Caring for dogs in hot weather

Jonathan Goodall / 12 August 2015 ( 26 July 2019 )

It can’t be easy wearing a fur coat all summer, and dogs can’t tell us when they’re feeling the heat. It’s up to us to watch them closely for signs of heatstroke.

Spot the signs of heatstroke

Lethargic, unresponsive behaviour, bloodshot eyes, a red tongue, excessive panting and drooling are all signs that your dog is overheating. Dogs do not sweat through their skin, but only through the pads of their feet. Panting releases heat through the evaporation of moisture (saliva) from their extended tongues.

Which dogs are most at risk?

Most dogs begin to show signs of overheating at temperatures of 27C and above but some are more susceptible. The short noses and flat faces of brachycephalic (snub-nosed) breeds like bulldogs, pugs and Pekingese inhibit efficient panting, and thus cooling. Breeds with undercoats, like German shepherds, Pomeranians and huskies are also more prone to overheating. Small dogs overheat quicker than large ones, with older, overweight dogs more at risk.

How to cool your pooch

In the heat, think feet. Cooling your dog’s paws (see above) is always a good starting point. Take them paddling or set up a tub of water they can stand in. If you spray them with water make sure it gets under the belly, between the legs and under the tail (where the major blood vessels are located), not just on their back.

Wrap them up in, or let them lie on wet towels but cool them gradually with cool, not cold, water to avoid causing shock. Some pet shops sell gel-filled cooling mats for indoor cooling without a watery mess.

Never leave dogs alone in parked cars

Not even for a few minutes with the windows open. You might get delayed and car interiors can soar to dangerously high – even fatal – temperatures in minutes. It’s not illegal to leave dogs in parked cars but owners will be prosecuted if an animal is seen to be suffering. When driving, leave windows slightly open or use the air-conditioning.

Find out about travelling in the car with your dog

Walk early or late

In hot weather it’s time to ease back on the exercise, and maybe manage your dog’s exertions by keeping him on a leash. Before 8am and after 5pm are best for walkies; no self-respecting wolf would go out hunting in the mid-day sun. Vetsnow recommend caution when walking a dog at 20-23C, and extreme caution at 24-27C, with an 8/10 risk rating. Anything higher has a very high risk of being life threatening. 

Hot pavements, road surfaces and sand can seriously burn a dog’s pads. If you can’t hold your palm on a pavement for 15 seconds it’s too hot. Doggie boots can be a pad-saving accessory for city-dwelling mutts in the summertime.

Provide plenty of fresh, clean water

It’s painfully obvious but especially important. Plastic bottles with attached drinking trays, available from pet shops, are great for walks and car journeys. Plop a few ice cubes into the water bowl at home. Freeze low-salt beef or chicken broth in ice-cube trays for a cool treat but give them only a few at a time, as too many can shock the system. In hot weather water and food should be changed regularly.

Give them a trim

Longhaired breeds might benefit from a summer trim but never cut the fur shorter than one inch as this will increase the chances of sunburn. Double coated dogs can have their undercoat thinned.

Bring dogs indoors

Even outside dogs should spend the hottest time of day indoors.

Let them dig

When they are outdoors, provide a shady spot and a space for them to dig. Dogs dig dens to stay cool in.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.