Much like humans, dogs can overheat during hot weather, and they can even sometimes develop heatstroke. Unlike humans though, dogs do not sweat a great deal – which means they need to keep their bodies cool in other ways.
Let's look at how dogs cool down when they are hot, signs a dog is overheating and some tips on how to keep your dog safe in the summer heat.
How dogs cool down when hot
When humans get hot from exercise, exertion, or a hot environment, we cool down through sweat glands located all over our bodies. As the sweat evaporates from our skin, it serves to lower our temperature and make us feel cooler.
Dogs have far fewer sweat glands, and the ones they do have are mostly in areas where there is little hair, such as on their footpads and noses. Rather than profusely sweating, they cool down mostly by panting – a form of heavy breathing that causes moisture from the lungs to evaporate.
A dog’s coat also helps to insulate them from heat and protect them from sunburn. This means that while a dog grooming session is usually fine to tidy them up, it’s important not to shave off their coat in the mistaken belief that it will keep them cooler!
How to spot the signs a dog is overheating
Since you know your dog best, you’ll already know what makes them happy and excited and what can make them sad. So, if you see your dog looking distressed or withdrawn during play that would normally excite them, it might indicate they are overheating. Signs of this include drooping ears and tail and pulling back from play or walking. Be guided by your dog in this.
If your dog continues playing or exercising when they are getting hot, they could develop heatstroke, which is very dangerous. According to the RSPCA, signs of heatstroke include excessive panting, drooling, bright red tongue, fast heart rate, difficulty breathing, vomiting, confusion, seizures and coma. You should make an emergency call to your vet if you see these symptoms developing in your dog.
Note that flat-faced breeds such as pugs and bulldogs are more prone to overheating and heatstroke, so if you have one of these dogs be extra vigilant during hot weather.
5 ways to keep your dog cool in summer
While panting and coat insulation can help your dog cool down naturally, you can also help keep them cool in other ways as well.
1. Provide plenty of water
Water is not only good for preventing dehydration. You can use water in all sorts of ways to keep your dog cool during summer:
• Drinking water – make sure your dog has access to fresh cool water at all times so they can drink as they need to. Putting a few dog bowls filled with water around in different (preferably shaded) spots is a good idea too – especially if you are going to be out for a while, or if your dog is inclined to upset their bowl.
• On walks – take water with you when you exercise your dog, at least enough to last the whole walk. Some park and walking trail drinking fountains also come with built-in dog taps and bowls – check if there are any of these in your area.
• Water play – most dogs love to play in water, such as diving into a body of water to fetch a stick or ball. A dog pool can be great for this at home. Also, playing under the sprinklers has always been a favourite with Aussie kids in summer – let your dog join in the fun! Just make sure they don’t get too much water in their ears as this can lead to ear infections.
• Water as treatment – splashing with water is one of the best ways to cool down an overheated dog. If you suspect your dog is overheating, get out of the sun immediately, let them rest, and wet them with cool water.
2. Walk your dog in cooler parts of the day
Checking the weather forecast helps in planning your dog’s walks. If it’s going to be a hot day, plan to take your dog out early, or else later on in the evening. It’s also important to consider how to protect your dog’s paws during summer, such as by avoiding hot footpaths that could burn their paws, or by walking them in shaded areas or on trails. If you take your dog out in the back of a ute, they could burn their feet on the metal if it gets too hot, so make sure this won’t happen.
3. Provide shelter at home
On a really hot day it helps to keep your dog indoors and keep the air conditioner or fans running. If they are kept outside, you need to know how to keep outdoor dogs cool in summer. This can be done by providing access to shady spots and a cooling mat for your dog to lie on. Elevated dog beds are also good, as being off the ground allows the air to circulate underneath. A bowl of ice under an elevated bed can also be helpful.
4. Never leave a dog sitting in the car
Leaving a dog in a car is a big no-no. According to the RSPCA, a car can heat up to 47 degrees within an hour even on a relatively mild day. If you take your dog on summer road trips, keep the car air conditioner running and check them regularly to see they are not getting too hot.
5. Look after your dog’s fitness and health
It can be harder for an overweight dog to cool down than for a healthy-weight one. So make sure to avoid giving your dog excess treats and to work on their fitness. If your dog needs to lose weight, speak to your vet to discuss the best and safest ways to approach this.
Now that you know how to keep your dog cool in the summer, make sure to put it all into practice! And for even more ideas for looking after your pet’s needs, check out our range of pet products.