Summer means vacation, relaxation, and fun in the sun, but the high temperatures can put your dog in danger of heat exhaustion. To make sure all your four-legged family members stay safe and cool this summer, read on to learn how to prevent, detect, and treat heat exhaustion.
What Is Heat Exhaustion?
Heat exhaustion, also called hyperthermia, occurs when your pet’s body temperature rises above a healthy range and they are unable to regulate their own body heat. This condition ranges from mild heat exhaustion, which can be treated at home, to severe heatstroke, at which point your pet can lose consciousness, run a high fever, or even experience organ failure.
Because dogs primarily pant rather than sweat, they are much more sensitive to heat than humans are. Luckily, heat exhaustion is easily preventable—even in the dog days of summer.
How to Prevent Heat Exhaustion
1. Never leave your dog inside a parked car. Even for just a minute. Even with the windows cracked. Every year, hundreds of dogs left inside parked cars suffer heatstroke and die. Remember, your dog is more sensitive to heat than you are!
On an 80-degree day, the temperature inside a parked car can reach 100 degrees in 10 minutes. On a 90-degree day, it can reach 110 degrees in 10 minutes—and 130 degrees in 30 minutes. This can be fatal.
2. Make sure your dog doesn’t stay outside too long. If your dog spends a lot of time outdoors, make sure they have plenty of water and cool, shady areas to rest in, and bring them indoors during peak temperature hours.
3. Avoid walking your dog during peak temperature hours. If possible, walk your dog in the morning or evening to avoid the hottest hours of the day. Bring water with you on long walks and take breaks in shaded areas if needed. Also, consider taking shorter walks and avoiding steep hills or other areas that require more strenuous exercise.
4. Keep your house cool. Many people turn off the AC when they leave the house to save money, but just like a parked car, your house’s interior temperature can rise rapidly on a hot day. If you have to leave your dog at home, keep the AC on (even at a conservative 75 degrees) or set up multiple electric fans to keep certain areas cool.
5. Make sure your dog has enough water. The only place dogs have sweat glands is on the pads of their feet, so they regulate their body heat by panting, resting, and drinking water. Always keep their water bowls full!
6. Board your dog during your summer vacation. While it may be tempting to leave your dog at home and have someone come check in a few times a day, this can be downright dangerous during the summer. Even leaving your dog with friends or family can be risky if your dog sitters are not informed about heat exhaustion. Boarding facilities can give your furry friend lots of attention—and keep them cool and safe during the hottest months.
7. Know your dog’s medical history. If your dog is older or has conditions such as heart disease, obesity, or breathing problems, it’s even more imperative to keep them cool.
How to Detect Heat Exhaustion
Keep an eye out for these common symptoms of heat exhaustion and heatstroke:
1. Excessive panting or difficulty breathing. If your dog is panting constantly or faster than normal (hyperventilation), they could be overheated. Dogs with flat faces like pugs are more susceptible to heat exhaustion because they cannot pant as efficiently.
2. Dehydration. Signs of dehydration include dry nose, visible tiredness, excessive panting, and sunken eyes.
3. Excessive drooling. Keep an eye out for lots of drool, or drool that is thicker and stickier than usual.
4. Fever. If your dog’s nose is dry and hot instead of wet and cool, they could have a fever. A body temperature above 103°F is considered abnormal.
5. Bright red, gray, purple, or bluish gums. If your dog’s gums are a different color than normal, they could be dehydrated.
6. Lack of urine. If your pet has trouble producing urine, they could be dehydrated or overheated.
7. Rapid pulse. The easiest way to take your dog’s pulse is to place your hand on their chest near their front elbow joint. If their pulse seems elevated, they could be overheated. (Normal pulse rate depends on the size of your dog—bigger dogs tend to have slower pulses, while small dogs and puppies have very quick pulses.)
8. Muscle tremors. If your dog is shivering or shaking regardless of outside temperature, it may be caused by heat exhaustion.
9. Lethargy or weakness. Overheating can cause dogs to nap more than normal or having trouble standing up or walking.
10. Vomiting or diarrhea. Abnormally soft stool, or stool with blood in it, is a big warning sign for heat exhaustion.
11. Dizziness. If your dog seems to have trouble walking in a straight line or keeps bumping into furniture, they might be lightheaded from dehydration or heat exhaustion.
These are the most common and easily detectable symptoms of heat exhaustion, but there are many more. If your dog is acting at all sick, tired, or otherwise abnormal during the hot summer months, don’t ignore it!
When in doubt, call your local vet. Keeping your dog safe and healthy is the most important thing.
How to Treat Heat Exhaustion
1. Take your dog to a cooler area (preferably indoors) immediately.
2. Lower their body temperature by wetting them thoroughly with cool water. Do not use cold water! It seems counterintuitive, but cooling too quickly can actually be just as dangerous as heat exhaustion. For very small dogs or puppies, use lukewarm water instead of cool.
3. Apply more cool water around their ears and paws. This helps reduce fever.
4. Put them in front of a fan to dry off. If you have a pet thermometer handy, check their temperature every few minutes (note: don’t use a glass thermometer that your dog might bite and break). Once their temperature drops to 103 degrees (F), remove the fan and stop applying water.
5. As they continue to cool down, provide them with small amounts of lukewarm or cool water to drink. Again, notcold water, and no ice!
6. Call your veterinarian as soon as possible. Even if your dog seems to be recovering, they may need to be monitored for shock, dehydration, kidney failure, and other possible complications of heat exhaustion. Your vet will be able to advise you about next steps.
If your dog loses consciousness or seems severely ill (vomiting, seizing, etc.) get to a veterinary hospital immediately.
Summer can be a lot of fun for your and your pets—all it takes is a little extra attention and care. If you have any questions or concerns about heat exhaustion or caring for your dog in the summer, please contact your veterinarian.