Health & Science

Houston area animal shelters receiving twice as many heat distress calls compared to last year

There were 243 heat-related calls from June 1 – June 20, compared to 87 calls last year around that same time.

A dog receives a cooling bath, and is being treated for heat-related illnesses.
Houston SPCA
A dog receives a cooling bath, and is being treated for heat-related illnesses.

Heat distress in pets is increasing as temperatures in Houston are reaching triple digits. The Houston SPCA said it’s responding to twice as many heat distress calls this year compared to last year, with two heat-related deaths so far this month.

There were 243 heat-related calls from June 1 – June 20, compared to 87 calls last year around that same time. Pets are being left in hot cars and outside without adequate food, water, or shelter, which the organizations says is illegal. Violations include facing up to two years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

"We continually message people don’t forget about your pets," said SPCA's VP of Communications Julie Kuenstle. "Even if they’re in the shade, you need to remember that they might not have access to water, and it doesn’t take very long for a pet to get overheated – if it’s too hot for you, it’s too hot for the pet."

The animal cruelty investigation team has been working with law enforcement and nine other counties, including Harris County Precinct 1 to respond to heat distress calls since the beginning of June. Kuenstle said one reason the calls have doubled this year is because the community has been proactive in reporting animals in need.

"They’re helping us be the eyes and ears and we are getting to the scene sooner, we are seeing animals that are in distress," she said. "Last year, even as early as June, we made it to the scene where we had in separate cases about five dogs who did not survive the heat distress."

The organization identified three recent heat related cases:

  • June 16 – A German shepherd kept in a kennel outside was in heat distress when the Harris County Constable Precinct 1 served an exigent warrant to allow the Houston SPCA to bring the dog to their animal medical hospital. The veterinary team began the work of quickly lowering the dog's internal body temperature with a damp towel, a large fan and alcohol swabs.
  • June 19 – In North Houston, the Houston SPCA and Harris County Constable Precinct 1 rescued a dog outside in a wire kennel in direct sun with a metal table on top that registered 117 degrees with a digital surface thermometer. The dog was rushed back to the Houston SPCA where she was given a cooling bath followed by alcohol swabs to help lower her body temperature.
  • June 20 – Houston SPCA and Harris County Constable Precinct 1 respond to a call of heat distress for a senior chihuahua wearing a sweater outside with severe skin issues in Southwest Houston. The digital surface thermometer at the scene registered at 106 degrees. She was taken to the Houston SPCA for individualized treatment.

Lori Teller is a local Veterinarian and the clinical associate professor of telehealth at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. She said there are signs to look for that may indicate your pet is experiencing heat-distress.

"You may notice your dog to be more anxious or restless," she said. "Panting excessively, drooling more, and as it gets worse, you may notice vomiting, diarrhea, color change to their gums and tongue."

Teller said a more severe case could lead to your dog having seizures. She said cats are oftentimes forgotten, and they also experienced heat-distress, and signs of open mouth breathing while at rest is an indicator of heat-distress.

"As long as the temperatures continue to stay as high as they are right now, we fully expect to continue to see cases of heat distress and heat stroke, and we expect to see more deaths from that," said Teller.

Ways to keep your pets cool are by limiting the amount of physical activity with your pets, or going early in the morning or late in the evening, walk your pets on the grass or place booties on their paws, limit the amount of time your pet is outside, provide adequate shading, and provide your pets with fresh water throughout the day.