Most dogs like lying in sunny spots and playing outside. In the hot summer months, you may need to look after your dog and keep him from overheating (hyperthermia). Yes, they do overheat. Dogs don’t get to remove their coat the way we can take off layers of clothes. To prepare for when your dog might need it, you should know how to cool down a dog.
A deeper look into how dogs deal with excess heat revealed that dogs can only sweat a little in areas that aren’t covered in fur. Simply put, your furry friend doesn’t have effective natural cooling mechanisms; when the temperatures soar, it can become very inconvenient and distressing for your pooch. So, what do you do to help him? We did further research in order to acquaint you with all the information you need to help your dog cool down and prevent potential health problems.
Nothing is as bad as your pooch succumbing to heat-related problems. This guide contains everything you need to know from how to diagnose overheating to how to cool down a dog that is overheating, and how to prevent overheating in dogs.
How to Diagnose Overheating in Dogs
A dog can get overheated due to various factors. It is very important to differentiate between overheating and a fever. For overheating to be interpreted as a fever, other symptoms must manifest, such as lethargy, a runny nose, shivering, and coughing.
If your dog is overheated but not feverish, he will probably have a dry nose and keep to shaded areas or indoors.
Overheating in the dog can be caused by various factors such as:
- Prolonged exposure to the hot sun
- High AC temperatures in the house
- Stress or too much exercise
What Natural Mechanisms Do Dogs Use to Cool Down?
Before we get into how to cool your dog, it is important to understand their natural cooling mechanisms and their limitations. Here are various ways dogs cool down when it’s hot:
If you own a pooch, you’ve probably seen him panting when there is too much heat. Contrary to what many may think and believe, your dog’s tongue doesn’t have sweat glands. So, how do dogs cool down?
All mammals use some form of water cooling whereby liquid is converted to gas, then evaporates into the air, leaving the skin cool. Dogs achieve this by panting with their mouths wide open and tongues dropping out.
With the mouth open and a red tongue sticking out, the moisture on the tongue is able to evaporate into the atmosphere, taking with it the heat from your dog’s body. Secondly, the heavy breathing in this process enables moisture to evaporate from the moist lining of the lungs of your canine friend.
This is a process which causes blood vessels to widen, resulting in increased blood flow and lowered blood pressure. When it’s hot, your dog and many other animals undergo vasodilation. The blood vessels in his ears and face expand (dilate), and more blood gets to flow closer to his skin.
This allows heat to be transferred to the cooler environment outside. If you look at the bare skin areas of your dog, you will notice a special dense network of blood vessels. This kind of heat exchange occurs in areas such as the ears and the underbelly, where the skin is thin. Pretty amazing, right?
Despite being covered with fur all over, dogs sweat too. This may sound good, but it’s not really; you need to use other methods to help him cool down because this kind of sweating isn’t very effective. This is because dogs lack specific sweat glands known as eccrine glands that are found all over the human body.
In dogs, these sweat glands are only found on the undersides of their paws—you may have noticed your canine friend leaving wet footprints behind in your house on a hot day.
So what is the purpose of this sweat gland if they aren’t effective in helping him cool down? Well, the sweat produced by these glands is used to provide traction and increase friction when dogs are strolling on a smooth surface like a tiled floor.
How to Measure Your Dog’s Temperature
Measuring your dog’s temperature is important because it helps you to know when he is overheating so as to control his cooling and also to avoid lowering his temperature beyond the normal level.
Your vet will tell you that to take accurate readings of your dog’s temperature, it should be done on his rectum. Well, it’s unpleasant, but your dog can get used to it as long as you start at an early age.
First, get a digital thermometer. It should be designed to be used for dogs only. You also need to have a lubricant for the thermometer. Since the dog won’t be very comfortable with you on his rear end, you should have another person to help you. They can hold your dog’s neck and keep him still.
You will then lift your dog’s tail, and gently push in the lubricated thermometer to a depth of about one inch. Press the start button and wait for a signaling beep that indicates completion.
NOTE: Don’t take your dog’s temperature orally—you may get bitten, plus the method doesn’t provide accurate readings.
Your dog’s normal body temperature should be 101.5 degrees Fahrenheit. If his temperature is around 103 to 106 degrees, that is moderate heating. Beyond 106 degrees is overheating, and it can lead to heatstroke.
See Also: Best Dog Thermometer
What Conditions are Associated with Overheating in Dogs?
As we have seen above, the cooling mechanisms in dogs are very limited and not as effective as ours. Hyperthermia in dogs can lead to serious health issues. Let’s take a look at some of them.
This is excess loss of your dog’s body fluids. It involves losing water as well as depletion of essential minerals (body electrolytes) such as sodium, chloride, and potassium.
Dehydration is dangerous because it can lead to depression, hypersensitivity, involuntary contraction of muscles, irreversible kidney damage, joint complications, or even death in severe cases. Signs and symptoms of dehydration in dogs include:
- Lethargy and increased panting
- Sunken eyes and dry mouth
- Dry nose and gums
- Loss of appetite and depression
- Loss of skin elasticity
The above signs are easy to detect. If you are not sure of the condition, there is a more accurate method of diagnosing dehydration; you can pinch your dog’s skin between your thumb and forefinger, and if it springs back to its original position, your dog is well hydrated. If he isn’t, the skin will take longer to return to its original position.
When puppies, toy dog breeds (and those with shortened faces), and nursing mothers overheat, they have an increased risk of getting dehydrated. It is therefore very important that you keep them cool. If your dog is seriously dehydrated, seek immediate medical attention from a vet.
Your dog can get heatstroke when his body temperature gets to 109°F or higher. Heat stroke is very dangerous because his body cells will rapidly start dying. Your dog’s brain will swell, which can lead to seizures. All this can happen in a few minutes.
Additionally, due to the lack of blood supply to his GI tract, heatstroke can also cause ulcers.
Heatstroke mostly affects dogs that are left in cars with the windows locked and in the first summer weeks before dogs get accustomed to high temperatures. It is very difficult to assess heatstroke in the early stages because the dog mostly pants, which is normal. That said, be on the lookout for a combination of these signs:
- Rapid panting and breathing (breathing distress)
- Muscle tremors
- Mental confusion
- Lethargy and seizures
- Little to no urine production
Chances of your dog getting heatstroke in the summer can be increased by other predisposing factors such as:
- Your dog being obese
- Having breathing difficulties/respiratory conditions such as laryngeal paralysis or collapsing trachea
- Neurological diseases
- Cardiovascular diseases (heart problems)
- Age (puppies or very old dogs)
- Thick coats
- Excessive exercise
How to Cool Down a Dog
To prevent dehydration and heatstroke, it is very important to help your dog cool down. How can you achieve this?
#1: Find Your Pooch Some Shade
The first step should always be to get away from the sun, which is making him overheat. If you are near a building, you can get him inside (this is the best shade) or under a tree, if in the open. For dogs, even a small shade under a small plant can be helpful.
As a reliable dog owner, you should always have a portable shade like an umbrella when going out with him, especially during summer. At home, you can build your dog a shaded place in the yard that he can lie under when it’s hot outside. You can also invest in pop up canopies that come with a mist function.
#2: Use Mist
Using mist is a gentle way of helping your dog cool down. It’s also a clever way of reducing water wastage.
Additionally, mist prevents injuries that would otherwise be caused by high-pressure hosepipes. For a simple mister, get a small quart-sized sprayer with an attached fan.
#3: Use a Fan
You can take your dog near a fan and let him enjoy the breeze. This will help him reduce his body temperature easily through vasodilation. It will also help to evaporate the water from your dog’s tongue faster due to increased airflow.
#4: Place a Wet Towel or Blanket on Him
A wet towel strategically placed on your pooch will also help in cooling him down. Make sure the towel touches his ears, neck, underarm, belly, and groin. To increase effectiveness, you can keep the towel in the freezer.
#5: Provide Your Pooch with a Cold Drink
Similar to how you use a cold drink to cool down, your dog can also benefit from the same. Put some cold water in a bowl for your dog. Drinking it will help him lower his body temperature. Some dogs don’t fancy cold water, though; try adding a splash of chicken broth or carrot juice to encourage him to drink.
If your dog doesn’t have a problem with cold water, you can add some ice chips. Always let your pooch drink as much water as he wants.
#6: Give Your Dog Frozen Treats
You can also exploit your dog’s love for food to cool him down. When you are out for your walks, buy or carry him frozen treats that have high water content. Ice cream, popsicles, and even frozen juice bars for dogs are available in local pet stores.
As you are grabbing a cool refreshing smoothie, you can share it with your dog too as long as it contains healthy ingredients. Using treats is one of the best ways to keep your dog cool, relaxed, and happy when overheated.
See Also: Homemade Dog Ice Cream
#7: Make Him Take a Dip in a Dog Pool or a Water Body
You can offer your dog a pool with shallow cool water and enough playing space. There are dog splash pools that are sold specifically for this. If you are out, you can dip him in a lake or a pool. However, precaution should be taken because reducing his body temperature rapidly when he is bordering on heatstroke can cause more damage.
Lowering his surface temperature abruptly will increase heating in his internal organs, causing more internal damage. So how should you do it? Start by dipping his feet gently; let him stand there for a while before taking him deeper slowly. Do not leave your dog unattended in the pool and also avoid submerging his head to prevent aspiration pneumonia.
#8: Provide Your Dog with a Cool Surface to Lie On
It’s no secret; dogs are smart. You may have noticed your dog lying on cool tiled floor during the summer months or when it is warm at night. This is a genius move of cooling through contact with the surface. So, if your dog overheats during the summer, you can get him to a place with a cold floor and let him lie there to cool off.
#9: Use Cooling Gear
There are various cooling gear invented for dogs. If you are going to take your dog on a walk, you can buy him dog boots that protect him from hot pavements and excessive heat on surfaces he walks on.
You can also buy him a cooling vest or collar. That’s not all; there also exist cooling beds where he can cool off on his own, day or night.
#10: Visit a Veterinary Clinic
If the overheating is really serious, you can use the above points as first aid measures then rush him to a vet who can provide specialized reliable treatment. Your vet will treat your dog by:
- Replacing lost fluids and minerals (electrolytes)
- Providing supplemental oxygen
- Providing your dog with cooling treatments such as cooling enemas
- Putting your dog on a drip for intravenous fluids
- Doing some blood tests to determines if the organs are functioning properly
How to Prevent Overheating in Dogs
When it comes to overheating and heatstroke in dogs, prevention is much better than trying to salvage the situation. This is because once your dog has reached a stage that he shows signs of heatstroke, the damage is often already done. Here are some ways to prevent overheating:
- Provide access to fresh drinking water.
- Avoid leaving your dog in a car; car temperatures rise very fast
- Clothe him in protective gear to protect him from overheating and sunburns
- Provide your dog with reliable shade
- Provide him with cool spots where he can lie down
- Refrain from exercising and taking him outdoors on hot days.
- Keep your dog from areas with high humidity—it acts against his panting
- If you have a dog with lots of fur, remove any mats and tangles
If your pooch has a long coat, you can give him a summer cut but only if so advised by a vet. Your dog’s fur is meant to keep him warm during winter and cold spells. The recommended length for shaving is a one-inch length. Exceeding this will mean more exposure, which could leave your furry friend not so furry and prone to sunburns and skin cancer.
Always remember that a dog’s coat is a protective cover against the hot sun and an insulator against cold weather.
Does your Dog’s Breed Affect How He Reacts to Excess Heat?
Yes indeed! Some dogs endure heat more easily than others. Dogs suited for heat are mostly those without thick coats (double coats), those that have big ears, long noses, and breeds that originate from hot areas. Below are some of the best heat-friendly canines:
Dogs with flat faces, short noses, and thick coats are not very suited for hot weather. Even with proper hydration and environment management, they do struggle. Examples include:
Helping an overheating dog is very important. Not only does it bring comfort, but it also ensures survival for some dog breeds. Since spotting and diagnosing an overheating dog can be difficult, it is important to keep your dog away from things that can contribute to overheating and especially when the weather is hot.
If you plan to go outdoors with your pooch, it is important to carry a thermometer with you in case he overheats. When traveling, it is important to consider the climate of the place you are visiting if you intend to go with your dog. Given the above points, you now must be in a better understanding of how to save your dog from heatstroke.
Has your dog ever overheated before? How did you deal with it? What could you have done better? Did you find this article helpful? We highly value your feedback; share this and any other comments with us below. Next, if you suspect your dog isn’t overheating but is instead suffering from a bout of fever, check out our article on how to tell if a dog has a fever.