July 05, 2019
The warmer temperatures that come with summer means lots of time spent outside, more adventuring, traveling, and the ever-lasting challenge to keep cool! As a dog owner, it’s important to always have their summer comfort and well-being in mind, too.
Dogs don’t have the luxury of sweating and accessing cooling mechanisms the way we do. So it’s up to us to give them lots of opportunities to get--and stay-- cool.
Here we’ll talk about the way your dog’s body works to keep itself cool and what kind of behaviors you might see them doing to help this process along. Then we’ll talk tips on what you can do to keep your dog cool in the summertime.
Dogs, like most other fur-covered animals, don’t have the sweat glands that we do to cool our bodies off when the temperature around us soars. Yes, they have a limited number of sweat glands in their paws, but these are mostly there to help their feet gain some traction.
However, your dog’s body does cool off in three distinct ways: evaporation, heat transfer, and convection. Let’s take a look at these, and I’m guessing you’ll have noticed your dog engaging in these types of behavior often on hot days.
When we think of a hot dog, we think of panting, right? When your dog uses panting as a way to cool their body down, they increase their breathing to 200-400 breaths per minute! That’s some really fast breathing.
Panting works to cool off your dog through evaporation. The evaporation that occurs in their mouth when they are panting actually lowers the temperature of the blood flow in their mouth. This blood then continues through their body and ultimately cools down their core temperature.
Panting is one of your dog’s first and most accessible forms of defense against overheating, but when temperatures outside go over 90 degrees, or when it’s especially humid out, their panting becomes less productive (source).
Have you ever noticed your dog sprawled out on the tiled bathroom floor, or retreating to lay in the cool basement on a hot day? This is because your dog intrinsically knows that they can cool their core temperature down through heat transfer.
When your dog lays on a cool surface, the heat from their body transfers out and their overall core temperature starts to lower. Dogs, even the furriest of them, have much less hair on their stomachs, making this an effective way to get cool. While not exactly the same, you may also catch your dog lying belly-up on really hot days as a way of cooling their undersides as well.
Having the chance to lay or even stand in cool water is a super effective way to cool your dog down through conduction-- you’ll find more tips on this below.
Airflow as a means to lower body temperature is convection. This is why many dogs know to stand or lay in front of a fan or over an AC vent. The air flowing through their coat works to cool down their core temperature.
Now that you know how your dog’s body works to stay cool, you can start to come up with effective ways to help keep them cool in the summertime. Here are some ideas that are a mix of fun, practical, and necessary for your dog’s comfort and well-being when the temperatures outside start to rise.
Water is an excellent way to help your dog cool down on hot summer days. You can incorporate this into your daily routine in a variety of ways. If you have access to a pond, lake, or slow-flow river take your dog there for their daily exercise.
My dogs love fetching in the water, and while the two retrievers are at work our husky wades in the water and even swims a bit on really hot days. Remember, dogs intrinsically know that contact with something cooler will cool their core temperature down. So even the most reluctant swimmer will at least dip their feet in.
Also, try taking your dog on a stream or river walk. Strap on some water shoes or sandals, and literally walk in the stream with them. Our dogs (and kids!) love this alternative to a typical walk on hot summer days.
Sometimes I’m not sure who loves the kiddie pool in the backyard more the kids or our lab! When it’s hot out he is so happy to just lay in the pool. Our other dogs even hop in briefly for a quick cool down. Giving your dogs this access to water in the yard is a great way to help them cool down.
I’ve also heard that some dogs love sprinklers or getting sprayed with a hose. So if you don’t have a kiddie pool just yet, these alternatives could be just as fun and effective.
Believe me, I know that no matter how hot of a day it is some dogs need to get their wiggles out somehow. If you can’t skip exercising altogether, alter your routine so that you are getting out in the early morning or late evening. These times of day are generally cooler and the sun is lower in the sky which provides some relief.
Related reading: Does my Dog Need Sunscreen?
When the sun is shining and the temperatures outside get hot, cement, asphalt, and wooden surfaces can get dangerously hot too. This can put your dog’s foot pads in danger. The easiest way to tell if it is too hot outside for your dog’s paws is to put your own hand or foot on the surface. If you can’t stand it for more than a few seconds, it’s probably best to avoid it with your dog.
As an alternative, keep your dog’s paws comfortable and cooler by opting to walk on a wooded trail or in a field. Trails in the woods have the added benefit of all that shade. Bonus points for a trail near a creek or stream.
In the summer, it’s essential that your dog has access to shade when they are outside. You probably know firsthand what a relief shade can provide vs. being in the blazing sun. If your yard doesn’t have trees that provide shade, consider investing in an EZ-Up canopy to do the trick.
Additionally, when you are out exercising, traveling or adventuring with your dog this summer, try to plan your trip to a location where there is a shady spot to cool down and have a water break.
On that note, you always want to supply your dog with access to fresh, cold water to help them stay cool in the summertime. Of course, your dog should always have water around, but the risk of dehydration is even higher on those extra-hot days.
After walking or playing on an exceptionally hot day, you can expect to see your dog’s water needs increase by double or triple the amount that they typically drink.
It's also totally fine to add ice to your dog's water bowl or even give them some ice cubes to play with. Some people freeze dog treats inside bowls of ice or in ice cubes as a fun activity, your dog will love it.
In the summer, regular brushing is an important and easy way to help keep your dog cool. It gets the unneeded fur out of their coat quickly and efficiently, which keeps them cooler.
However, you should avoid shaving your dog, especially if they have a double coat (like a Siberian Husky). In most cases, your dog’s coat actually insulates them in a way to help them stay cooler and it protects them from sunburn and skin irritants. What’s more, if you shave it when it’s not medically necessary, it may never grow back the same again.
Along with regular brushing, another important summer grooming tip is to let your dog dry completely after swimming. If it is especially humid outside, or they are going into an AC house after getting wet, you should help this process along with a thorough towel drying. Many long-furred dogs, like Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds, are prone to hot spots in the summer. Having fur that is left wet or damp can predispose them to this uncomfortable skin condition.
The last important tip when it comes to keeping your dog cool in the summertime is to know the signs that something more serious is going on. Heatstroke is a condition that occurs when your dog’s core temperature goes above 104 degrees.
At this point, your dog’s normal ability to cool itself off stops working and their other major organs and body systems start to fail, often leading to death. This is what happens when your dog is left in a car on a hot day.
However, before heat stroke sets in, your dog will likely display symptoms of heat stress or heat exhaustion. According to Preventive Vet these include:
If you are noticing these symptoms on a hot summer day, take measures to get your dog to a cool place, give them frequent small amounts of cool water and let them rest. Take their temperature rectally, and as long as it is below 104, you can continue to treat them in this manner. If symptoms do not subside, never hesitate to call your vet about your concerns.
When heat stress starts progressing to a true heatstroke, you will see:
In this case, or if your dog’s body temperature is above 104, it is best to call an emergency vet and get professional advice about how to treat your dog in their specific state.
In general, if they are still responsive, you want to get them to a cool place and give small amounts of water while you make arrangements for professional help.
Most importantly when a dog is suffering a true heatstroke is to get them into the care of an emergency vet ASAP.
When it comes to dog ownership in the summer, it’s most important to be aware of the potential risks, plan daily exercise and activities in the early morning or later evenings, and incorporate shade and water into their day-to-day.
Remember the three main ways that dogs keep their body cool and use them to your advantage when helping your dog stay cool this summer!
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