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The summer heat can be stifling for both dogs and humans. And when we lose power, it is not only stressful on our own bodies but on our dogs’ as well. There are a few steps you can take to keep your dog (and you!) safe and cool in extreme heat.
Most Dogs Aren’t Built for Heat
Most breeds are built to conserve rather than dissipate heat. They don’t have sweat glands, and most of their body is wrapped in fur with little or no exposed skin. As a result, they lose heat through the pads of their feet and through their mouths by panting.
While sunscreen is important for all dogs, some breeds need special consideration when it comes to the sun. For example, white or fine-coated breeds, like Bull Terriers and Greyhounds, are especially vulnerable to sunburn, while the black coats of dogs like the Schipperke absorb heat, adding to the danger of overheating and heatstroke.
Keep Water Available
- Let your dog drink as much water as possible
- If you have a working freezer, make cold treats, like frozen chew toys or dog-safe ice pops
How to Help a Dog Cool Down
Along with plenty of cool water, the most important thing to do to keep a dog cool is to stay indoors or in the shade. If your air conditioning turns off on an extra-hot day (and you can’t get it back on), go to the coolest area of the house you can, such as the basement. If possible, stay at a friend’s house until your air conditioning is restored. There are other ways you can relieve your dog from the heat by having dog cooling supplies on hand in advance, such as:
- Battery-operated fan
- Cool cloths made of chamois, like those used to dry cars at a car wash. If this happens at a dog show, put a moist chamois on your dog’s back without getting them too wet, take it off, and present them to the judge, who probably will only feel a tiny bit of dampness when going over the dog. If you keep your cool cloth in a cooler, don’t put it directly into the ice. You don’t want to put anything ice-cold onto a dog, because that shrinks the blood vessels and actually generates more internal heat.
- Cooling vest, which deflects the heat and cools the dog through evaporation
- Cooling crate pad or a cold, wet towel that you can spread out for your dog to lie on. You can also have them stand on a damp towel to help their paw pads release heat.
- Rubbing alcohol, which you can dab behind your dog’s ears, on their stomach, or on their paws. Rubbing alcohol cools faster than water and can draw out heat.
- Spray bottle filled with cool water. Spray the underside of their body that’s not exposed to the hot sun (such as the groin area, where the hair is less dense), the bottoms of their feet, and inside their mouth.
- Rectal thermometer with lubricant. Your dog’s temperature shouldn’t rise above 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit, which is the high end of normal.
- Unflavored pediatric electrolyte solution for the dog to drink if they get dehydrated
Signs of Heatstroke
In spite of your best efforts, your dog could develop heatstroke. Here are the symptoms:
- Unusual breathing (rapid and loud)
- High rectal temperature (103 degrees Fahrenheit or higher)
- Extreme thirst
- Weakness and/or fatigue
- Frequent vomiting
- Dark or bright red tongue and gums
- Skin around the muzzle or neck doesn’t snap back when pinched (dehydration)
- Difficulty breathing
- Thick saliva
- Rapid heartbeat
- Heavy drooling
If you suspect that your dog is overheated, immediately take them to a cooler area or to the vet. Once in a cool room, separate their fur with your fingers so the cool air can penetrate the skin.
To cool your dog down as quickly as possible, pour cool water over their head and body, gently hose a very gentle stream of cool water over them, or, where possible, submerge them in a tub of cool water.
Even if your dog seems stable, it’s a good idea to take them to the nearest vet for evaluation and treatment if necessary.