Summertime is outdoor fun time for our dogs who love to play, walk, and explore with us from dawn to dusk. However, high heat and humidity can be quite dangerous for them. Before you head outside with your pooch, here's what to know about heat exhaustion in dogs and how to protect your pup from the hot temps.
Do Dogs Get Heat Exhaustion?
People get sick from the heat and so do dogs. Dogs are more susceptible to heat exhaustion than people because of how the canine natural cooling system works. "Rather than sweating like people do, dogs primarily pant or try things like lying on a cool surface to bring their body temperature down. However, that may not be sufficient in some situations and a potentially serious health situation could develop," says Susan Boeving, DVM, from Southlake Crossing Animal Clinic in Southlake, Texas.
Signs and Symptoms of Heat Exhaustion in Dogs
Overheating symptoms vary, but all are red flags. According to the ASPCA, watch for signs such as:
Excessive panting or difficulty breathing
Increased heart and respiratory rate
Stupor or collapsing
How to Tell the Difference Between Heat Exhaustion vs. Heatstroke
"We don't necessarily differentiate between heat exhaustion and heatstroke in dogs because responses to elevated body temperature may vary," Boeving says.
"Your dog's breed, body condition, underlying medical conditions, and environmental conditions all affect how well he tolerates an increase in temperature," she explains. "For example, if your dog overheats and his temperature rises from the norm of 101 to 102 degrees to over 105 degrees, he may experience heatstroke and potentially die. But some dogs with the same temperature may be fine after spending time in a cool room with water."
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How to Treat a Dog with Heat Exhaustion
"If your dog shows signs of overheating, move him to a cool space. Wet his body down with towels presoaked with cool—not cold or icy—water, and keep his head elevated so no water enters his nose or mouth," Boeving says. "Repeat this process until his temperature drops to 103 degrees. Avoid ice baths, ice packs, or cooling your pet too quickly. These practices can cause the blood vessels to constrict which actually slows heat loss."
Boeving advises giving your dog cool water to drink, but not an excessive amount (or he may vomit), and refraining from giving him aspirin or other human medications unless instructed by a veterinarian.
She also recommends calling your veterinarian or emergency animal clinic for additional guidance (like how to check for signs of shock) and then heading there for further help. Even if your dog seems better, he needs to be checked for internal damage, likely treated for lost fluids, and then monitored for complications.
Long-Term Effects of Heat Exhaustion in Dogs
"Dogs can recover from heat exhaustion, and many dogs whose condition advances to heatstroke can recover completely, too," Boeving says. "However, long-term medical problems can occur. For example, heatstroke can affect all of the major organs potentially causing kidney, heart, and neurological problems; and blood clots. The best way to minimize complications and improve your pet's chances for a full recovery is to have him seen by your veterinarian as soon as there are concerns about overheating."
Preventing Heat Exhaustion in Dogs
To protect your dog on hot, humid days, Boeving suggests keeping these tips in mind.
Schedule walks and playtime for early morning or late evening when it's a bit cooler, or restrict activities to indoors. When your dog goes outside, don't let them stay out for long and watch for symptoms of overheating.
Factor in your dog's breed and health. Brachycephalic (flat-faced) dog breeds like pugs and bulldogs and dogs that are older, overweight, or not acclimated to heat are at greater risk for heat exhaustion. Same goes for hairless dogs and dogs who have long, thick coats or short, thin coats.
When outside, take breaks in the shade. Encourage your dog to drink water as panting increases dehydration. To make that more manageable on-the-go, pack a collapsible water bowl that folds up in your pocket or clips to your backpack.
On hot days, swap walks for splashing around in a pet pool or let your dog run through the water sprinkler. Or better yet, find something fun indoors to do together for exercise.
Don't leave your dog in a car during hot weather. According to The Humane Society of the United States, all it takes is 10 minutes—on an 85 degree day—for the temperature in a car to reach 102 degrees. And that's with the windows opened slightly.