Summer means warmer temperatures and more opportunities for fun in the sun. We can withstand heat and regulate our body temperature by sweating. Dogs, however, are covered in fur and can only regulate their temperature by panting and sweating through their paw pads. Our pups can easily overheat, which can lead to heat stroke and even death. Fortunately, overheating is completely preventable and there are things owners can do to help hot pups. So, what are some of the best ways to cool down your dog when the summer heat index rises?
Table of contents
- Signs your dog may be overheating
- Is your dog prone to overheating?
- What happens if a dog gets too hot?
- How to cool down a hot dog
- How to prevent your dog from overheating
Signs your dog may be overheating
It’s important for pet parents to know what to look for when it comes to their dogs getting too hot. Being able to identify symptoms of overheating and heat exhaustion can help owners and veterinarians determine how severe the condition is and how urgently a pup should be treated. Signs of your dog overheating can include:
- Elevated body temperature – Experts at VCA Animal Hospitals note that an internal body temperature of about 101.5 degrees Fahrenheit is considered normal for most dogs. Anything higher than 103 degrees is cause for serious concern.
- Excessive panting – Instead of sweating as a means of regulating body temperature, dogs pant and sweat through their paw pads. Rapid breathing cools dogs down by circulating air through their bodies.
- Lethargy – Abnormal and sudden low energy levels can also be accompanied by a reluctance or refusal to respond to commands.
- Excessive and/or thickened saliva
- Vomiting and/or diarrhea
- Dark or bright red or blue gums
- Staggered walking, seizures, and/or collapse
Is your dog prone to overheating?
Some dogs are more likely to suffer consequences of heat exposure than others. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), overweight and senior canines are particularly susceptible to having difficulties with warm temperatures.
It’s also important to note that brachycephalic dog breeds, like pugs, bulldogs, and French Bulldogs, are prone to overheating. These short-snouted pups are known for having breathing challenges, which makes temperature regulation notably difficult for this group. This is also true for any dog with respiratory and or heart problems.
What happens if a dog gets too hot?
When a dog’s core body temperature becomes dangerously high, blood is diverted away from key organs, including the liver, kidneys, and brain. According to experts at Vetstreet, lack of adequate blood flow to these systems can quickly lead to organ failure. Extreme heat exposure also puts a significant amount of strain on dogs’ hearts. Cardiac arrhythmias, or irregular heartbeats, can be fatal for overheated pups.
How to cool down a hot dog
Fortunately, there are several ways you can help your dog cool down when the weather gets too warm for their comfort. If you are concerned that your dog is too hot, help bring their body temperature back down with the following strategies.
- Find cool water – A wet dog is a cool dog. On hot days, turn to sprinklers, garden hoses, pools, lakes, or any other body of water to provide heat relief for your pup. You can also use a spray bottle to wet parts of your dog’s body that aren’t heavily exposed to the sun and have thinner fur coverage. These areas include their undersides (armpits, groin area), paw pads, and mouth. Be sure that water isn’t ice cold, as bringing down your furry friend’s temperature too much too fast can send them into shock. Doing so can shrink their blood vessels and actually generate more internal heat, the American Kennel Club (AKC) warns.
- Offer a damp towel or cooling products – Have your pup stand or lie on a cool, damp towel to help their bodies release heat. You can also apply a wet towel to their neck and the backs of their legs. Special products like cooling vests and cooling crate pads are also available through most major pet supply retailers. Cooling vests deflect heat and cool your dog through evaporation.
- Get out of the sun – Direct sunlight during summer months can be sweltering. If your pup is the type to chase a ball until he drops, make sure to limit his time outside in the heat, no matter how many times he begs you to throw the ball again. Find some shade to get relief from the heat.
- Circulate some air – Get out of the heat and into a space with air conditioning. This can even include sitting inside a running car with the AC on full blast, or simply sitting in front of a fan. Note that because dogs don’t sweat, fans aren’t as effective for pups as they are for us.
- Dab on rubbing alcohol – Did you know that applying a small amount of rubbing alcohol behind your dog’s ears can help with overheating? According to AKC, rubbing alcohol cools faster than water and can draw heat out of your pup’s body. You can also dab it on your dog’s stomach and paws.
- Hydrate – Always make sure that your dog has access to plenty of cool water when they are outside in the heat. If you suspect your pup is overheating, offer water. Do not, however, force your dog to drink. Hydration can prevent some severe secondary issues associated with overheating, but will not bring your pup’s body temperature down by itself.
- Go to the vet – AKC emphasizes that any and all potential cases of overheating, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke should seek immediate attention from a veterinary professional. Heat exposure can quickly become dangerous and even fatal. Let your veterinarian’s office know in advance that you are on your way so the team can be prepared to act swiftly as soon as you arrive.
How to prevent your dog from overheating
The dangers of your dog overheating are often fatal, but entirely avoidable. Here are some tips for preventing your dog from overheating during the summer:
- Stay hydrated – As previously mentioned, your dog should always have access to fresh, cool water. This is particularly true whenever your dog is outside. Try not to spend extended periods of time out in the heat. Hydration can prevent some severe secondary issues associated with overheating.
- Embrace early and late outside time – It’s best to exercise your dog in the early morning and evening to avoid the intense heat of the middle of the day. If your schedule doesn’t permit this, consider alternate exercises for your pooch. These can include swimming, playing in the sprinkler, or low intensity activities accompanied by a hose-down to keep their body temperature from rising dangerously high.
Be sure to check the pavement temperature before you go. Ground surfaces can be too warm for your pup’s paws even if the air temperature is not hot. Protective booties are needed if the ground feels hot to the touch, as your dog’s paw pads could burn.
- Choose heat-friendly activities – Beat the heat without compromising valuable physical and mental exercise by switching up your dog’s daily activities. Heat-friendly options include swimming or water play, as well as low intensity exercises like scent work or trick training in the shade. Avoid overheating altogether by staying inside where the air conditioning is. There are plenty of ways to physically exercise and mentally stimulate your furry friend indoors—obedience and trick training, tug-of-war, puzzle toys, and hide-and-seek, to name only a few.
- Utilize cool-down tools – Keep your canine companion comfortable in hot weather with cooling pads and vests, damp towels, puppy pools and spray bottles (or a hose), ice cubes in their water bowl, frozen treats, and leave the AC on!
- Properly groom – It might be tempting to simply shave down your pup’s fur to help them stay cool, but AKC warns that pet parents should think twice about summer trims. For some dogs, double coats of fur insulate against both the summer heat and the winter chill. Pups with double coats, including shepherds, huskies, and retrievers, need their layers for heat regulation and sun protection.
However, it’s important to maintain these layers properly. While natural shedding helps, a trim or summer cut is a good idea in some cases, especially in dogs prone to hotspots. AKC notes that some coats can be shaved, but shouldn’t be cut shorter than one inch to prevent harmful sun exposure. Regular brushing will also go a long way towards eliminating dead hair, preventing matting, and promoting better air circulation through your pup’s coat.
- Avoid hot cars – As a pet parent, you should not leave your dog in a parked car under any circumstance, even with windows cracked. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Cars parked in direct sunlight can reach internal temperatures up to 131—172 degrees Fahrenheit when it’s 80—100 degrees outside.” Even on milder days, temperatures inside a car can quickly rise to dangerous, life-threatening levels. The same is true for anywhere with poor air circulation, such as dog houses.
Just because you can handle the summer heat doesn’t mean that your dog is safe and comfortable. It’s your job as s responsible pet parent to protect your dog from overheating, which can be dangerous and even fatal. Staying out of the heat, choosing water and low-intensity activities, hydrating, and having the right grooming habits and cool-down supplies can go a long way towards helping your dog cool off this summer. As always, consult your veterinarian immediately if your dog shows any signs of overheating or heat stroke.
Any health or medical information in ElleVet blogs is from a variety of public and reputable sources.
This information is intended as an educational resource only and is not a substitute for expert professional care.