For investigating the effects of physiologically relevant heat shock, buffalo oocytes/embryos were cultured at 38.5°C (control) or were exposed to 39.5°C (Group II) or 40.5°C (Group III) for 2 h once every day throughout in vitro maturation (IVM), fertilization (IVF) and culture (IVC). Percentage of oocytes that developed to 8-cell, 16-cell or blastocyst stage was lower (p < 0.05) and the number of apoptotic nuclei was higher (p < 0.05) for Group III > Group II > controls. At both 8–16-cell and blastocyst stages, relative mRNA abundance of stress-related genes HSP 70.1 and HSP 70.2 and pro-apoptotic genes CASPASE-3, BID and BAX was higher (p < 0.05) in Groups III and II than that in controls with the exception of stress-related gene HSF1. Expression level of anti-apoptotic genes BCL-XL and MCL-1 was also higher (p < 0.05) in Groups III and II than that in controls at both 8–16-cell and blastocyst stages. Among the genes related to embryonic development, at 8–16-cell stage, the expression level of GDF9 was higher (p < 0.05) in Group III than that in controls, whereas that of GLUT1, ZAR1 and BMP15 was not significantly different among the three groups. At the blastocyst stage, relative mRNA abundance of GLUT1 and GDF9 was higher (p < 0.05) in Group II than that in controls, whereas that of ZAR-1 and BMP15 was not affected. The results of this study demonstrate that exposure of buffalo oocytes and embryos to elevated temperatures for duration of time that is physiologically relevant severely compromises their developmental competence, increases apoptosis and affects stress-, apoptosis- and development-related genes.