Animal Owners Urged To Watch For Heat Stress Warning Signs


With the first day of summer occurring Wednesday, June 20 and temperatures topping out in the high 90’s last week, experts remind animal owners that high temperatures can cause livestock and pets to suffer from heat-related stress.

“Extreme heat can lead to illness in some animals if not properly treated,” said Delaware State Veterinarian Dr. Heather Hirst, who heads the Department’s Poultry and Animal Health Section. “Farmers and pet owners should closely monitor their animals to help those suffering effects from the heat.

According to Dr, Hirst, animals at the greatest risk of stress from the heat include pregnant or lactating animals, very young and older animals, animals with darker coats, heavier, fattened livestock, obese pets, short-nosed dog breeds, animals with chronic health conditions and intensively managed livestock or those confined in enclosures with limited access to shade.

Hirst said signs of heat stress can include livestock crowding together at the water tank or in the shade, panting, increased salivation, restlessness and muscle spasms, poultry experiencing prolonged panting and rabbits which are breathing rapidly and stretching out.

In dogs and cats, such signs can include rapid panting, increased heartbeat and body temperature, weakness, lack of coordination, bright red or pale and sticky gums, vomiting, diarrhea and depression.

“These symptoms are preventable and easily treatable,” Hirst said. “By being alert, owners can help their animals recover quickly. Contact a veterinarian immediately if your animals experience heat stress symptoms or exhibit other unusual behavior.”

Dr. Hirst offers simple steps that owners can take to reduce heat-related stress including providing shade or moving animals to shaded pens; providing plenty of cool, clean drinking water and adding ice to keep it cool; offering a secondary source of water or larger container for pets outside during the day; spraying animals with water using a sprinkler with large droplets; avoiding unnecessary transportation, moving livestock in the late evening or early morning; providing fans to improve air circulation; and using frozen water bottles in hutches for rabbits to lie against.

She also suggests that livestock owners should also avoid overworking their animals. Cattle should be worked in the morning, when their body temperatures are low, and routine activities such as vaccination, hoof trimming and dehorning should be postponed until the weather cools. Commercial poultry growers should check their fans and inspect their backup generators in the event of a power outage.

For additional information regarding heat-related stress in livestock and pets, individuals are urged to call the Delaware Department of Agriculture at (302) 698-4500 or visit