With summertime in full swing, it’s natural to want to spend more time outdoors with your pets. Getting outside for some fresh air and a little sunshine-supplied vitamin D is always a good idea, but at the same time it’s important to be aware of when the heat becomes too much for your furry friends.
Whereas humans can take off some clothes when they get overheated, animals aren’t able to shed their fur. As a result, it’s easy for them to suffer from heat exhaustion or, even worse, heatstroke.
Here’s how to keep your pets safe in the heat. Let’s start with dogs.
How Hot Is Too Hot for Dogs?
A good rule of thumb is, if you’re uncomfortable outside for an extended period of time, your dog will be too.
Most dogs have a body temperature between 100-103°F. So temps that rise above that can quickly cause problems.
Here are a few additional considerations:
As you probably know, dogs cool themselves by panting. Their long snouts are designed to cool the air they breathe before it reaches their lungs. This allows for better oxygen transfer and a cooling effect that regulates temperature by pulling heat away from the body.
The water content in the air on humid days, however, impedes their ability to evaporate moisture from their lungs. This can cause a rapid rise in body temperature.
Even when temperatures aren’t that high, humidity can make it feel a whole lot hotter and more uncomfortable than it really is. Refer to the “feels like” temperature on very humid days to determine how safe it is for your dog to go outside.
Even on days when the air temperature isn’t scorching, the pavement may still be. Consider this: On moderately warm 75° days, pavement/asphalt can reach 120° or more. Imagine how much hotter it can get on 90° days.
Simply put, asphalt usually gets way too hot for dogs to walk on without burning their delicate paw pads. So be mindful of both air and surface temperature before taking your dog out. Schedule summertime walks or potty breaks on dirt or grassy areas, or after the sun has set.
Risk Factors that Increase Heat Tolerance
There are various factors that affect a dog’s ability to tolerate heat:
- Age. Puppies and seniors overheat more easily than dogs in their prime.
- Obesity. Excess fat impairs a dog’s ability to distribute heat normally. Research shows that overweight/obese dogs also have a higher risk of dying from heatstroke.2
- Fur/Coat. Dogs with thick coats—Huskies, Akitas, Mountain Dogs, Shepherds, Huskies, etc.—tend to be more uncomfortable in extreme heat, for obvious reasons!
- Breed. Brachycephalic dogs are the popular “smoosh-faced” breeds, with short muzzles, narrow nostrils, and smaller airways. These unique facial structures make it more difficult to pant and properly cool off. Extra attention needs to be paid to these pups when they’re outside, even on days you may not consider to be very hot. Some of the most popular brachycephalic breeds include the Bulldog (American and French), Boxer, Bullmastiff, Chow chow, Lhasa apso, Pekingese, Pug, and Shih tzu.
Keep in mind, having several of these factors is only going to multiply the risk for overheating. So, for instance, if you have an old, overweight French bulldog, you need to use extreme caution taking them outside in the summer months.
Keeping Dogs Cool in the Heat
If you are going to be outside with your pup, providing constant shade and cold water are the two most important things you can do to keep him safe in the summer heat. Here are some other tips:
- Offer ice packs and/or cold wet towels to lay on.
- Keep long-haired dogs well-groomed during the summer months. To reduce the risk of sunburn, keep the fur short but not shaved.
- Never leave your dog in the car, even if the windows are rolled down. Temperatures increase rapidly and dramatically.
- If your dog likes swimming/baths, run a lawn sprinkler or fill up a kiddie pool with ice water, and let him frolic.
- Limit exercise to early morning or later evening hours, when the sun is either set or less intense.
- Look up healthy “pupsicle recipes” and make some hydrating, cooling treats for your dog to enjoy on a hot day.
Signs that Your Dog May Be Overheating
Despite your best efforts to prevent it, your dog may still get overheated on a hot day. Here are the signs to watch out for:
- Heavy drooling
- Excessive thirst
- Rapid heartrate and/or panting
- Bright red tongue or gums
- Confusion, weakness, and/or lethargy
Immediately take your dog indoors to an air-conditioned building. Offer water and ice, and call your vet if symptoms persist.
What About Cats?
If you have a cat and you allow it access to the outdoors, be aware that excessive summer heat can impact our feline friends too.
To be fair, cats do tolerate heat much better than dogs. They have several smart techniques they use to stay cool.
For one, they conserve their energy and tend to sleep during the hottest parts of the day, which lowers their body temperature. They also seek out cold surfaces to lounge on, like tile or cement floors.
Their grooming habits help to regulate body temperature as well. As their saliva evaporates off their fur, it cools them—similar to the cooling effect humans experience when sweat evaporates off skin.
Since cats don’t really need to go outside like dogs do, it’s easier to keep them safe from overheating. On extremely hot and humid days, keep them inside in a cool location.
If your cats do go outside regularly, most of the same cautions about dogs apply to cats. They display the same symptoms of overheating as dogs, so keep an eye out for these signs of distress. Likewise, kittens, senior cats, and short-nosed/flat-faced cats are at highest risk of overheating.
With that said, remember that obesity is a huge issue in both dogs and cats! Cats don’t need to be exercised outside, but dogs really benefit from regular walks, both physically and mentally. Don’t let the heat prevent you from taking your dog for a stroll, even if it’s a short one. Just use the precautions outlined in this article so that your furry friend can get some much-needed movement.
*This blog was developed with Veterinarian Dana Wilhite, DVM to help educate pet owners.
- The Humane Society of the United States. Keep pets safe in the heat. Humanesociety.org. Last accessed July 12, 2022 at https://www.humanesociety.org/resources/keep-pets-safe-heat
- Bruchim Y, et al. Heat stroke in dogs: A retrospective study of 54 cases (1999-2004) and analysis of risk factors for death. J Vet Intern Med. 2006 Jan-Feb;20(1):38-46.
- Diamond. Debarking Pet Myths: Summer Heat Is No Problem for Cats. Diamondpet.com. Last accessed July 12, 2022 at https://www.diamondpet.com/blog/culture/myths/summer-heat-is-no-problem-for-cats-debunked/
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