We’ve all heard about how dangerous it is to leave a dog in the car on a sunny or warm day. Most of us would not consider it as an option and would adjust our routine or make other arrangements to keep our dogs safe and comfortable.

Several other activities also place our dogs at risk in warmer weather. Many people are not aware of the dangers of these situations and as a result, dogs are routinely endangered.

Let’s consider a midday walk or run. YOU may be comfy sticking to the streets and sidewalks in your area with your wicking fabrics and special footwear, but your dog could be suffering within minutes. Unable to shed their layer of fur, even minimal exertion will cause their body temperature to rise, with heat radiating off the pavement compounding the problem. Without access to water, their ability to cool via panting will be greatly hindered. The minimal benefits of heat dissipation through their paws will be completely gone from contact with the hot pavement. Many dogs suffer minor to serious burns and blistering from contact with asphalt or concrete. 

The Cooling System

Dogs do not possess the same abilities as humans to regulate their temperature. Unable to sweat as we do, they rely primarily on panting and dissipating heat through their pads and ears – all less efficient in the heat. As a result, they heat up much more quickly than we do and are not able to safely work, exercise or play in the same conditions as we can in warmer weather.

One guideline is that a healthy, fit dog in the prime of life shouldn’t work in temperatures over 29°C (85°F). If the dog is very young, older or not in good health, this temperature will be lower, as they have a poorer ability to regulate their body temperature. Other factors also affect how a dog can cope with heat:

-shortened muzzles – selective breeding has significantly decreased these dogs’ ability to cool themselves because they cannot pant properly. 

-coat colour – dark and especially black-coated dogs have an even harder time in the heat than medium or light-coloured dogs

-thick or longer coats – extra hair can trap heat when the dog is active

-large and giant breeds – with a larger body mass to cool, their systems are more stressed than average-sized dogs

  • small dogs – having a smaller body mass makes it more difficult to stabilize their core temperature
  • puppies, like small dogs, cannot regulate their temperature as well as an adult

What to Do

So, what does this all mean and how does it affect what you do with your dog?

To minimize risk in hot weather, the obvious solution would be to walk or exercise your dog early in the day or later in the evening when the sun is less powerful and temperatures are lower. If you do go out during the day with your dog, then going into a treed park with lots of shade or access to a river or lake would be a great choice. If these are not an option, there are some things you can do to reduce the risk and keep your dog comfortable. Choose areas that:

– are shaded

-allow your dog to get off the pavement for the majority of the outing

– have access to water or bring along a water bottle. A dog’s primary cooling system, panting, only works if there is sufficient moisture in their system. They must have access to cool water. Without it, they can reach a critical state in a very short period.

Even when they are not exercising, in hot/humid conditions, your dog must have adequate shade and water when they are outdoors. If natural shade and water are not available, you must provide them. Having a kiddy pool is a great option for the yard.

If Your Dog Gets Overheated

It’s often difficult to recognize when a dog is overheated. Initially, the dog appears distressed and will pant excessively, their tongue will be darker than usual and they will become restless. If they continue to overheat, they may drool large amounts of saliva from the nose and/or mouth. They may become unsteady on their feet. The gums may turn blue/purple or bright red, due to inadequate oxygen. 

If you suspect your dog is overheating:

Move your dog to a shaded and cool environment, and use a fan on the dog, if possible. Drape cool, wet towels over the neck and back, as well as in the armpits, and the groin region. Wetting the ear flaps and paws with cool water will also help. Directing a fan on these wetted areas will help to speed evaporative cooling. If possible, determine rectal temperature and record it. A dog’s normal body temperature is about 38°C to 39.2°C (101-102.5°F). If it is above 39.5°C (103°F), call your veterinarian or local emergency center. A temperature above 41°C (106°F) can be life-threatening and demands immediate attention.  

Do not use cold water or ice for cooling. Tap water is more suitable for effective cooling. Be careful not to overtreat! Discontinue cooling once the rectal temperature reaches 103 degrees or the pet may become too cold. Do not force your dog to drink water, but have fresh cool water available, in case they show any interest.  

Whenever there is the slightest doubt, treat it as an emergency and seek veterinary care immediately.

Dogs are often not aware of their own needs. Like humans, they often will not feel thirsty or quit an overtaxing activity until damage has already occurred. As caregivers, the responsibility lies with us to ensure our dogs are safe. After a serious overheating episode, heat tolerance may be reduced for the remainder of the dog’s life. Using common sense and taking some additional precautions will ensure that you and your dog can enjoy all the fun that the warmer weather brings without the risks, for years to come.