Our frisky, playful dogs love to frolic, chase, wrestle, explore, run, and go for car rides – luxuriating in the wind in their fur. As experts in creating joy and making every moment an action-packed delight, our canine BFFs adore adventuring right by our sides. In the summer, however, these simple pleasures can quickly become life-threatening when temperatures soar and the sun’s rays intensify. From roasting cars to scorching pavement and sizzling asphalt, the risks of heat-related illnesses and burns increase exponentially as the days get longer and hotter. Even the most diligent and seasoned of pet parents are not always aware of the many grave dangers summer brings.
Tragically, hundreds of dogs die every year when people leave them in parked automobiles, for instance, while countless others suffer or perish from overexertion on hot days. However, there is good news: heat-related illnesses, burned paw pads, and sunburns are all perfectly preventable. And staving off disaster before it happens is key. So here is a handy list of hot weather tips to keep dogs cool all summer long. With a little diligence and creativity, you can prevent heat-related nightmares from ever happening in the first place while having a wonderful time in the process.
Read to the end for super fun ways to entertain and chill your dogs out during a heatwave.
1. Panting Can Be Normal or a Sign of a Medical Emergency–Know the Difference
First, let’s talk about how dogs cool themselves off. Unlike humans, our canine companions aren’t covered in sweat glands. Did you know that dogs can only perspire through their paws? That’s right – they can’t claim to “glow” like we do! So panting is their primary method of thermoregulation. By exchanging warm air from their bodies with cooler air from the environment, panting helps excess heat to dissipate. Dogs’ ability to breathe rapidly and take short, quick, shallow breaths, promotes the evaporation of moisture from their tongue, throat, and respiratory tract. And as you probably know from drying off after a shower, when water evaporates, it takes away heat energy with it, lowering our body temperature. In short, our dogs’ mouth-open, tongue-out panting is their built-in air conditioning system.
For these reasons, it is quite natural for dogs to pant when they get excited, play, or run. And as long as they aren’t doing any of these things outside when it’s suffocating and oppressive, panting is usually nothing to fret over. Excessive panting, on the other hand, is often a sign that something is very wrong. Knowing the difference between healthy panting – and the kind that signals pain, emotional distress, or a serious medical condition, like heatstroke or poisoning – is a key distinction that can save your dog’s life, particularly in the summertime.
When to Worry
If you notice your dog panting suddenly or inordinately, take it seriously. Excessive panting is almost always a red flag. In particular, if they start huffing and puffing after being exposed to scorching temperatures, your dog likely has a heat-related illness and you have a very serious emergency on your hands. You need to act fast.
Excessive panting can also be a symptom of poisoning, bloat, severe anxiety, or other medical crises. If your friend starts to pant heavily out of the blue, looks distressed, or is otherwise struggling to catch their breath – especially if they have been exposed to scorching temperatures – it’s is probably time to consult the experts in fur physiology: veterinarians.
2. Avoid Heat Exhaustion and Heatstroke
There are two types of heat-related illnesses: heat exhaustion and heatstroke. Although closely related, they are two different conditions. The former is really the precursor to the latter – meaning, heat exertion happens first. The milder form of illness between the two, it is characterized by excessive panting, lethargy, drooling, and an increased heart rate. If left untreated, however, it can quickly progress to heatstroke, which is a severe and life-threatening condition. This alarming illness presents itself through more dire symptoms – including collapse, seizures, vomiting, and potential organ failure. Both heat exhaustion and heatstroke occur when a dog’s body temperature rises to dangerous levels, and neither should ever be taken lightly.
How, exactly, do dogs end up in these scorching predicaments? Heat-related illnesses are the direct result of exposing our dogs to high temperatures, prolonged physical activity, or hot environments without proper ventilation or hydration. Imagine being stuck in a sauna, but with no cool cucumber eye masks or refreshing cucumber water. This is how dogs feel in extreme heat. It is unbearable and can cost them their lives.
When dogs experience heatstroke, they might pant excessively, drool, become lethargic, or even collapse. It’s their way of saying, “Help, I’m melting!” At this point, you need to seek medical attention right away. If you suspect your dog is suffering from a heat-related illness, respond with great haste! Move them to a cooler area, wet their fur with cool (not icy) water, and offer small amounts of water to drink. Then, rush to the nearest veterinarian for proper medical attention.
NEVER Leave your Dog In a Hot Car
Above all, no matter how tempting it is to take your dog to run errands in the summer, never – and I I repeat never – leave them locked in a car on a warm day, even with the windows cracked in the shade. Shade and cracked windows rarely do anything significant to lower the temperature inside of your car. SO do not ask your dog to wait while run into the store, mail a letter, or drop of a present for a friend. Not even for 5 minutes. Doing so is the equivalent of putting your dog into a canine oven and is often fatal. Here is a handy chart to guage how hot is too hot for dogs to wait in cars. Study this chart carefully. The drastic difference between the outside temperature and the temperature inside of a car might surprise you.
For instance, it might only be a cool 60 degrees outside, but your car’s interior could quickly rise to 115 degrees under the right circumstances. That is too hot for humans and way too hot for dogs, too. Do not risk your dog’s life for a joyride under any circumstances. I promise you, it is not worth it. Simply leave them at home in the air conditioning, where they belong.
Note: If you are out and about and witness a dog stuck in a hot car, take action immediately. In some states, it is legal to break the window to save a dog. If yours is not one of them, use your judgement. Try your best to locate the dog’s guardian and if you are unsuccessful, call the police and your local animal control. If the situation is becoming urgent, weigh the options. Many of us would be willing to hazard legal ramifications to save a dog’s life.
Important note on specific at-risk breeds:
While all dogs can get heatstroke, certain breeds are at a much higher risk. Brachycephalic breeds, for example – including Bulldogs, Pugs, and Boston Terriers – have a harder time panting effectively due to their anatomy. Their squished faces and smushy noses, while adorable, make it much harder for them to keep their cool. Imagine trying to breathe in sweltering weather through a cocktail straw – it’s not the most efficient system, bless their little snorting hearts.
Our furry friends with thick, luxurious double coats, like Huskies, Malamutes, and Saint Bernards are also at an evolutionary disadvantage. Their sumptuous fur may be beautiful and envy-inducing – and great for handling the snow – but it also makes them more susceptible to heat-related woes. No one wants to wear a cozy sweater during a heatwave – and they can’t take their sweaters off. Similarly, giant dogs with thick double coats, like Newfoundlands and Bernese Mountain Dogs – the bears of the dog world – have a lot of extra fluff that works against them when the temperature rises. Take precautions not to let these at-risk breeds overheat.
3. Protect Against Burns
Hot asphalt is a catastrophe for our furry friends. When dogs prance along the asphalt, their delicate paw pads become unwitting victims of the blazing sun. The molten ground can reach temperatures that could fry an egg. Ouch! As dutiful guardians, we must protect our pooches from the perils of burned paw pads from asphalt and pavement. One way to ensure that the asphalt isn’t too hot for your dog is to do a simple test: place the back of your hand on it for seven seconds. If it is too hot for your hands and you can’t make it the entire time, it is too hot for paws, too.
Here are a few other paw-saving tips:
a. Timing is everything: Schedule your walks during cooler parts of the day. Morning or evening strolls will keep your pup’s paws from feeling like they’re walking on the surface of the sun.
b. Chase those shadows: Stick to shady areas, grassy pathways, or any surface that doesn’t transform into a griddle under the sun’s relentless gaze.
c. Dress up those paws: Consider slipping some stylish dog booties on your furry friend’s feet or try out some paw wax. It’s like giving them a trendy fashion accessory while providing insulation against the hot ground.
Likewise, protect against sunburns by applying dog-appropriate sunscreen to delicate skin, like the cute pink spots on your dog’s nose, ear tips, belly, and areas with thin or light-colored fur. Sunscreen can also help reduce your dog’s chances of getting skin cancer, so slathering this protective lotion on yourself AND your dog is a win-win.
4. Do NOT Shave Your Dog
I know this sounds counterintuitive, but hear me out…never shave your double-coated dog! Well-meaning humans believe that giving their dog a fashionable summer cut will help cool them down, but this is grave a misconception with serious consequences. In fact, depriving your dog of their fur coat will only cause more harm. With the exception of preparing for a medical procedure or removing severe mats – shaving is unnecessary and actually puts your dog at greater risk for heat exhaustion, heatstroke, and sunburns.
This is because their dense undercoats, the soft and fluffy layer beneath the guard hair, plays a vital role in heat regulation. Undercoats act as protective insulation in both hot and cold weather. In the former, the undercoat helps to trap cool air close to the skin, serving as a natural barrier against searing temperatures. It also serves as a layer of protection against the sun. When the temperature rises and the sun gets sizzling, dogs’ coats actually help to keep them calm, cool, and collected, all while staving off nasty sunburns.
It is fine and even advisable to get your dog professionally groomed to thin out their heavy coats, but never take them off entirely.
5. Learn to Have Fun in the Sun
Now that we have talked about all the dangers to avoid and gotten the negative stuff out of the way…let’s turn to all of the fun you and your dogs can have together, even when it is sweltering. You probably already know how much dogs love to play with water. So why not indulge in some wet and wild adventures? It is easy and fairly inexpensive to transform your backyard into a canine water park. Just set up a kiddie pool, splash pad, or sprinkler. It’s like having a mini tropical oasis right in your own yard! If your dog is a social butterfly, you can even invite some other dogs over to join in on the amusement.
Another delightful way to keep dogs cool is to prepare frozen treats – or pupsicles. There are plenty of nutritious and delicious recipes online. Just make sure you use only canine-friendly ingredients like yogurt, pureed fruits, peanut butter, low-salt bone broth, and other non-sugary items. After freezing, these homemade snacks become as refreshing as they are scrumptious. If your dog is watching calories, you can also just soak their toys in water, place them in a plastic bag, and freeze them overnight. The next day, your dog will relish the challenge of retrieving the toys from the icy blocks, resulting in a chilly and entertaining playtime.
Lastly, cooling mats or bandanas for dogs can also bring relief. These innovative products utilize cooling technology to regulate your dog’s body temperature. Place a cooling mat in a shady spot or wrap a cooling bandana around thier neck to instantly bring their body temperature down a notch or two.
Finally, go enjoy summertime with you pupper!
Oh! And share these valuable hot weather tips for keeping dogs cool all summer long with your friends and family who have and love dogs. Together, we can make sure our canine kids stay happy and healthy all year round.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Reddogs/Shutterstock.com
Ready to discover the top 10 cutest dog breeds in the entire world?
How about the fastest dogs, the largest dogs and those that are -- quite frankly -- just the kindest dogs on the planet? Each day, AZ Animals sends out lists just like this to our thousands of email subscribers. And the best part? It's FREE. Join today by entering your email below.
Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.