Summer often brings some blistering hot temperatures. If you live in an area with sweltering summer temperatures, then you need to know how to tell if your dog is overheating and how to cool down a dog, so that they can still enjoy their favourite outdoor activities.
Fun in the sun brings opportunity for lots of outdoor adventures, but for your dog, that fun can quickly turn to danger if you don’t consider how well they can tolerate the weather.
In Canada, our winters are long, and our summers can seem way too short, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t feel the heat for at least a few months every year. During that time, it’s vital that you know how to cool down a dog and prevent them from overheating.
Even indoor temps will soar, so be aware of how the temperature in your house, your car, and outside are affecting your dog.
Do Dogs Overheat Easily?
Dogs, under normal circumstances, are good at regulating their body temperature, but extreme weather, hot temperatures, and physical activity can limit their ability to cool down.
Your outdoor fun can turn dangerous if you don’t take the proper precautions. In this guide, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about how dogs cool off. Read on to learn how to look for symptoms of your dog or puppy overheating and act quickly to keep him safe!
How Do Dogs Cool Down?
So, how do dogs regulate their body temperature on their own? The most effective ways that dogs cool down and regulate their temperature is through panting and sweating. These things help your four-legged friend maintain a normal body temperature for dogs.
Panting is also very effective, which is why you may notice your dog experiencing excessive panting more when he's outside, even when he's not exerting energy. Panting works by circulating cool air into their body, lowering their temperature, and moving oxygen through the bloodstream.
When dogs pant, they typically open their mouths wider and take quick rapid breaths to ensure that the air they are taking in is as much cool air as possible. Panting is the best way for your dog to lessen body heat, so dog owners do not have to be concerned if your pet pants a little harder during a hot day or outdoor activities.
Similarly to us, dogs sweat. Unlike our ability to sweat all over, dogs can only sweat through the pads of their paws. As sweat is produced it begins to evaporate, removing heat from your dog’s body and lowering their overall body temperature.
Sweaty dog feet may seem a little gross, but this is a very effective way of regulating their body temperature, especially in a drier climate where sweat will evaporate quickly and cool down a dog faster.
When temperatures are scorching hot and panting just doesn’t do the trick, your dog is at risk of overheating.
The Risks of Your Dog Overheating
The first and most common risk of overheating is dehydration. Dehydration can affect every system of their body, and as they lose water through sweating, panting, and drooling, that water needs to be replenished to avoid the dangerous symptoms of dehydration.
The more time your dog spends outside in the blistering heat, the more likely he is to overheat. Overheating raises their internal body temperature, and if they are unable to lower their temperature through panting or sweating, then serious conditions, like heat stroke, can occur.
Dogs naturally run hotter than us. Their standard body temperature is about 101.5 degrees F, but when exposed to a hot environment, their temperature can quickly rise. The risk of heatstroke or other life-threatening results when dogs overheat is very serious, so make sure you know what to look for and how to react.
Knowing how to check for signs of discomfort or even checking their vitals in extreme weather or if you notice them acting odd can be a life savour.
What is Heat Stroke?
Heatstroke happens when your dog’s body temperature is too high for them to be able to regulate on their own. This can lead to cell and organ damage, seizures, collapse, and eventually death if you don’t act quickly.
Generally speaking, if you intervene at the first sign of symptoms, you can prevent heat stroke or heat exhaustion, so it’s important to be able to identify symptoms and adopt safe warm weather practices to help prevent your dog from overheating.
Dog Overheating Symptoms
To prevent severe reactions such as dehydration or heatstroke in your dog, it's important to keep an eye on your dog's behaviour and take note of any physical signs that your dog may be too hot. Here are some of the most common symptoms of overheating in dogs:
- Excessive Panting
If you see any of these symptoms of overheating or heatstroke in your dog then you should contact your local veterinarian immediately. Call your vet ahead of time to let them know you are on the way and they will instruct you on how to best manage their body temperature until you can get them to the clinic.
Let’s go over how to identify signs of your dog overheating so that you know when and how to take action.
Mild Overheating Symptoms
- Panting heavily
- Excessive drooling
- Body temperature of 102-104 F
These signs are always the easiest to spot, especially if you are engaged in a high-energy activity or spending long amounts of time outdoors in hot weather.
If you do notice your dog showing any of these symptoms, then you need to find ways to relax your dog and cool him down. This could be as simple as bringing him indoors and offering him some fresh, clean water.
Hot weather is meant to be enjoyed, but make sure you give your dog breaks, keep him hydrated, and offer appropriate shade and shelter from the sun.
Moderate Overheating Symptoms
- Shaking or shivering
- Glazed eyes
- Body temp 104-106 F
These symptoms are much more serious. Bring him inside and keep him in a well-ventilated area with fans or air conditioning.
It’s best to contact your vet for further advice. Depending on the severity of the symptoms and whether you are able to drop your dog’s temperature, your vet may recommend bringing him in to get checked out.
Heat Stroke Symptoms
- Loss of consciousness
- Disorientation or confusion
- Body temp 106 F+
This is an emergency, and your dog is in imminent danger. You need to act quickly to avoid permanent damage. Get your dog inside, and call your vet immediately. Do not try to force him to drink if he doesn't want to. Your vet will offer further instructions so that you can transport him safely to the nearest vet office.
What to Do with an Overheated Dog
If your fun in the sun starts to take a turn for the worse, don’t panic. The steps to cooling overheated dogs must be taken with care.
Keep in mind, some things can be done to help gradually reduce their body temp, but if you’re dealing with moderate symptoms or signs of heatstroke, getting your dog to a vet is vital. Heatstroke is life-threatening!
It’s also important to never try to drastically lower your dog's temperature. Things like ice baths and encouraging them to drink very cold water can send their bodies into shock.
If your dog is overheating, then there are some steps you can take to get his temperature down. This doesn’t mean he’s in the clear, and you may still need to call your vet, but you should still try to cool your dog off until you can get the appropriate medical attention, beginning with cool water.
Tips for Cooling an Overheated Dog
- At first signs of overheating, bring your dog inside (if possible), or at very least into a cool shaded area if you are outdoors.
- Offer water immediately, but don’t force it on him. Just make sure there is a constant supply of fresh, clean water available. If your dog refuses to drink, you can try offering small portions of moisture-rich food, like watermelon or goat’s milk to encourage him.
- Check your dog’s temperature. It’s a good idea to have a small rectal or ear thermometer in your pet’s first aid kit. Normal body temperature for dogs is 101.5 F. Slight elevations can be easily addressed, but the higher their temperature, the more danger your dog is in.
- Try to drop your dog’s temperature gradually. Soak a cloth or towel in room temperature water and lay it on his neck and chest. It’s not recommended to try to use ice or very cold water to drop your dog’s temperature too drastically, as this can lead to shock. As the water on the towel evaporates, it will pull heat from your dog’s body. Place him in front of a gentle fan to speed up the evaporation process.
- Call your vet. Even if you are not sure if this is an emergency situation, a quick phone call could save your dog’s life.
Prevention is the Best Method
Prevention is very important when letting your dog participate in summer activities, whether it be a short or long hair breed. Helping them manage their body temperatures isn’t as hard as you might think
Whether you are on an adventurous hike or just hanging out in the backyard, make sure you are frequently checking in with your dog, checking for signs of overheating, and encouraging proper hydration.
7 Ways to Keep Your Dog Cool and Prevent Overheating
Having a consistent supply of fresh water available can save your dog's life. Whether you're on a hike, playing in the backyard, or simply relaxing on the porch, your dog should always have plenty of fresh water available.
Make sure you are carrying the right gear for outdoor activities, like portable water bottles and travel bowls. If you are dealing with dogs with flat faces, you should accommodate them accordingly.
Even playtime indoors can pose a risk. If you don’t have air conditioning or good air circulation in your home, then chances are your dog is feeling the temperature and should be drinking water.
Not every dog will drink enough, so make sure you encourage them by having multiple water sources available and by pointing them towards water any chance you get - hopefully before your four-legged friend shows signs of overheating.
2. Cooling Gear
Many products are now commercially available that help to cool your pup down. Cooling mats, bandanas, vests and collars are widely available in a variety of styles and formats.
The most common style is made to be dampened and then worn by your dog. The water will slowly evaporate, similar to sweat, so you will need to rehydrate the cooling gear as needed.
As a cheap, DIY cooling option, soak a blanket, towel, bandana, or even just their collar in cool water to help chill them. This is a great way to help reduce body temperature if you are concerned that your dog is starting to overheat.
Less common but still helpful, are products filled with a cooling gel. These feel cool to the touch because they are cooler than ours and our dog's body temperatures, so they can help prevent your dog’s body temperature from rising too quickly.
They are often sought after for indoor use, but they don't remove heat as effectively as cooling gear that you rehydrate.
3. Limit Heat Exposure
The most obvious option for cooling your pet is to limit the amount of time that they spend in hot temperatures. Outdoor activities should be broken into shorter and more frequent sessions, allowing your dog to rest and cool down before continuing their activity.
If you are hiking or camping, make sure you find an area with plenty of shade for your dog to rest and cool down.
Never leave your pet locked in an area where the temperature can continue to rise, like the car or a small room. Airflow is extremely important. When cooling your dog indoors, point a fan his way. This will speed up their cool-down time.
Leaving your dog in a hot car can become quickly fatal, as the temperature will continue to rise. Heatstroke and death can occur within 30 minutes if the temperatures are hot enough. Cracking a window is not enough!
Check out this chart to see just how quickly your car can heat up:
If you were to sit in your car in the hot sun for a few minutes, you'd get pretty uncomfortable pretty quickly, so please don't do this to your pet. If you are taking your dog in the car with you, make sure that you are only going to places that your dog is allowed to go too.
This information seems pretty basic, but every year we hear stories of dogs dying or strangers breaking windows to help a dog in distress.
If you need to run other errands, then make sure to leave your dog at home, at daycare, or with a friend or family member. No matter how harmless it may seem in the moment, it's never worth risking your pet's life for a quick stop at the grocery store.
It's always better to be safe than sorry!
4. Water Sports
If you are looking for some fun and safe outdoor activities for your pet, then try some water sports. Taking your dog to the lake, getting him a kiddie pool, or even playing with a sprinkler or hose in the backyard.
Not only will these activities keep your dog cool, but they can also be fun for the whole family.
Again, limit sun exposure to small increments and provide shade during rest periods. Dogs can get sunburned, and unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of dog sunscreens on the market that are free of chemicals like zinc and titanium dioxide.
Many water toys can be purchased to further help your dog enjoy summer and still stay safe. Toys that hold water, can be frozen, or that float are all great options for encouraging playtime and physical activity while maintaining appropriate body temperature.
5. Frozen Treats
A great way to help cool your dog is to feed cold treats. Frozen dog treats, raw bones, and pupsicles are a tasty snack that will lower your dog’s body temperature.
Raw bones can be fed defrosted or completely frozen, and are a safer alternative to cooked or smoked bones. They will give your pup a good jaw workout, mentally stimulate them, and hydrate them all at the same time.
Raw bones can be fed anytime, but using them as an outdoor, summer treat will reduce the mess factor and satisfy their desire to chew. They are also a great way to support their dental health.
Learn more about Raw Bones for Dogs, and how to pick the safest option for your dog's next summer treat.
6. Choose the Right Turf
Where you play outdoors can impact your dog’s health as well. Some surfaces retain more heat, like pavement. Walking, running and playing on grass or dirt-covered areas will be cooler for your dog.
Pavement heats up fast, and extended time walking on this type of surface can actually burn your dog's paws, limit their ability to sweat, and quickly raise their body temperature.
If you do run or walk on paved paths, try your best to protect your dog’s paws. Waxes and lotions can provide a protective layer that conditions their pads, and prevent burns, but in extreme weather, dog boots are a good idea.
When looking for dog boots, make sure that you choose boots that aren’t designed for winter. This type of boot is often fleece lined and doesn’t breathe well, so you may not be doing your dog any favours as far as body temperature goes.
Time your outdoor activities with the weather. Midday is when the sun is the hottest, so schedule walks, runs, or hikes in the early morning or after dinner. The sun, air, and ground will be cooler at dawn and dusk, so it’s the ideal time to let your dog enjoy some summer fun.
During these cooler times of the day, you can even try out some glow-in-the-dark and LED toys, like the ones from our list of Best Outdoor Dog Toys.
As much as summer rain doesn’t always make for a fun walk, a drizzly day is actually a great time to get your dog out for some fun activities.
Know Your Breed
Your dog's breed can be a factor in how they handle warmer temperatures. Coat, respiratory function, and genetics can limit your dog’s ability to regulate its body temperature.
We broke down some common breeds into two groups, those that are hot weather approved, and those that are hot weather susceptible.
Hot Weather Approved Breeds
Dogs that originally come from warmer and drier climates are more capable of handling North American summer temps. While not all the dogs on our list come from hot climates, they are physiologically designed to regulate body temperature well.
Hot weather breeds typically don’t have a thick undercoat and are generally built like runners, slender but muscular. This isn’t necessarily true across the board, but they are common traits.
Here are some of the most popular hot weather dog breeds:
- Greyhounds and Whippets
- Most Terrier Breeds
- Australian Shepherds
- Border Collie
- Doberman Pinschers
- Pointer Breeds
Breeds Not Built for Hot Weather
Dogs that are built for cold weather tend to have a lot of trouble regulating their body temperature in hot weather. Their coats and size can prevent their body from reducing its temperature.
Brachycephalic (short-snouted) breeds can also have issues dealing with the heat. Their squished nasal and sinus passages can affect their ability to pant properly. Take extra care with these breeds to prevent overheating.
Here are some common breeds that are susceptible to hot weather:
- Bulldogs and French Bulldogs
- Boston Terriers
- Chow Chows
- Siberian Huskies and Alaskan Malamutes
- Overweight dogs
Obesity will affect how your dog regulates body temperature. Even breeds that are normally compatible with warm weather, will be at risk for heatstroke if they are overweight.
Extra care should be taken to keep fat dogs hydrated and cool without limiting physical activity. Sedentary lifestyles are the number one cause of obesity in dogs, so don’t stop encouraging playtime, just be safe and prepare for hot summer weather.
The Dog Days of Summer
July and August are the hottest months of the year in North America. It’s a time when we love to get outside and enjoy nature, take vacations, go hiking or camping with your dog, and participate in a number of fun outdoor activities.
As pet owners, we also love to include our dogs in as many of these activities as we can. Protecting your dog from summer heat doesn’t mean that you have to avoid the outdoors, it just means you have to think ahead and prepare.
Going on a hike or camping? Bring extra water, and invest in a dog backpack to help carry them. Plan your routes so that you know where you can rest and get out of the sun.
Even playing in the backyard can be fun, but make sure that your dog stays hydrated. Use a wet cooling vest to lower body temp and prevent sunburns. Get your dog comfortable playing in the water and wearing a dog life jacket and find games to incorporate that.
If you know how to keep your dog cool and safe in hot weather, then don’t let the sun and heat scare you away from your favourite summer activities. Stay safe, hydrate, and have fun!!
How do you keep your dog cool in hot weather? Let us know your top cooling tips in the comments below!