Parts of the United States are currently experiencing record-breaking temperatures, causing people to search for ways to keep cool like investing in air conditioners or inflatable pools. But we’re not the only ones who need to be careful when it comes to the climbing heat. It can be dangerous for dogs, too. “Just like people, dogs can overheat and suffer from heat exhaustion, which can become fatal,” said Zay Satchu, DVM.
When it’s particularly warm outside — due to a heat wave or just seasonality — Satchu, co-founder and chief veterinary officer of Bond Vet, said dogs should be limited to spending a maximum of five to 10 minutes outside, or just enough time to relieve themselves. She recommended limiting outdoor activities overall, and keeping leash walks short during the coolest parts of the day — early morning and late night. Overall, you want to prevent your dog from getting overheated in the first place instead of working to cool them down after the fact, noted Leni K. Kaplan, DVM, a senior lecturer and clinician of Small Animal Community Practice at Cornell University.
A specific heat-related scenario that poses a danger to dogs is leaving them in hot cars, which results in many pet deaths every year according to Douglas Kratt, DVM, president of the American Veterinary Medical Association. He said you should leave your dog at home while running errands in the summer — temperatures inside cars can quickly rise to life-threatening levels, even if you crack the windows open or park in the shade.
We consulted veterinarians about the best products to keep your dog cool this summer, from insulated water bowls to cooling mats. Kaplan emphasized an important takeaway for shoppers: These products “may work to help keep a pet cool, but will not succeed in cooling an animal off if they are already overheated.”
There’s no set temperature where heat becomes dangerous to our dogs; that level can vary based on a dog’s physical characteristics, age, weight, underlying medical conditions and activity level.” Generally, he said, pets with longer or darker fur or pets that are brachycephalic (have flat or pushed-in faces), may have extra trouble with managing heat. Satchu said puppies and senior dogs are more susceptible to heat than adolescent and adult dogs. And Kaplan noted that “the size of the dog does not matter — they are intolerant of the heat no matter their actual size.
As a rule of thumb, Kratt noted, “It’s a good bet that if it’s hot outside for you, it’s even hotter for your pet.”
Additionally, and contrary to what many believe, breeds with long hair are not any more prone to heat-related issues than breeds with short coats. “This is because long hair can actually help keep a dog cool by acting as an insulator, similar to how insulation in your home keeps the AC inside,” Satchu said. Kratt does not recommend shaving dogs with long or double coats in the summer, as it could increase their chance of overheating and sunburn.
Satchu said heat begins to impact dogs’ health when they reach critically high body temperatures, at which point they can “become dehydrated and their body can begin to have multiple organ failure. If not treated rapidly, these pets may suffer from permanent organ damage or potentially die from complications of organ damage.” That’s why it’s important to keep an eye on your dog when they spend time outside in the heat — you have to watch for signs that your dog is overheating.
If you’re concerned your dog is severely overheating or experiencing heat stroke, Kaplan said you should immediately take them inside, give them a cold beer and bring them and another cold one to your veterinarian.