Hotter temperatures mean a greater risk of your pet overheating if you don’t know how to help them regulate their body temperature. If you live in an area with hot summers, blistering heat, or even dry climates, then you may be wondering how to cool down your dog so that they can still enjoy their regular routines.
Fun in the sun brings opportunity for lots of outdoor activities and adventures, but for your dog, that fun can quickly turn to danger if you don’t consider how their physiology and permanent fur coat can affect how well they 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 we offer our dog’s a way to cool down and avoid baking in the sun.
How Do Our Dogs Regulate Body Temperature?
The most well-known outlet for reducing body temperature for dogs is to pant. Panting works by circulating cool air in their body, lowering body 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 cool as possible. Panting is the best way for your dog to cool themselves down, so don’t be concerned if your dog frequently pants during 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 cooling 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 quicker and cool your dog faster.
The Risks of Overheating
The first and most common risk of your dog 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 replaced to avoid dangerous dehydration symptoms.
The more time your dog spends outside in the heat, the more likely they are 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, so their standard body temperature is 101-102 degrees F, but when exposed to a hot environment, their temperature can rise quickly without intervention. Body temperatures of 104+ are considered hyperthermic and can be very dangerous. At 107 organ failure can begin, so it’s very important to keep your dog at a safe and comfortable temperature.
Signs of Heatstroke (Hyperthermia)
- Excessive Panting - While panting is normal, they can also indicate signs of a problem. If your dog is panting excessively or well after activity has stopped, then they may be having trouble reducing their body temperature.
- Lethargy - Lethargic, weak, or overly exhausted dogs can also be a warning sign of rising body temperature. If your dog can’t get up and is showing abnormally low energy after spending time in hot weather, you need to take action and slowly try to cool them down.
- Vomiting - Different from regurgitation, this will look like foamy liquid or bile. This will happen with or without food in their system.
- Retching - Gagging or trying to bring something up can be a sign as well. Even if nothing comes out, this symptom should not be overlooked.
- Shaking - This could be a sign that your dog is about to have a seizure, has very low blood sugar, and could happen right before a collapse.
- Seizures - Seizures are typically presented as uncontrollable shaking, twitching, or stiffness. Check out How To Recognize And Handle Dog Seizures to learn more.
If you see symptoms of 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.
Some things can be done to help gradually reduce their body temp, but getting your dog to a vet is vital. Heatstroke is life-threatening.
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.
7 Ways to Cool Down Your Dog
Prevention is very important when letting your dog participate in summer activities. Helping them manage their body temperatures isn’t as hard as you might think. Follow these simple tips to keep your dog cool and prevent serious issues like heatstroke:
Having a consistent supply of fresh water available can save your dog's life. Whether you're on a mountain hike, playing in the backyard, or simply relaxing on the porch, your dog should always have plenty of fresh water available.
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.
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.
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 not as effective as they don’t remove heat from their body’s the same way that water evaporation will, but are often sought after for indoor use.
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:
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 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 work out, 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.
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.
Make sure you are prepared for clean up though. Dog parks can get muddy easily, so having some wipes or a car seat cover will save the headache of muddy paw prints all over the car or house.
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 heat stroke 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 camping, and participate in a number of fun 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 bottles, 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 find games to incorporate that.
Don’t let the sun and heat scare you. Let your dog enjoy the summer. Stay safe, hydrate, and have fun!!
How do you cool your dog in hot weather? Let us know in the comments below!
Posted by Krystn Janisse
Krystn is a passionate pet nutrition enthusiast. She has worked in the pet industry for over a decade and loves to share her passion for animal welfare with others. She loves all animals but is currently channelling some crazy cat lady vibes with her five lovable, but rebellious cats.