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Heat and Dogs: How to Avoid and Manage Serious Issues Resulting From Severe Heat

  • Posted on Jul 18, 2019


Every year, many parts of the country experience extreme heat waves like what we are experiencing now in the DC metro area.  These serious weather events are unfortunately becoming more and more common. At Balance Veterinary Center, we always recommend proven medical precautions for avoiding heat related illness and heat stroke.  At the same time we try to incorporate some natural and traditional schools of thought. There are several precautions you can take to help your dog avoid and manage heat-related health issues.


Preventing heat-related illness/heat stroke


Like humans, dogs cool themselves mostly through evaporation.  For humans, our bodies sweat, which then evaporates off of our skin, taking heat with it and lowering our body temperatures.  Dogs unfortunately have virtually no significant capacities for sweating. They evaporate water to cool themselves via respiration (panting).  Because of this, dogs with shortened faces (brachycephalic) and those who experience difficulty with normal respiration have an even harder time cooling.  And, just like us, any means of evaporative cooling is much harder when there is high humidity in addition to heat. This is because the air is already so saturated with moisture that evaporation slows.  Here are some ways you can try to reduce the impact of heat on your dog:

  1. Avoid going outside in the middle of the day.  Try to keep walks brief and confined to the earlier morning and later evening hours.  If your dog needs to go out midday then keep the walk very brief and shaded if possible.  Staying inside in an air conditioned area is often even more important for dogs than people.
  2. NEVER leave a dog in a car, even briefly. It’s well known that adults, children or pets left in a car without air conditioning in the heat can die.  For the reasons noted above, this can happen more rapidly in dogs than in people. Even a short time as brief as pumping a tank of gas can result in heat illness in many dogs, especially if brachycephalic, or pets with long fur or health issues.  If you need to pump gas or make a similar stop, try not to do it with your dog in the car. If your dog must be in the car, open all the windows and stop just as long as is needed to pump the minimal amount of gas and resume traveling with the air conditioning turned on.
  3. Always carry water.  Whether it’s a short walk or a trip in the car, always carry water.  And, if possible, carry enough water to both drink and pour on your dog if needed.  Cars can break down, and walks that start in the cooler morning can accidently run into times of rising heat.  Make sure you have enough water and a vessel such as a collapsible bowl to allow your dog to drink as much as they need.  If stuck in high heat, pour water over your dog’s back and shoulders to help them cool down
  4. Be sure your air conditioning is turned on at home if you go out.  Often, to save on energy costs, pet owners will turn up thermostats in the summer a little, perhaps providing abundant water and access to a cool basement.  On many summer days this can be perfectly fine. But in extreme heat waves, even basements can get hot and humid, leaving your dog with nowhere to escape the heat.  Do not set your thermostat any higher than 76 degrees during extreme heat, and always have plenty of water available
  5. Swim.  If you have easy and safe access to water, swimming may be an acceptable activity to do outside for your dog during extreme heat.  Even then, avoid being out in the middle of the day when it’s the hottest and keep water activity from being too strenuous. Dogs can overheat even when wet after coming out of the water.
  6. Try cooling foods.  TCVM (traditional Chinese veterinary medicine) breaks foods down into categories based on “energetics”.  A major category are foods that are cooling or Yin-nourishing. Proteins such as turkey, rabbit and clams are considered cooling.  Grains such as barley or brown rice are also. You can also consider fruits and vegetables such as watermelon, broccoli, cucumber, pear and banana.  These foods can be given as treats or supplements, or you can select a diet that contains them.


Identifying and managing heat-related illnesses and heat stroke


If you ever feel your dog is suffering from a heat related health crisis or heat stroke it is important to know what to look for and what to do.  Seeking emergency veterinary care is always the safest option. Always know where your closest emergency veterinary hospital is located and have their number saved in your phone.  If you are more than a few minutes away and you think your dog is suffering from heat stroke, call them right away. They might be able to give life-saving advice. Some signs to look for are:

  • Excessive panting
  • Red/dark red gums
  • Weakness/stumbling
  • Inability to stand or rise
  • Drooling
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Mental dullness


If any of these signs are present and may be due to the heat, then seek emergency veterinary care right away.  If you are unable to seek immediate medical attention for your pet, you can try implementing the following techniques:


  1. Cool bath.  Put your dog into a cool bath, or shower.  You can use a hose to run water over your dog if outside.  If using a hose be sure to let any hot water that was sitting in the hose flow out first, then run the cool water over your dog.  If using a bath or tub never submerge your dog’s head below the water. Submerging their head can cause them to inhale water into their lungs, causing aspiration pneumonia.
  2. Drink water.  Do NOT force your dog to drink.  This can also result in aspiration pneumonia.  But allow them to drink as much cool, fresh water as they wish.
  3. Check/monitor temperature.  If you cannot get emergency care, you can check your dog’s temperature by inserting a thermometer into your dog’s rectum.  Maintain active cooling measures as noted above until the body temperature is under 103 degrees F.
  4. Seek veterinary care.  As noted above, seek veterinary care right away.  Even if the crisis seems to have passed, contact your veterinarian.  Heat stroke can lead to organ dysfunction such as kidney problems. Sometimes the full extent of such problems are not apparent immediately.  Follow up after a heat stroke like event is extremely important.


Extreme weather poses dangers to pets as well as people.  It’s important to understand how such events affect dogs differently than people.  This understanding is the first step in avoiding serious mistakes. Following this understanding with proper precautions will keep your dog safe and happy through the “dog days” of summer!

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