How to Keep a Pet Dog Cool on a Hot Summer Day
The Importance of Preventing Heat Problems in Dogs
Keeping a dog cool when the temperature soars is very important in order to prevent some unpleasant and even dangerous conditions. On hot days, dogs may not be able to pant fast enough to cool themselves down. Dogs don’t have sweat glands, except in small areas such as on the pads of their paws. They cool down mainly by panting, which releases evaporated water from their lungs and mouth, and by radiating heat from dilated blood vessels in their ears. If dogs overheat on a hot summer day they are at risk for developing dehydration, heat exhaustion, or even heat stroke, which can be deadly.
Misha is my black Labrador Retriever. I’m very concerned about stopping him from overheating, since his coat is dark and absorbs heat easily. Even dogs with coats that are light in colour can develop problems on hot days, however. I use a number of methods for keeping Misha cool when the temperature rises. These techniques should be helpful for other dogs, too.
Early Morning Walk and Exercise
When the weather forecast is predicting a string of very hot days, I take Misha for a walk early in the morning at around 6 or 6:30 a.m. I find that if I leave the walk to 7 a.m. the day is already too hot. Getting up so early may sound onerous for some people, but I generally have to do it for only a short period of time. Misha and I walk on trails that are still in the shade of trees as much as possible. On hot days we don’t go for the more vigorous types of walks such as hill climbing.
When I go for a walk with Misha in summer, I take a small water bowl and flask of water with me in a little backpack. The local parks have dog bowls attached to the human water fountains, which is very nice, but there's always the chance that a water fountain won't work or that Misha will get thirsty before we reach the water fountain. I also prefer to give him water from a clean water bowl instead of from the fountain bowl.
Like the dog in the photo below, Misha loves to retrieve balls. If I want to give him a ball game in the garden when the weather is hot, I play with him very early in the day. Late in the evening the heat of the day is still present and the atmosphere is too uncomfortable to give him exercise.
Getting up early to walk or exercise a dog is not always practical. Techniques such as the ones listed below therefore become very important for keeping a dog cool.
Choice of Walking Surface
There are some important points to remember about walks on hot days that some people may not think about. When a dog walks on very hot tarmac, asphalt, cement, or even sand, their paw pads may get burned. Another important thing to consider is that the body of a dog with short legs is closer to the ground than the body of one with long legs. This means that there is less chance for the heat radiating from the ground to dissipate before it strikes the body of a short-legged dog.
Since the soles of our shoes often insulate us from the heat of a walking surface, it's a good idea to touch a surface with a hand before taking a dog on to it. A common recommendation is to place a hand on hot asphalt or another surface for ten seconds. If the hand can't be left there due to discomfort, the asphalt is too hot for the dog. A natural material such as grass or earth may be a better choice for a summer walk than a sidewalk or road.
Keeping a Dog Cool During the Day
During the day I need to keep Misha cool, since we don’t have air conditioning. I put box fans where he likes to lie down. I periodically take him into the back garden to cool him down with the garden hose. (Make sure that the hose is made of a material that is safe for drinking water if you do this.) We also have a children’s padding pool to keep Misha and his Leonberger companion cool.
Inside the house, I dampen Misha down with a cold and wet towel or a spray bottle. Water bowls are distributed around the house to encourage him to drink and in case one is emptied without me noticing.
Another technique that I use to keep Misha cool is to take him to a nearby lake in my air conditioned car. The lake has an area reserved for dogs, so Misha can immerse himself in water and get thoroughly wet. He loves swimming in the lake to retrieve his ball and paddling in the shallow water when he needs a break from exercise.
It's a good idea to assess water quality and potential hazards such as ocean or river currents before a dog is allowed to enter the water. Some dogs are susceptible to experiencing ear infections after they swim in any type of water because their ears trap moisture. The ears of these dogs should be dried after they swim.
It's advisable to wash the salt off a dog's skin after he or she has been swimming in the ocean. The salt may irritate the skin. In addition, dogs shouldn't drink sea water.
Chlorine in Swimming Pools and Dog Safety
Some people enjoy swimming in a backyard pool with their dog or letting the dog swim in the pool on their own. This is certainly a great way for a pet to cool down, but chlorine in the water may be irritating for some animals. The chemical is a common pool disinfectant.
While the concentration of chlorine in swimming pools isn't dangerous for dogs under normal circumstances, it can still cause health issues. The chlorine may irritate a pet's eyes, throat, breathing passages, or skin. Another problem is that some dogs like to drink pool water, which may cause a stomach upset. It's very important that dogs don't have access to concentrated chlorine kept for use in a swimming pool. The concentrated chemical is toxic.
Safety tips around pools include the following.
- Don't leave your dog unattended in the swimming pool.
- Watch for any eye irritation in the dog (and for any difficulty in swimming or getting out of the pool).
- Place a bowl of water by the pool for your pet to drink.
- Don't allow the pet to drink water from the pool.
- Wash your dog with tap water after he or she has finished swimming.
Avoiding Overheating When a Dog is Left Alone
If a dog spends time outside on a hot day, a shady area and drinking water must be available. A garden or yard may sometimes be cooler than the inside of a home, but a dog's condition must be monitored frequently while he or she is outside. The dog should never be left outside for long periods and ignored. If a pet must be left alone indoors, thought must be given to how he or she will keep cool while the owner is away.
I never leave Misha alone in the car on a hot day, even with the windows open. The temperature inside a car can increase rapidly on a hot summer day, making the air much hotter than the surrounding environment. The interior of a car can be a dangerous place for both pets and children.
Every summer I hear the sad news that a dog has died in a hot car or was rescued too late for him or her to survive. It's very important that dogs aren't left in cars even on a day that is warm rather than hot.
Two Boxers Play With a Hose on a Hot Day
Use a Cooling Pad or Bandana to Cool a Dog Down
Some pet stores sell cooling pads and beds for dogs to lie on or cooling vests for a dog to wear. These devices contain a cavity inside that can be filled with cold water. My family has found that the pads stay beautifully cool. However, despite the manufacturer's claims about the great strength of their pads, all the ones that we've tried have eventually developed a leak at the seams.
In the past, when Misha and I have gone for a walk in hot weather he has worn a cooling bandana around his neck. This device can be bought in many pet stores. The bandana is filled with polymer crystals. When the bandana is soaked in water, the crystals absorb water and the bandana expands, so it's important to buy the right size for the dog. Water slowly evaporates from the bandana, cooling the dog down.
I haven't used a bandana for a long while. The only time that I take Misha out in very hot weather now is if there is lots of water for him to swim in. A bandana may be useful for some dogs, though.
Ice Cubes and Frozen Treats
I sometimes give Misha ice cubes to eat when it's very hot. It's an effective way to cool him down. I also put ice cubes in water bowls to cool the water down. Some people like to surround a treat with water and then freeze the combination in order to encourage the dog to eat ice on a hot day. Others create dog popsicles from ingredients such as fruit, vegetables, peanut butter, yogurt and beef, or chicken stock or bouillon.
It's a good idea to consider the sugar and salt level in frozen treats. It's also important to be careful if a frozen treat contains a food that a dog has never eaten before. Ask a vet if you have questions about an ingredient in a recipe. In addition, small quantities of a new food should be introduced at first to see how a pet responds.
There are a couple of concerns about giving a dog ice or frozen treats. It's possible that crunching on hard ice could damage a dog's teeth. The chunks of ice shouldn't be too large for the dog to swallow. The pet should be watched when chewing the ice in case a chunk gets stuck and causes choking before it melts.
Ice and Bloat
A few years ago, a rumour circulating on the Internet claimed that ice and ice water were dangerous for dogs because they could cause a potentially deadly stomach disorder called bloat. The claim resurfaces every summer. Vets say that the rumour isn't true, however. Although the cause of bloat isn't known, it has been associated with dogs eating large amounts of food or liquid very rapidly. Vets say that there is nothing special about ice that increases the risk of bloat.
According to vets, possible causes of bloat in dogs include eating rapidly, overeating, drinking too much fluid at one time, eating only one large meal a day, and stress. Some vets say that vigorous exercise right before or just after eating is also a risk factor for bloat.
What Is Bloat, Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus, or GDV?
Bloat is a very dangerous condition for a dog, so all dog owners should know something about the disorder. Bloat consists of two stages. In the first, a dog's stomach becomes distended with gas, a condition known as gastric dilatation (or sometimes gastric dilation). The expanded stomach puts pressure on the diaphragm. As in humans, a dog's diaphragm is the main muscle of breathing. As the diaphragm contracts, it moves towards the stomach in a process that expands the lungs during inhalation. If the movement of the diaphragm is blocked by an enlarged stomach, a dog may have difficulty breathing. The distended stomach may also press on a vein returning blood to the heart and interfere with blood flow.
Unfortunately, gastric dilatation is often only the first stage of bloat. In the second stage, the enlarged stomach twists on its long axis, a process known as torsion or volvulus. This action may interfere with the functioning of other organs and press on blood vessels, blocking blood flow to multiple places.
Gastric dilatation is a medical emergency. A vet may remove the gas with a tube extending down the esophagus and into the stomach or with a needle inserted into the stomach from the outside of the dog's body. The torsion stage is very dangerous and requires surgery as a treatment. It's very important to get a dog to a vet as soon as possible if bloat is suspected. The sooner the treatment begins, the better the outcome.
A Vet Describes Bloat
Any type of dog can experience bloat, but the condition is most common in large breeds with deep chests. Some of the dogs at highest risk for bloat are Great Danes, Weimaraners, Saint Bernards, Irish Setters, and German Shepherds.
Keeping a Dog Cool at Night
Misha often voluntarily goes down into the basement of our home on a very hot day. I make sure that there is water available for him there. The basement is much cooler than upstairs. If the weather is too hot for sleeping upstairs Misha and I move into the basement for the night, where we are much more comfortable. I sleep on a camp bed or an old mattress. (My dogs and I always sleep in the same room.)
Of course, not everyone has a basement to move into, so other techniques have to be used to keep a dog cool on a hot night. I find that an open window and a box fan are most effective for cooling a room without air conditioning. Box fans are getting harder to find where I live, however. Luckily, other types of powerful fans are available in some stores. Wet towels for the dog to lie on are also useful, if he or she will do this. A cooling pad for a dog bed would also help. The pet must be able to reach a water bowl during the night.
Signs of Heat Exhaustion in Dogs
If you take steps to keep your dog cool on hot days he or she should never develop heat-related illnesses, but it's good to know the signs, just in case. Old or overweight dogs and those with breathing problems are most susceptible to heat problems, but any dog can experience them.
Signs of heat exhaustion include:
- rapid and heavy panting
- increased salivation and thick saliva
- increased heart rate
- vomiting and diarrhea.
If a dog with heat exhaustion isn't cooled down and then rehydrated, the condition can progress to heat stroke, a very serious condition.
A Vet Describes How to Prevent and Treat Heat Stroke in Dogs
Signs of Heat Stroke in Dogs
Heat stroke is a dangerous condition and requires immediate attention to prevent organ damage and to save the dog's life. One sign of heat stroke is increased core body temperature. A dog's normal rectal temperature is about 100.5 to 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit (or 38 to 39.2 degrees Celsius). A rectal temperature of 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius) or higher is a medical emergency. A rectal thermometer is a useful device for a dog owner.
Other symptoms of heat stroke include the following.
- The dog may be panting extremely rapidly or may stop panting altogether.
- The gums may be dark red at first but may eventually turn pale or even develop a blue appearance (cyanosis).
- The dog may drool.
- The pulse may be rapid or irregular.
- The dog may be disoriented and uncoordinated.
- He or she may shake or experience seizures.
- He or she may collapse and be unable to get up.
- The dog may eventually lose consciousness.
First Aid for Heat Stroke
If a dog is experiencing heat stroke, immediate steps must be taken to lower his or her temperature, even before the dog is taken to a vet. According to the RSPCA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals), the following steps—or as many of them as possible—should be performed.
- Take the dog to a cool and shady place.
- Douse the pet with cool water.
- Apply wet towels to the dog's body, especially the head and inner thighs.
- Immerse the dog in a tub of cool (but not icy cold) water.
- Place a fan in front of the pet.
- Offer them cool water to drink.
It might seem logical that ice should be used to bring the dog's temperature down as quickly as possible, but some vets say that ice can constrict blood vessels and create more problems. The dog must mustn't become so cold that he or she shivers.
The dog's temperature should be checked frequently to see if it's decreasing and also to discover whether the pet is becoming too cold. The dog must be taken to a vet after first aid treatment, even if the attempt to lower the dog's temperature was successful. The visit is an emergency. The vet will continue to lower the pet's temperature if this is necessary and will also check for organ damage, which unfortunately may occur after heat stroke.
Summer can be a wonderful time for you and your dog, as long as you take steps to keep your pet cool both indoors and outdoors. You can still go for walks with your dog and he or she can still chase balls or frisbees, but you will probably need to plan exercise sessions carefully in summer. This effort is very worthwhile in order to keep your dog healthy and happy and to give both of you exercise and fun.
- Summer safety tips for dogs from ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to AnImals)
- Heat stroke symptoms and treatment from the RSPCA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals)
- Information about gastric dilatation-volvulus from the ACVS (American College of Veterinary Surgeons)
- A discussion of the myth about ice and bloat from ABC News, including quotes from two vets
Questions & Answers
© 2011 Linda Crampton