How to Keep your Dog Cool in the Summer Heat

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Heat stress in dogs is a serious issue and owners need to be aware of the signs of a dog overheating, as well as how to keep their dogs cool should they get overheated. Dogs have an inherent susceptibility to heat stroke!

Why dogs are prone to heat stroke

Dogs deal with excessive environmental heat very differently than humans do.

  • We are able to consciously seek out cooler areas, opening doors and moving to different parts of the house if we feel uncomfortable. In contrast, dogs must stay where they are placed by humans, so if they are in an area that is too hot, they cannot choose to move elsewhere
  • We can remove items of clothing if we are too hot: dogs are stuck in their fur coats.
  • ​We excude sweat from all over our bodies, losing heat from our skin as this fine film of moisture evaporates. Dogs do not sweat in this way.

In dogs, the heat losing mechanism is primarily by panting. The tongue swells up, filling with warm blood, and air is forced over rapidly over the tongue. The dog pants, with fast, shallow breathing at the natural resonant frequency of the airways. Warm moisture evaporates from the tongue and is exhaled into the environment while the cooled blood returns from the tongue to the body.

There are 2 main factors that lead to dogs suffering from heat stroke:

  • They are left in warm, enclosed environments which they cannot leave, so that they are unable to lose heat by panting.
  • They do not have enough water to replace the high levels of fluid lost during panting, leading to dehydration and diminished heat losing ability

Situations leading to heat stroke in dogs

Cars are still the most likely location for heat stroke in dogs, The enclosed area, with limited air space, surrounded by heat-intensifying glass, creates a dangerous combination of factors. You must never leave dogs unattended in cars! If travelling with dogs, use air conditioning to keep the car cool. Provide plenty of fresh water, either using a non-spill water bowl or by stopping regularly to offer a drink. When travelling, take regular breaks, taking the dog for short walks in the shade to ensure that they are comfortable and healthy.

The second, less well recognised situation that leads to heat stroke in dogs happens when they are taken for vigorous exercise in the heat of the day. Dogs love to exercise, and the vigorous muscle activity involved generates a high amount of heat inside the body. When this is added to the heat entering a dog's body by radiation from sunshine, the result can be a rapidly increasing core body temperature. Affected dogs may collapse, panting, in the middle of a walk, with the dog flopping down as if exhausted. Typically, the dog will refuse to get up and walk when their owner calls them, and may even need to be carried back from the walk. Owners are usually unaware that their dog is suffering from overheating, and it's only when the dog's temperature is taken at the vet that this becomes apparent. The consequences of this delayed treatment can be life threatening.

Some dogs are more prone to heat stroke than others:

  • Brachycephalic dogs these are dogs with short/flat faces such as pugs, bulldogs and  (their breathing is already restricted, even without the stress of overheating)
  • Obese dogs (they have an extra layer of insulation in the form of fat)
  • Dogs suffering from laryngeal paralysis (their breathing passages are narrower than normal, making them unable to pant life a normal dog)
  • Dogs with dark coats (solar radiation is absorbed into the body rather than being reflected)

How to prevent heat stroke

  • Avoid activities, such as those listed above that are linked to dogs getting overheated
  • Never exercise your pet in the full heat of the day in summertime: instead take your dog for walks in early morning or evening.
  • Provide fresh water for your pet at all times, taking a portable water supply on walks with you during the summer months.
  • If you notice your pet panting more than normal, move them into a cooler, shady area: even if they seem happy lying in full sunlight.
  • Dogs with long, dense coats may benefit from having their fur clipped short
  • Give less food in hot weather, and feed in the early morning or evening (the process of digestion can generate a surprising amount of body heat)

How to treat a dog with heat stroke