How do you cool down an overheated dog? 7 questions to ask during a heatwave
Hot pooch summer.
It has been a summer of record-breaking temperatures and heatwaves, bringing triple-digit temperatures to the US and other parts of the globe.
As we strive to stay cool, pet owners also need to keep their furry friends safe as climate-change-driven global warming worsens. Due to their thick coats and intensive outdoor activities, dogs are particularly vulnerable during hotter summers.
Inverse researched the science and spoke with veterinary experts to answer all your questions about keeping dogs cool during this sweltering summer.
7. What is the ideal indoor temperature for a dog?
“There’s no set temperature where heat becomes dangerous to our dogs,” José Arce, President-Elect of the American Veterinary Medical Association, tells Inverse.
Unsafe temperature for dogs can vary depending on certain individual dog traits, such as:
- Physical characteristics
- Underlying medical conditions
- Activity level
Arce adds, “A good benchmark is that if it’s hot for you, it’s even hotter for your pet.” So, if you feel yourself starting to sweat, you should check on your pup too.
But some veterinarians do suggest keeping an eye out for a temperature range beyond which dogs can develop heatstroke.
According to the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), if a dog’s temperature exceeds its usual range of 100 to 102.2 degrees Fahrenheit, it could be more susceptible to heatstroke.
6. How can you recognize heatstroke in a dog?
There are a few key warning signs that your dog may be experiencing heatstroke, according to the AAHA. These include:
- Significant drooling
- Excessive panting
- Fatigue or weakness
According to the Red Cross, if your pet is experiencing heatstroke, you’ll want to cool their body down below 103 degrees Fahrenheit within the first 10-15 minutes after they begin developing symptoms.
You can use a rectal thermometer to monitor temperature, but the best thing is to keep an eye out for signs that your pup is experiencing heat distress and take appropriate action immediately.
“If you notice signs of discomfort, the first step is getting the dog into a cool, shady area and offering them water to drink,” Arce says.
The Red Cross adds that failure to treat heatstroke in dogs could lead to breathing problems, kidney failure, neurological issues, or irregular heartbeat. You should take your pet to the veterinarian as soon as possible to assess if your dog has any long-term issues resulting from heatstroke.
5. What is the fastest way to cool down a dog?
Acre says that when humans are hot, we’ll often jump into a cold shower to cool off quickly, but that approach can actually be harmful to your pet.
“Cooling a hyperthermic animal too quickly can cause its blood vessels to constrict, which will make it harder to cool down,” Arce says.
Instead, Arce recommends adding “cool — but not cold — water or wet towels to their bodies and paws, and fan them to help encourage evaporation, which helps in the cooling process.”
4. How can small dogs be kept cool? Big dogs?
Dogs of varying breeds and body types adjust to hot weather differently, though it has less to do with size and more to do with other physical characteristics. In general, pets with longer or darker fur “may have extra trouble with managing heat,” Arce says.
Certain brachycephalic dogs (those with flattened or pushed-in noses) also have a harder time staying cool in hot weather due to breathing issues, making it more difficult for them to pant properly. Panting is one way that dogs stay cool during hot weather.
These brachycephalic dogs include breeds such as:
- Boston Terriers
- Shih Tzus
- Bull Mastiffs
- Lhasa Apsos
- Boxer dogs
“Pets that are older, obese, or have certain medical conditions also may be at an increased risk of heatstroke,” Arce adds. As such, these vulnerable dogs should be kept indoors with air conditioning during hot weather.
3. How can I keep my dog cool without AC?
But what if you live in a home without access to air conditioning? It becomes a little trickier, but not impossible, to keep your pup cool indoors during these circumstances.
“Much the same as with people, it’s important to keep windows open and use fans to circulate the air and help keep everyone, including pets, cooler,” Arce says.
Additionally, Arce recommends providing your dog a dark place indoors to rest and keeping them refreshed with a steady supply of water. Continually monitoring your dog is key to ensuring they don’t overheat while you’re not watching.
If you’re thinking of trimming your dog’s coat to keep them cool, Arce suggests thinking otherwise, especially if your dog possesses a double coat (a harsher topcoat of fur on top of a softer undercoat). Double-coated dog breeds include:
- Golden and Labrador retrievers
- Siberian Huskies
- Border Collies
- German and Australian Shepherd
“Shaving your dog with a double coat is not recommended. This is because dogs with double coats have protection from the elements (which includes heat),” Arce says.
Therefore, by shaving your dog, you may actually increase its chance of overheating and sunburn.
2. How can I keep an outside dog cool in the summer?
Dogs often like to play outside, but it’s also important to get ample shade and fresh water when outside during hot weather, according to Arce.
“While dogs living outdoors are typically accustomed to a wide range of temperatures, they may need extra help staying cool during a heatwave,” Arce says, suggesting that dog owners set up a “kiddie pool” for dogs to cool off during play breaks.
Arce also recommends monitoring your dogs closely during hot weather if they need to temporarily retreat indoors and escape the heat. This is especially important if your dog is accustomed to spending most of their time outdoors in a doghouse, for example.
Altadena Pet Hospital offers three other tips for generally keeping dogs cool outside:
- Do not leave your dog in a hot car — even with the windows cracked — as temperatures can quickly surpass 100 degrees.
- Take your dog for walks earlier in the day and later in the evening when temperatures are cooler. Avoid walking during the midday heat.
- Keep your dog off the hot pavement, as the asphalt can burn your dog’s paws. (You can also purchase dog booties to keep your pet’s paws cool on hot pavement).
“Walking in the early morning, avoiding dark pavement, giving pets the option to walk on the grass, and using dog booties during walks can help avoid accidental injury,” Arce says.
He also stresses the dangers of leaving a pet in a parked vehicle, as hundreds of dogs die of heatstroke in hot cars every year. (It’s also illegal in many states).
“Cracking the windows and parking in the shade make no difference. Even if you think it will just be a quick stop, leave your pet at home or postpone the errand for when your pet is not with you.”
1. Can my dog get sunburnt?
The short answer: yes. Just as your skin may burn and turn red after prolonged exposure, your dog’s fur may also get scorched by the sun. Certain dogs are more prone to sunburns, however.
“While all dogs may be susceptible, some dogs are more at risk for sunburn than others – these include hairless dog breeds, dogs with white or thin coats, and dogs with light-pigmented noses and eyelids,” Arce says.
Vetwest Animal Hospitals says to keep out for a few warning signs that could indicate your pet is suffering from sunburns:
- Dry, cracked skin
- Curling at the edges of the dog’s ears
- Scratching at irritated skin
- Whimpering or shying away when you try to pet them
- Mild fever
To prevent sunburns, Arce recommends asking your veterinarian if pet-specific sunscreen would be appropriate for your dog.
The Inverse analysis — If you monitor your dog, provide ample shade and water, and take indoor breaks when the weather is hot outside, you should be able to keep your pet cool, according to experts.
Certain dogs may have a harder time staying cool in hot weather, so consult your veterinarian if you notice any sign that your dog has trouble staying cool and breathing during hot weather.
If you follow these science-backed tips, you should be able to keep your furry pup happy and healthy no matter how high temperatures hike.