[Updated August 9, 2017]
Dogs can suffer from heat stress in just a few short minutes, even when the temperature doesn’t seem that hot to us. How will you know if a dog is at risk for overheating? There is not an exact answer to this question; it depends on the dog and the situation.
All dogs are at risk in extreme temperatures. But a dog who is accustomed to 90° weather may have less risk on a very hot day than a Seattle pup vacationing in the Arizona desert. Also, the air temperature is only one consideration; humidity, sun exposure (or lack of shade), amount of time in the heat, level of exertion, and availability of water can all affect how well a dog tolerates heat. Be alert for signs of heat distress, such as excessive panting or drooling, reddened gums, listlessness, or rapid heartbeat.
Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to help prevent your dog from getting so overheated that he suffers heat stress or heatstroke.
1. Avoid exposing your dog unduly to extraordinary heat.
Again, this is a relative recommendation; a dog who is acclimated to a fairly hot environment can tolerate more than a dog who is not. But when temperatures rise beyond what are average, give your dog greater respite from the heat. Leave him home! And if left at home, make sure he’s got ample methods for staying cool: shade; lots of fresh, cool water to drink; and perhaps the cooling breeze of a fan. If you must take him out, try to keep him out of the sun – and make sure he has constant access to cool drinking water.
2. Modify your dog’s exercise routine in hot weather.
Walk him after dark or before dawn. Find a pond, creek, or beach where dogs are safe and welcome, and incorporate swimming or water play into his usual game of fetch. During severe heat waves, he can forego any sort of rigorous exercise for a few days.
3. Get him wet.
Hose him down, put him in the tub, mist him with a spray bottle, or wipe his coat with a sopping wet towel. In a dry climate, the evaporation will help lower his body temperature; in a humid environment, you’ll need to get some extra air flowing over him for a wet coat to help him cool down. Ceiling fans are terrific; battery-powered fans that attach to your dog’s crate or x-pen work well, too.
4. Provide ample water.
Make sure your dog has lots of fresh, cool water – preferably from more than one source. Dogs always seem to drink more when they have options.
If you’re out with the dog, offer water frequently. Stop in a shady spot, and really encourage him to relax and drink. Some dogs get distracted by their environment and pass up the chance to drink in favor of gawking. Make it clear that you’re not going on until they take at least one quick drink.
5. Use an evaporative cooling vest, coat, bandanna, or mat.
There is a wealth of products for keeping dogs cool on the market, available from many pet specialty store or online pet supply catalogs. Look for garments that are wetted and gradually release water through evaporation, such as the HyperKewl Evaporative Cooling Dog Coat by TechNiche International, winner of the “best new dog product” at SuperZoo 2010. But in a pinch, even a plain cotton T-shirt or bandanna, wetted and worn by the dog, can help provide some evaporative cooling.