It’s only natural that people want to enjoy the summer sun. Often that means taking invigorating jogs, relaxing bike rides or scenic hikes. But dogs should avoid strenuous exercise and spend most of the day indoors on warm days.
The way dogs handle the heat is different than humans and, unfortunately, they can’t tell us when they’re too warm.
“Working up a good sweat in the hot summer months may be good for you, but it can lead to heat stroke in your dog and kill him in a matter of minutes,” warns PetPlace.com.
“When humans overheat we are able to sweat in order to cool down. However, your dog cannot sweat as easily; he must rely on panting to cool down. Dogs breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth, directing the air over the mucous membranes of the tongue, throat and trachea to facilitate cooling by evaporation of fluid. Your dog also dissipates heat by dilation of the blood vessels in the surface of the skin in the face, ears and feet. When these mechanisms are overwhelmed, hyperthermia and heat stroke usually develop.”
Fortunately, there are ways to protect your dog from the heat and read his body language to help keep him from overheating.
What are the Symptoms of Overheating?
By the time your dog is exhibiting the first symptoms of overheating, he’s already experiencing discomfort. If you think your dog is having a heat stroke or an extreme reaction to the heat, take him to the veterinarian immediately.
Some things to be on the lookout for include:
Bright red tongue and/or gums
Tongue hanging out farther than normal
Lack of coordination; staggering
Heat stroke can quickly occur when a dog cannot cool himself. Dogs cool themselves through panting, but that’s generally considered an inefficient method.
“Living cells have temperature tolerance limits,” MyDogIsCool.com writes. “Go beyond those limits and the cell breaks down, loses functional capacity, releases chemicals within itself that cause more adverse reactions, and eventually ceases to function and dies. Tolerance to higher than optimum temperatures for mammals breaks down at about 107 degrees … The longer the cell is above the 107 degree level the less chance there is for the cell to recover. The higher the temperature becomes above 107 degrees the faster the cell death occurs.”
Are Some Dogs More at Risk for Overheating?
Certain dogs are more susceptible to heat problems because of their breed, body type, age or health.
PetPlace.com warns that pet parents should take extra precautions with puppies up to 6 months of age; large dogs over 7 years old and small dogs over 14 years old; overweight dogs; ill dogs on medication; and dogs with heart, lung or circulation problems.
Brachycephalic (short-nosed) dogs are especially prone to overheating because of their small nasal passages and narrowed windpipes. These breeds include Pugs, Boxers, Bulldogs, Pekingese, Japanese Chins, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Shih Tzus and Boston Terriers.
“With the respiratory impairments of the brachycephalic breeds, breathing and panting may not move sufficient air through the passages for cooling,” writes Dog-Breeds.suite101.com. “If the dog also happens to be overweight and of a dark color, the risk is multiplied.”
Keeping these dogs inside and restricting their exposure to hot weather and exercise reduces their risk for heat stroke.
What Should I Do if My Dog Seems Overheated?
If your dog appears to be overheated, do the following.
The first step is removing him from direct sunlight and getting him to a cooler area, such as in the shade or an air-conditioned room.
Gradually bring down his temperature by wetting him down with water. Running a cool, wet rag or washcloth over his face and paw pads can help.
If your dog can drink water, allow him some, but don’t force him. Don’t use water that’s too cold. “Using very cold water can actually be counterproductive,” writes PetEducation.com. “Cooling too quickly and especially allowing his body temperature to become too low can cause other life-threatening medical conditions.”
Dry him off and, even if he appears to be recovering, take him to the veterinarian immediately, PetEducation.com recommends.
What is the Treatment for an Overheated Dog?
The vet will likely lower your dog’s body temperature, which should normally range between 100.5 and 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit, and continue to monitor it.
Blood work may be performed to find out if your dog’s vital organs are functioning and, if not, to what extent.
The medical treatment depends on the severity of the illness. PetPlace.com writes: “Mildly increased temperatures (105 degrees Fahrenheit) may only require rest, a fan to increase air circulation, fresh water to drink and careful observation. Markedly increased temperature (greater than 106 degrees Fahrenheit) must be treated more aggressively. Cooling can be promoted externally by immersion in cool water or internally by administering a cool-water enema. Underlying aggravating conditions, such as upper airway obstructive diseases, heart disease, lung disease and dehydration may be treated with appropriate medications, supplemental oxygen or fluid therapy.”
How Can I Protect My Dog From Overheating at Home?
While you may think that shaving off your dog’s fur coat might help him stay cool, this isn’t always a solution.
“It’s a myth that shaving a dog’s coat makes him hotter,” Petside reports. “Shaving it to the skin can make him vulnerable to sunburn, but cutting the fur to about one inch can help him stay cooler. If you don’t want to shave him, brush out as much undercoat as you can and be sure no solid mats are there to trap heat and moisture.”
Similarly, dogs with very short hair — or none at all — are also prone to sunburn and should remain out of direct sunlight.
If your dog is home alone during the day, use these precautions to keep him cool:
Leave the air conditioning on or point a fan in the direction of one of his favorite places to hang out.
Provide plenty of fresh drinking water so your pooch can stay hydrated.
If possible, have a trusted friend or neighbor stop by during the day to let your dog out and make sure he has fresh water.
If your dog must remain outside during the day, make sure your yard is landscaped in such a way that it keeps your dog out of danger.
A dog house or cool, shady spot (preferably both, if possible) is a must so he can find some relief from direct sun rays. “A tree is probably not good enough,” writes Judy Hedding for About.com.
Keep fresh, clean drinking water in those shady spots so the bowl itself doesn’t heat up. Hedding recommends using a weighted water bowl or leaving two bowls out in different shaded areas of the yard in case one gets tipped over.
A water-filled kiddie pool can keep your pooch cool, but if he’s a little guy, make sure he can easily get in and out of it. Just like water bowls, put these pools where it’s nice and cool. “Sitting in a tub of 110-degree water won’t help the dog,” Hedding notes.
Some dogs are literally built to swim, so allowing them to take a refreshing dip in an actual pool is a great idea; just keep in mind that even good swimmers need supervision at all times. Be sure to teach your dog where and how to climb out of your pool.
How Can I Protect My Dog From Overheating While Traveling?
Most dogs love accompanying their pet parents on outings during the day, but if you have to go leave your pooch in the car – even if it’s only for a few minutes – it’s best to leave him at home.
“Studies show that the temperature inside cars can heat to lethal temperatures within 30 minutes even if the weather outside is relatively cool,” Petside.com reports. “Regardless of outside air temperature, cars heat up at a similar rate — gaining 80 percent of their final temperature within 30 minutes. Cars that start at a comfortable 72 degrees Fahrenheit, for example, soar to a deadly 117 degrees Fahrenheit after 60 minutes in the sun. Cracking the windows scarcely affects the temperatures inside.”
MyDogIsCool.com likens cars in the summertime to heaters. “Even in the shade, and especially in humid conditions, dogs need to inhale air cooler than their normal body temperature of 102 degrees,” according to the website. “In fact, even 80-degree air temperatures can be dangerous.”
You should also avoid bringing your dog along to fun summer events like county fairs, car shows and street festivals. These are not only hot on your dog’s body, but if he’ll be walking on concrete or blacktops, they can be too hot for his foot pads.
Any sort of travel can prove risky for dogs during the summer, even flying the friendly skies. While some airlines permit one small pet per to ride under a seat in the cabin, most dogs are transported as cargo. Because the dangers of overheating in the cargo hold during the summer are so high, some airlines stop allowing animals on flights during that time of year. Most will not allow any brachycephalic breeds to fly during this time of the year.
Find A Vet HOW TO articles are intended for informational purposes only. You should always consult with your veterinarian about any health issues affecting your dog.
PHOTO: Leif Skoogfors