Poor utilization of amino acids contributes to losses of milk protein yield in dairy cows exposed to heat stress (HS). Our objective was to test the effect of essential amino acids on milk production in lactating dairy cows exposed to short-term HS conditions. To achieve this objective, 12 multiparous, lactating Holstein cows were assigned to two environments (thermoneutral (THN) or HS) from days 1 to 14 in a split-plot type cross-over design. All cows received 0 g/day of essential amino acids from days 1 to 7 (negative control (NC)) followed by an intravenous infusion of l-methionine (12 g/day), l-lysine (21 g/day), l-leucine (35 g/day), l-isoleucine (15 g/day) and l-valine (15 g/day, methionine, lysine and branched-chain amino acids (ML+BCAA)) from days 8 to 14. The basal diet was composed of ryegrass silage and hay, and a concentrate mix. This diet supplied 44 g of methionine, 125 g of lysine, 167 g of leucine, 98 g of isoleucine and 109 g of valine per day to the small intestine of THN cows. Temperature–humidity index was maintained below 66 for the THN environment, whereas the index was maintained above 68, peaking at 76, for 14 continuous h/day for the HS environment. Heat stress conditioning increased the udder temperature from 37.0°C to 39.6°C. Cows that received the ML+BCAA treatment had greater p.m. rectal and vaginal temperatures (0.50°C and 0.40°C, respectively), and respiration rate (8 breaths/min) compared with those on the NC treatment and exposed to a HS environment. However, neither NC nor ML+BCAA affected rectal or vaginal temperatures and respiration rates in the THN environment. Compared with THN, the HS environment reduced dry matter intake (1.48 kg/day), milk yield (2.82 kg/day) and milk protein yield (0.11 kg/day). However, compared with NC, the ML+BCAA treatment increased milk protein percent by 0.07 points. For the THN environment, the ML+BCAA treatment increased concentrations of milk urea nitrogen. For the HS environment, the ML+BCAA treatment decreased plasma concentrations of arginine, ornithine and citrulline; however, differences were not observed for the THN environment. In summary, HS elicited expected changes in production; however, infusions of ML+BCAA failed to increase milk protein yield. Lower dry matter intake and greater heat load in response to ML+BCAA contributed to the lack of response in milk production in HS cows. The ML+BCAA treatment may have reduced the breakdown of muscle protein in heat-stressed cows.