For dogs, overheating isn’t just an uncomfortable experience—it can be fatal! And since our beloved canine companions overheat much more swiftly than we do, pet owners must be extra-vigilant during the blistering hot days of summer.
Unlike humans who cool down by sweating, dogs dissipate heat through panting. But as Dr. Marty Becker DVM reports to Vetstreet, this isn’t exactly the most efficient cooling system in the animal kingdom. If your dog’s body temperature reaches dangerous levels (between 106-109 degrees F), the cells in his body may be irreparably damaged.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy the summer activities we look forward to all year long. Just exercise caution in the heat, and learn how to recognize common signs of distress in your dog to keep him safe.
11 ways to prevent your dog from overheating
As they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. This expression rings true when it comes to protecting our dogs from heat exhaustion, so keep these tips in mind when you head out with your dog this summer.
1. Never leave Fido in the car: Even if your car is parked in the shade and the windows are cracked, a dog’s temperature can rise dangerously high in a vehicle within minutes. And if you travel with your dog in a crate, make sure it offers good ventilation.
2. Provide shade at all times: Everytime you head outdoors to enjoy the sun with your favorite furry friend, be sure he has access to shady respite. A doghouse won’t help here—in the summer heat, they became broiling ovens. A better option (if your yard doesn’t have adequate shade from trees) is to hang a tarp overhead—preferably one that’s designed to block the sun’s harsh rays.
Headed to the beach? Bring an umbrella so your dog can beat the heat.
3. Keep your pup hydrated: Always provide plenty of cool water for your dog to drink. Toss in some ice cubes and refresh his water regularly.
4. Give canned food a try: Consider adding canned food to your dog’s diet during the summer to keep him hydrated. Or try dishing up some cold treats to keep your dog comfortable in the heat—it can be something as simple as freezing a banana, or you can splurge for some delectable doggy ice cream. Either one will have his tail wagging.
5. Exercise during the coolest parts of the day: Avoid those afternoon runs when the sun is at its peak. Opt, instead, for a brisk walk during the early morning or in the evening, when temps aren’t ridiculously high.
6. Check the pavement: Use your hand to determine if the surface you’re walking on could scorch your poor pooch’s paw pads. If the sidewalk or street feels hot to the touch, it’s best to avoid taking your dog for a walk on it.
7. Break out the kiddie pool: If your dog likes to swim, having access to a small wading pool provides a welcome break from the sweltering heat.
8. Crank up the AC: If you live in a particularly hot and humid area, your dog will surely thank you for keeping your home at a cooler temperature.
9. Dress for the occasion: Dog clothing with cooling properties can be a literal lifesaver when the mercury rises. Outfit your dog with an evaporative cooling vest
, designed to accelerate the removal of heat from your dog.
10. Skip outdoor events: It’s ok to cancel plans (we promise!) If you’re concerned about how Fido will fare in the heat, scrap your outdoor itinerary and opt for a chill day of air-conditioned bliss. After all, there’s still plenty of summer to enjoy.
11. Sleep better: It’s beastly trying to sleep when it’s hot out. Give your dog some relief from the heat with a specially designed cooling bed or an elevated bed designed to improve airflow.
Dogs who need special consideration in the heat
Certain dogs are more at risk for heatstroke than others. If you have any of the following dogs, pay special attention to their comfort levels during the hottest days of the year:
- Senior dogs
- Overweight dogs
- Brachycephalic dogs (flat-faced breeds like pugs and bulldogs)
- Dogs with thick fur
Dogs with underlying medical conditions (like laryngeal paralysis)
How to detect an overheated dog
Heatstroke in dogs is not something to be taken lightly—it’s a life-threatening condition that can result in permanent organ damage or, in the worst cases, death.
There are certain signals you can watch for to determine if your dog’s internal temperature has risen to a dangerous level. Monitor your pet in the heat, and if you notice one of more of the following symptoms, intervene immediately. Get your pooch to a cooler area ASAP to de-escalate his rising temperature and to prevent an emergency situation from occurring.
Signs that your dog is overheating:
- Excessive panting
- Reddened gums
- Lack of appetite
- Uncoordinated movements, clumsiness
- A dog who is unwilling (or unable) to love
- Mental dullness, confusion, even loss of consciousness
- Glassy-eyed expression
- Fast or irregular heartbeat
How to treat an overheated dog
If you suspect your dog is suffering from heat exhaustion, it’s imperative to take immediate action—your dog’s life depends on it!
First, remove your dog from the hot environment. That means bringing him indoors (preferably somewhere air-conditioned) if it’s hot and humid outside.
Next, you’ll want to bring down his temperature by either submerging him in cool water—you can use your bathtub or a garden hose—or covering him with a towel soaked in cold water. While you may be inclined to use ice to cool down your dog quickly, this is a big no-no. According to PetMD, this can actually prevent heat loss by constricting your dog’s blood vessels.
As you cool down your dog with water, pay special attention to his neck and the back of his head, but don’t submerge his head completely underwater, otherwise you risk aspiration pneumonia, warns PetMD.
Provide cool water for your dog to drink, but don’t force him—this could cause your dog to pull water into his lungs.
According to Vetstreet, a dog’s normal temperature is 101.5 degrees F, and a degree above or below this is fine. If, however, a dog’s temp spikes above 105 degrees F, he is at risk for heatstroke. If you have a thermometer, take your dog’s temperature every five to ten minutes or so, until his temp drops below 103 degrees.
Even if your dog appears to have recovered from heat exhaustion, it’s still a good idea to give your vet a ring. Serious health conditions can go undetected as a result of overheating, such as kidney failure or brain-swelling. If your vet determines that your dog needs treatment, he may recommend intravenous fluids and monitoring for underlying issues like changes in blood pressure or neurologic problems.
Recognizing the signs of heat exhaustion and understanding the appropriate way to respond to this serious condition is critical to keeping your pup safe during the hottest months. Follow these precautionary steps so you and your canine companion can enjoy a fun-filled (and safe) summer together!