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How to Keep Your Dog Cool in the Summer Heat

7 strategies to prevent your pet from overheating

spinner image A woman smiling with her pet dog
Amy Koepke pictured outdoors with her pet dog Teddy
Courtesy of Amy Koepke

| In some places this summer, going outside can feel like walking into an oven turned up to broil. And if humans feel that way as they venture out, furry pets are feeling it more.

When faced with sweltering weather, Amy Koepke, 58, of Osceola, Wisconsin, has given her golden retriever Teddy a crew cut, put ice in his water and trimmed down his walk time by 30 minutes in order to make sure he doesn’t overheat as temperatures climb.

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“When it gets hot and humid, it definitely makes a difference,” Koepke says. “It really comes down to treating a dog how you want to be treated.”​

As summer heat intensifies, pet owners themselves need to make sure they avoid heat stroke and dehydration, but they also need to pay similar attention to their dogs to help keep them cool. ​

Dogs cool themselves by panting. But panting becomes inefficient in extreme heat, during physical exertion, when a dog is dehydrated, when there’s insufficient ventilation or due to a combination of those factors.​

​Within minutes, a dog can become overheated, which can lead to heat exhaustion, heatstroke, kidney failure, brain damage and even death, veterinarians say. ​

Factors beyond temperature

​Overheating is “producing body heat faster than the dog can dissipate the heat into the environment,” says Michael Davis, who specializes in veterinary sports medicine at Oklahoma State University. ​

​When it comes to gauging the weather environment for pets, temperature is critical, but humidity can be more important than temperature, Davis says. Seventy degrees with high humidity can be just as dangerous for your dog as 90 degrees and low humidity, based on a heat index he helped create for military dog training.​

spinner image dog eating dog food from a dish
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​A good rule of thumb: If it’s too hot for you, it’s too hot for your canine companion, says Katie True, a veterinarian and medical director of Midtown Animal Hospital in Sacramento, California. However, it depends on the dog’s health, activity and acclimation to the climate, she adds.​

​Heatstroke may occur when a dog’s body temperature (normally around 101.5 degrees) rises to 106 degrees or higher. One of the most common causes of heatstroke is leaving a dog in a hot vehicle without sufficient air flow. Never leave a dog alone in a car, especially in the summer, even with the windows partially open.​

​As you walk your dog, remember that ground surfaces like asphalt, sand and metal absorb heat from the sun and can become so hot they can burn the sensitive pads of paws. If you think these surfaces might be too hot, guide your dog to the grass or avoid these areas until they cool down.​

Spotting a need for cooling

Signs your dog is on the verge of overheating include excessive panting, disorientation, a large tongue and a mouth open so wide you can see all the teeth.​

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​If you see any of those signs, immediately stop your dog’s activity and move it to a shady or cool area, True says. Give your dog water and, if possible, direct a fan on the animal or hose it down with cool water, she adds.​One of the most effective ways to cool a dog is to let the pup jump in a lake, river or pool, Davis says. But don’t let the dog’s temperature fall too rapidly to normal, to avoid hypothermia.​

​In past summers, Lisa Taylor of Dallas was concerned when Blue, a Brittany spaniel, couldn’t catch his breath on a walk with her, her husband and their mutt Lucky on a 95-degree day. They stopped in the shade for about 30 minutes and gave the dog water in a flexible bowl they carry until he recovered.​

​“In Texas, three months of the year, we can walk whenever we want, and nine months we cater to the weather,” says Taylor, 61. “We don’t go out in the high hours — after 11 a.m. or before 8 p.m. — in the summer.”​​

Certain breeds are at higher risk

​If your dog gets to the point of overheating, take the animal to a veterinarian immediately. Warning signs may include unresponsiveness, wheezing, disorientation, wobbliness, vomiting, diarrhea, seizures or collapse. A rectal temperature above 104.5 degrees may signify overheating.​

Heatstroke can occur in all breeds and ages, but veterinarians say the risk is higher for dogs that are overweight or not physically fit, as well as flat-faced (brachycephalic) dogs, such as boxers, bulldogs and pugs. Large dogs and those with thick fur, including golden retrievers, also are at high risk.

​Most fit, healthy dogs will recover quickly if treated immediately and if their body temperature doesn’t stay too high too long.​

​The bottom line is “pay attention to your dog,” Davis says. “Does he look like he’s doing everything he possibly can to get rid of heat? If yes, then you need to slow down.”​