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How to Keep Your Dog Cool To Avoid Heatstroke

Dogs love summer just as much as humans, but they need our help to stay cool, safe, and healthy. Our experts know how to keep your dog cool and have methods to share with you.

Alison Frost

Author: Alison Frost

Edited By: Anna Bain

How to Keep Your Dog Cool To Avoid Heatstroke

For dog owners, the record-setting temperatures this summer raise an important question: how to keep their dogs cool. Whilst humans can escape the heat in a number of ways, our dogs need a little more help than we sometimes realise, but it’s not always easy knowing how to do this. 

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A dog’s body temperature takes more effort to control, which makes it easier for them to fall victim to health concerns like heat stroke. However, there are plenty of ways we can help our canine family members to enjoy their summer, too. If you’re wondering how to keep dogs cool this summer, this article will answer some of your most important questions. 

How heat affects dogs 

Dogs respond differently to hot temperatures than humans do, and the only place they can sweat from is their paw pads, which doesn’t really dissipate much heat. Instead of relying on sweating to cool off, they pant, which makes the water from their tongues, mouths, and upper respiratory tracts evaporate. This evaporation process dispels heat, allowing dogs to cool themselves off. 

A dog can be overwhelmed by heat much faster than a human, causing their behaviour to change in a few ways. They might seem grumpier than normal, be less interested in their food, or respond differently to being touched when they’re too warm. Certain groups of dogs like puppies, brachycephalic breeds (those with shorter muzzles), older dogs, dogs with health issues, and overweight dogs may have an even harder time regulating their temperature.  

Why sunlight is still important  

Although it’s important not to overexpose your dog to heat, a certain amount of sunlight is beneficial – and actually necessary – for keeping dogs healthy. Since they are a diurnal species (most active during the day), dogs require exposure to the sun in order for their biorhythms to perform as they should. One of the more well-known of these biorhythms is the Circadian rhythm , the process that controls your dog’s sleep/wake cycles.[1] 

The Circadian rhythm can be thrown off balance if dogs don’t have exposure to sunlight during the day, affecting their ability to sleep well throughout the night. While keeping dogs cool during the summer months is obviously important, you can still allow them access to the sun’s benefits. Even a small amount of sunlight in the early morning, mid-afternoon, and evening can be sufficient to allow your dog’s Circadian rhythm to remain on track. 

How to keep your dog cool, comfortable, and hydrated 

Although we can’t control the weather, we can still help our dogs stay safe and comfortable when the temperature heats up. Things like keeping them inside, keeping the house cool, and making sure they have access to water are the more obvious actions to take, but there are plenty of other ways, too. The following suggestions are helpful for keeping dogs cool, healthy, and happy during times of excessive heat:  

Colder raw food 

Feeding your dog a raw food diet provides more moisture than a dry diet, which is great for keeping your dog hydrated. Further, feeding them their raw food cold (versus at room temperature) will assist them to cool from the inside. You could also try popping some natural dog treats into the fridge or freezer and feeding them to your dog.

Provide electrolytes 

Electrolytes are key when it comes to hydration, so replacing the ones your dog loses to the heat helps keep their levels balanced. Bone broth is an excellent source of electrolytes and can be given cold, or even frozen, to satisfy your dog’s hydration needs, as well as helping them stay cool. 

Use cooling mats or jackets 

Another great way to keep dogs cool is through external sources, like a cooling jacket or cooling mat. These are super helpful on extra hot days, are easily found online, and don’t usually cost too much. Just be careful not to overuse them, as prolonged exposure might cause your dog’s temperature to drop too low, which can cause a different set of problems.

You can also soak towels in cold water for your dog to lie on, or douse your pup throughout the day in lieu of these products. Be sure not to cover them with a wet towel though, as this produces a sauna-like effect. 

Encourage water play 

Most dogs love water, which is why it’s a terrific way to keep them cool! A paddling pool in the garden, a trip to the beach, or access to your home’s sprinkler system provides both a fun activity and a cooling source for your dog on hot days. It also provides a boost of hydration for them, as they’re likely to lap up the water as they’re playing (but don’t let them drink salt water at the beach, or too much water!). 

Grooming 

For dogs with longer or thicker fur, cutting their coats short during the summer can help keep them cool. This way they won’t have to work so hard at regulating their temperature, and they’ll be more comfortable when the weather heats up. If you’d rather not cut their coat short, brushing regularly will remove excess hair, which also contributes to keeping them cooler. It’s important to note, though, that double-coated breeds (like huskies, collies, and labs) actually benefit from their extra thick coats and would have a harder time cooling off without them.

Change your walking routine 

Walking during the earlier or later hours of the day will allow your dog their much-needed exercise while also keeping them cool. Going out in the morning or evening hours (or both) is much better than hitting the road in the middle of the day, which can expose your dog to excess heat as well as burning their paws on the hot ground. 

What not to do with dogs in hot weather

When considering how to keep dogs cool, it’s also important to know what activities should be avoided in hot weather. The fact that dogs can heat up faster than humans is not universally known, so it’s common for dog owners to make innocent mistakes that can be detrimental to their dogs’ health. Here’s what to avoid during hot weather: 

Don’t leave dogs in the car 

The inside of a car can reach triple-digit heat in just a few minutes on hot days. Dogs left alone in cars during warmer temperatures can begin to overheat quite quickly, which raises the risk of heatstroke in dogs. Leaving dogs home on hot days is the best way to avoid this, or at the very least, going out early or late in the day when it’s not hot outside. 

No vigorous exercise  

Since dogs pant to cool down when it’s hot as well as when they’re exercising, vigorous exercise is not a good idea during the heat of the day, unless you’re doing something like swimming. Activities like playing fetch, running, and agility work will only increase their body temperature faster, as well as increase their risk of dehydration [2]. These exercises are best left for cooler weather, or at least early in the day before the sun gets too hot. 

Don’t walk on hot surfaces 

Surfaces like concrete, gravel, and sand get too hot for the paw pads on dogs’ feet, causing painful burns and blisters. Exercising your dog on cooler surfaces like grass is ideal in warm weather. Otherwise,  you can take your canine pal for his/her daily walk early in the morning or later in the evening. If you’re unsure whether surfaces are too hot, place the palm of your hand on the ground for 5 seconds. If it’s too hot for your hand, it’s too hot for your dog’s paws, so schedule your walk for a later time. 

Symptoms of heatstroke in dogs 

Heatstroke can lead to a host of health concerns for dogs and is very distressing to them to go through, both physically and mentally. Needless to say, it should be avoided at all costs! Keeping dogs cool in hot weather isn’t always possible, however, and accidents can happen. If you’re ever in a situation where you’re concerned about heat stroke, here are the symptoms to watch for: 

Early Signs 

  • Heavier panting than normal 
  • Excessive drooling  
  • Dry mucous membranes (underside of the lip) 
  • Bright red gums and tongue 
  • Rapid heart rate 
  • Skin that’s hot to the touch 
  • Hyperactivity 

Severe signs 

  • Pale mucous membranes 
  • White or blue gums 
  • Hyperventilation 
  • Dilated pupils 
  • Muscle tremors 
  • Lethargy/unwillingness to move  
  • Losing control of bladder/bowel 
  • Collapsing 

What to do if heat stroke happens 

When dogs suffer heat stroke the most important thing is to cool them down. The most obvious thing to do might be to plunge them into cold water, but this is actually dangerous: changing their temperature too quickly can cause them to go into shock, creating a whole list of other issues unnecessarily. Instead, these things will bring their temperature down safely: 

Get them to a cooler place 

First things first, get your dog out of the heat. A shady spot outside or bringing them indoors will allow them relief from the hot sun and begin the cooling process. If they’re too lethargic to walk, carry them, or ask someone stronger to help you do it if you can’t. 

Get them wet (but not too cold) 

Begin spraying or sponging cool to tepid water over the dog’s body so as not to overwhelm their system. You can offer them this water to drink as well, which will help to start the rehydration process.

Give them some air 

Increasing the airflow directed towards your dog through fans or open windows will help them to cool off as well, while maximising the cooling effect of the water. Even if you can’t get them wet yet, the fans or natural breeze will help to start bringing their temperature down.  

Get them to the vet 

If you suspect heatstroke in the slightest, call your vet for advice asap.  The early signs of heatstroke can be subtle, but you’ll recognise the difference in your dog. If your dog is showing any of the symptoms listed above – especially the severe signs – it’s possible that they’ll need fluids, oxygen, and/or medication to prevent any further health complications, so taking them to the vet is the best course of action.  

Keeping dogs cool makes summer enjoyable for all

Whilst it may seem like a lot to take in, keeping dogs cool during summer is essential to their wellbeing. Not only that, but it allows you and your dog to enjoy your summer without worrying whether you’re harming your best friend! Using the suggestions listed in this article will help both you and your canine pal have a stress-free, enjoyable summer. 

References

  1. Barbara A. Murphy (2013). A bark in time: Identification of a canine circadian clock marker. The Veterinary Journal 196, p. 288-289 doi: 10.1016/j.tvjl.2013.02.013
  2. Emily J. Hall, Anne J. Carter, Dan G. O’Neill (Jul 2020). Dogs don’t just die in hot cars—exertional heat-related illness (heatstroke) is a greater threat to UK dogs. National library of medicine, animals (basel), vol 10 issue 8 doi: 10.3390/ani10081324

Image credit: Zozz@Pixabay

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