage air flow and evaporation.
  • Shift your milking times to avoid moving cattle during the hottest parts of the day. Let your animals move at their own pace, even if that's a bit slower than usual!
  • Provide plenty of shade to protect animals from the sun. Make sure there's enough space for all your animals! Some great options for shade include:
    • trees with large canopies
    • large bales
    • domed huts
    • gullies
    • shelterbelts
    • forestry blocks
    • sheds or shelters
    • shade cloths.

Symptoms of heat stress in cows: 

  • Rapid breathing
  • Not grazing as much
  • Drinking more than usual
  • Moving slowly
  • Standing more but grazing less
  • Decreased milk yield.

If you think your animal is experiencing heat stress, please contact your vet immediately.

Pigs don't tolerate heat as well as other species. They have smaller lungs, don't sweat, and have a thicker subcutaneous fat layer, making it harder for them to regulate their temperature during the warmer months. Temperatures above 25 degrees Celsius are considered hot for pigs, meaning they are at a high risk of heat stress and sunburn during warmer months.

Tips for preventing heat stress in pigs

  • Provide fresh, clean water at all times.
  • Make sure their houses or shelters are well ventilated.
  • Avoid feeding pigs during the hottest parts of the day.
  • Create wallows where your pigs can cool down. Wallows help speed up heat loss through evaporation, and the mud helps prevent sunburn. Wallows should contain more liquid than mud, so you may need to add extra water on hot days.
  • Provide plenty of shade to protect animals from the sun. Make sure there's enough space for all your animals! Some great options for shade include:
    • trees with large canopies
    • large bales
    • domed huts
    • gullies
    • shelterbelts
    • forestry blocks
    • sheds or shelters
    • shade cloths.
Symptoms of heat stress in pigs
  • Breathing quickly
  • Panting
  • Lethargy
  • Drinking more than usual
  • Not eating as much
  • Urinating more
  • Trembling
  • Muscle weakness

If you think your animal is experiencing heat stress, please contact your vet immediately.

Sheep and goats usually cope with hot conditions better than other large animals, with goats tolerating heat better than sheep.

Tips for preventing heat stress in sheep and goats

  • Provide fresh, clean water at all times.
  • Shear woolly sheep before the summer holidays. Make sure you don't shear them too close to hot days, as freshly shorn sheep can be susceptible to sunburn.
  • Provide plenty of shade to protect animals from the sun. Make sure there's enough space for all your animals! Some great options for shade include:
    • trees with large canopies
    • large bales
    • domed huts
    • gullies
    • shelterbelts
    • forestry blocks
    • sheds or shelters
    • shade cloths.
  • Avoid handling animals during the hottest parts of the day.

Symptoms of heat stress in sheep and goats

  • Continual panting
  • Rapid breathing
  • Weakness
  • Difficulty standing
  • Increased rectal temperature

If you think your animal is experiencing heat stress, please contact your vet immediately.

Tips for preventing heat stress in horses

  • Provide fresh, clean water at all times.
  • Provide plenty of shade to protect animals from the sun. Make sure there's enough space for all your animals! Some great options for shade include:
    • trees with large canopies
    • large bales
    • domed huts
    • gullies
    • shelterbelts
    • forestry blocks
    • sheds or shelters
    • shade cloths.
  • Avoid handling animals during the hottest parts of the day.

Symptoms of heat stress in horses

If you think your animal is experiencing heat stress, please contact your vet immediately.

Tips for preventing heat stress in poultry

  • Provide fresh, clean water at all times. Place your waterers in the shade and add ice to them in the morning to keep them cool throughout the day.
  • Move coops to a shady area. Make use of roofs or shade cloths over chicken coop runs to protect your birds from the sun.
  • Make sure there is good airflow through the coop by opening the vents on hot days.
  • Keep nest boxes cool so they don't become heat traps when birds are laying.
  • Consider installing a misting system, sprinkler or paddling pool for your birds to cool off on hot days.

Symptoms of heat stress in poultry

  • Panting
  • Lying down and struggling to get up
  • Combs that have shrunk or fallen to the side
  • Breathing quickly
  • Spreading wings
  • Squatting low to the ground
  • Not eating as much
  • Drinking more than usual
  • Resting more than usual

If you think your animal is experiencing heat stress, please contact your vet immediately.

Tips for preventing heat stress in camelids

  • Provide fresh, clean water at all times. On very hot days, you may need to cool the water down first.
  • Shear camelids before the summer holidays. Aim for full body shearing, leaving between 25mm and 76mm of fibre on the animal. If this is not possible, shearing the abdomen and thorax (the area between the neck and abdomen) is still effective.
  • Talk to your vet about the best diet for your animals. A diet containing selenium, vitamin E, copper, zinc and B vitamins can help camelids withstand warmer temperatures. Additionally, you may want to switch from hay to grass during hot weather, as hay takes more effort to eat which increases heat production.
  • Manage breeding cycles so crias are born in spring and weaned in the cooler months to prevent heat stress during pregnancy, birthing and weaning.
  • Provide water that your animals can wade or lay in to cool down. If you don't have a stream or pond on your property, try setting up sprinklers or paddling pools.
  • Give your animals cool spaces to rest and sleep. Straw bedding traps heat so may not be suitable during hot weather. Instead, consider using sand pits or shaded concrete floors. Wetting the sand or concrete can help cool the surface down even further on hot days.
  • Provide plenty of shade to protect animals from the sun. Make sure there's enough space for all your animals! Some great options for shade include:
    • trees with large canopies
    • large bales
    • domed huts
    • gullies
    • shelterbelts
    • forestry blocks
    • sheds or shelters
    • shade cloths.
  • Avoid handling animals during the hottest parts of the day.

Symptoms of heat stress in camelids

  • Nasal flaring
  • Breathing with their mouth open
  • Breathing faster than usual
  • Not eating as much
  • Dullness or tiredness
  • Drooling
  • Weakness
  • Increased rectal temperature

If you think your animal is experiencing heat stress, please contact your vet immediately.