How to Watch for and Prevent Overheating in Dogs

June 22, 2023

Summertime gives us so much to look forward to — watersports, vacations, and long days to enjoy outside with our furry companions. But there's a reason so many of us here in and around Charlotte, North Carolina, escape to the comfort of an air-conditioned home: It's hot out there.

Your dog feels that heat too. But unlike you, they may not always be able to escape that heat or tell you when they’re overheating. Heatstroke and heat exhaustion can lead to serious, or even deadly, medical concerns. It's up to you, the responsible pet owner, to know the signs and how to take quick action.Dog panting_Canva 2

Why Do Dogs Overheat?

Dogs are particularly susceptible to overheating for several reasons.

For one, they don't sweat like we do. Sweat helps you regulate your body temperature while you're out mowing the lawn, cycling, or just walking to the mailbox on a 100-plus-degree day. That water cools your skin as it evaporates.

While dogs can sweat just a little in their paws, the amount is not enough to allow for thermoregulation. An overheating dog will pant instead. Panting does help reduce their temperature, but on a very hot day it may be insufficient to cool them enough to avoid heat stress.

Secondly, dogs can be highly excitable. A lot of the things they want to do for fun while they are outside involve running, jumping, and playing, all of which will raise their temperature. We may realize when we are pushing it too hard on a hot day, but our dogs often don’t, and so they are much more prone to overexertion.

Another important consideration is your dog’s head shape. If you are lucky enough to have a pug, Boston terrier, or French bulldog, then you have a dog whose head shape makes them extremely susceptible to heat stress. 

Owners of breeds with short heads should be extremely careful about letting these dogs exert themselves in the heat. Ideally, they should not go outside at all in the heat of the day. If they do get stressed at all, they should be placed in a quiet environment with air conditioning.

Overheating in dogs should always be taken seriously and may be a pet emergency.


Signs & Symptoms of Overheating in Dogs

First, what is overheating in dogs? Overheating is when your dog can no longer regulate their body temperature. As a result, their body temperature may increase rapidly to dangerous levels.

According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), a dog's internal body temperature is about 101 degrees. The dog experts at the Canine Research Center at Cornell University note that a dog heat stroke can begin at a body temperature of 105 degrees or higher.

Symptoms of overheating to look for in your dog include:

  • Excessive panting: Panting is a normal response to being hot, but if it is excessive or continues even if the pet has been returned to a calm, cool environment beyond a reasonable amount of time, it is a concern.
  • Lots of drool: There will be a lot of it, and it looks thicker and stickier than usual.
  • Lethargy: As heat stress progresses, they may become unwilling to stand and move around as normal.
  • Dry nose and gums: The gums and nose can become dry as the body attempts to shift fluid back towards the important organs in the chest and abdomen.
  • Vomiting or diarrhea: In latter stages, your dog may experience gastrointestinal issues like these. The body is rejecting food so it can focus on cooling.
  • Collapsing: Your dog may collapse. This is a very serious sign of overheating.
  • Neurologic changes: They may become disoriented, walking around in circles, stumbling, or not responding to you at all.

Signs of overheating in dogs and dehydration often go hand-in-hand. But remember that even if your dog has unlimited access to water, they can still overheat.


Summer Safety Tips for Dogs

Discover important summer safety tips to protect your furry friend from heatstroke, dehydration, and other hazards. Learn about proper hydration, sun protection, and more to ensure your dog's well-being during the hot summer months.

1. Keep Them Hydrated

In hot weather, dogs may need 2-3 times more water to stay hydrated. Keep a close eye on your pet’s water intake.

Make sure they have continual access to as much water as they need and want. It's not okay to let the dog bowl run dry for any length of time on a hot day.

2. Bring Them Indoors

Keep your pet out of intense heat for long periods of time. On particularly hot days, keep them inside during the middle of the day, if possible.

3. Make Sure They Have Shade All Day

As anyone who tries to nab the shady spot when they park their car knows well, shade moves. Your backyard may look comfortably protected in the morning when you leave for work. But what about mid-day and evening?

If your dog stays outdoors, make sure they have enough freedom to move around the yard to reach the shady well-vented areas.

A dog house may become a sauna on a hot summer day because of poor airflow, so it shouldn't be their only shade source.

4. Encourage Activity at Appropriate Times

The best time for summer play is in the morning or evening before it heats up or when it is cooling off. If activity does happen in the heat of the day, consider exercise that doesn’t cause as much exertion or promotes cooling, like swimming or short walks.

5. Take Action If You Notice Signs and Symptoms

It's one thing to try to prevent your dog's overheating. But what if you already notice more serious signs of heat exhaustion and impending heatstroke?

Get the hose out and spray them down or put your sprinkler out. Much like sweat, that water will evaporate, creating a cooling experience outside for a little while.

If needed, place a box fan on low outside (not in the water) to cool the water you sprayed around the yard rapidly. This will bring both the yard and dog temperature down. Place the dog in front of the fan if possible.

Contrary to popular myth, you should not give them ice water or put ice in the tub/sink with them. Rapid cooling for a state of overheating can be equally dangerous. Regular cold-ish tap water is fine and will seem colder than it is to your dog because they're overheating.

Most importantly, when you start to notice signs and symptoms of overheating or heatstroke, contact your dog's veterinarian immediately.


Watching for and Preventing Overheating in Dogs

Overheating in dogs happens when your dog can no longer regulate their internal temperature. An overheating dog may excessively pant and drool. They may look lethargic, vomit, collapse, and even convulse. With the latter signs, this is a veterinary emergency.

You can take steps to prevent your dogs from overheating like making sure they have adequate water and shade all day. Spraying the yard and dog with water and putting a box fan outside can also help your dog cool down.

Remember: If your dog is suffering from heat exhaustion, their body has stopped regulating heat. Their core temperature is rising fast, and this is an emergency.

Heat strokes can be life-threatening. It’s critical to get their temperature down, ensure they are self-regulating again, and assess them for possible injury from the overheating. If you are concerned your pet may be under heat stress, call your vet to apprise them, wet your pet down with a hose, and drive to the hospital with the car windows down to promote ventilation.

To learn more about preventing overheating and keeping your dog cool in the hot summer sun, contact our team at Ballantyne Veterinary Clinic today.

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