Carolinas Animal Hospital

Dog and Cat Seizures and Heatstroke: Pet First Aid

In dogs and cats, seizures and heat stroke are both very scary situations. Just as with humans, though, we don’t often give them much thought because many don’t consider them to be likely. The bottom line is that they are more common than you might think. Know what you can do to help your pet in the event of either of these scenarios.

Dog and Cat Seizures

Seizures can happen anytime, anywhere. Epilepsy is not uncommon in pets, and it doesn’t discriminate between species, age, or sex. The nature of epilepsy is that the seizures tend to recur, though the actual cause can be difficult to pin down and will require a series of diagnostics. Dog and cat seizures can happen without a history of epilepsy, though, and the possible reasons vary widely from traumatic injury to bacterial infection to exposure to a toxin. It can even be the result of a stroke.

Unfortunately, when it comes to seizures, the actual first aid that can be done is very limited. Despite this, it’s an important situation to be prepared for.

What To Do

  1. Don’t panic. Seizures can vary in severity, but any seizure is scary to see. Be calm.
  2. Time the duration of the seizure. This is important information to share with your vet. Most don’t last more than a few minutes at most. The longer the seizure, the more dangerous it is.
  3. Move the pet to a safe place during the seizure – away from stairs or objects and furniture that they could injure themselves on and ideally away from other pets. Be careful not to get hurt as the dog or cat is unconscious and can’t control their movements.
  4. You do not need to restrain movement of your pet during the seizure. It is not common for pets to cause serious injury to their tongues or other body parts during a seizure. Be calm, and use your best judgment.
  5. Once the seizure is over, call your vet. If this is common for your pet due to epilepsy, you may have medications for it, but your vet needs to know about any change in frequency, duration, or behavior afterward to best help you manage it. If this has never happened before, do a quick check to see if your pet may have sustained some injury or ingested a toxin that caused the seizure. Did they get into any chemicals or toxic plants? Fall and hit their head? See your vet, and let them know any potentially helpful information.
  6. If the seizure does not stop or is lasting for a prolonged period, go straight to your vet as soon as possible.

Heat Stroke and Heat Exhaustion in Dogs & Cats

Dog Cat Heatstroke First AidHeat stroke in dogs and cats is sneaky because it can happen easily, yet most people don’t understand just HOW easily. It is most likely to happen in old or sick animals, but can happen to any pet, even when you don’t think it’s hot outside. Prolonged exposure to even mild heat or short exposure to being shut in a car on a 75 degree day can cause heat stroke, organ failure, brain damage, and possibly death. We have a couple of other articles with great information about heat stroke. Please read them and pass them along. They are relevant even when it is not summertime!

Heat Stroke by Andrea Olson, DVM

Dogs Can Die in Hot Cars in Just Minutes

What To Do

  1. Look for early signs: increased respiratory rate, increased heart rate, vomiting, dehydration, depression, etc. This can go downhill very quickly, displaying advanced symptoms such as collapse, severe respiratory distress, seizures, bloody diarrhea or vomiting, and leading to death. Learn what your dog’s or cat’s normal vital signs are so that you can check for early signs effectively.
  2. If your pet is suffering from heat exhaustion or heat stroke, wet them with cool (but not cold) water to help bring down the body temperature. Do not use cold water as it can cause blood vessels to constrict or cause shivering which in turn produces more internal heat. You can wrap them in cool, wet towels, set up a fan, and use evaporative cooling by putting rubbing alcohol on the foot pads.
  3. It is very important not to drop the body temperature too low. Keep a frequent check with a rectal thermometer from your Pet First Aid Kit. Once the body temperature is down to about 103, stop the cooling measures so you don’t get the animal too cold.
  4. If you pet is alert enough, they can drink cool water, but do not force it.
  5. If your pet is in a severe state when you find them, this is already a serious emergency. Having wet your pet with cool water and placed cool towels on them, get them to the vet immediately!
  6. Even if the heat exhaustion seemed only minor and you are sure their normal temperature is restored, it is still important to go see your vet to evaluate your pet for any long term damage or unknown causes.

Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are preventable! In many ways, its easier for pets to suffer from these than for people. People sweat. We can seek out air conditioners or turn on a fan if we don’t feel well. Dogs and cats wear fur coats and don’t have very efficient cooling methods. They also can’t tell us when they don’t feel well. Be diligent, even on comfortably warm days. It doesn’t have to be 90 degrees and midsummer for a life-threatening emergency to happen.


Are you finding our Pet First Aid series helpful? Please share. We want to share medical information with you that can help keep pets safe, and healthy!

Pet First Aid: Basics

Cat and Dog CPR and Vital Signs: Pet First Aid


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