Caring for dogs in hot weather
Updated: Aug 22, 2018
Heatstroke in dogs
Dogs can suffer fatal heatstroke within minutes. Unlike humans, dogs can’t sweat through their skin and so they rely on panting and releasing heat through their paw pads and nose to regulate their body temperature and keep cool. Imagine wearing a thick winter coat on a hot summer’s day and you’ll understand why dogs succumb to heatstroke so easily.
Signs of heatstroke in dogs include collapse, excessive panting, and dribbling.
If you suspect your pet is suffering from the condition, move them to a cool place, preferably with a draught, wet their coat with cool - not freezing - water, and contact your vet immediately.
Once a dog shows signs of heatstroke the damage is often already done, which is why it’s so important to prevent it.
Dogs in hot cars
Dogs succumb to heatstroke quickly. As above, they cannot sweat in the same way that people can and cannot keep cool as easily as we can. A car can become an oven very quickly even when it doesn’t feel that warm. When it is 22°c outside - within an hour - the temperature in a car can reach an unbearable 47°c.
Never leave a dog in a car, even for a moment. "Not long" is too long.
Can I smash a window to free a dog from a hot car?
If you see a dog in distress inside a car, official advice is to dial 999 immediately and ask for the police. A dog in distress in a hot car is an emergency and the police will advise you what to do based on the situation.
Depending on the severity of the situation, the police may attend and break into the car to gain access to the dog, or they may advise you to do this. If you decide to break into a car without proper justification, this could be classed as criminal damage and you may need to defend your actions in a court.
Call the police using 999 and tell them what you intend to do and why. Take pictures and/or videos of the dog in distress and the names and phone numbers of witnesses. The Criminal Damage Act 1971 provides a lawful excuse to commit damage if you believe that the owner of the property that you damage would consent to the damage if they knew the circumstances (under section 5(2)
How to keep a dog cool and prevent heatstroke
Make sure your dog has access to clean water at all times, ideally a large bowl filled to the brim. Carry water and a bowl with you on walks.
On hot days, walk your dog during the cooler parts of the day, in the early morning and late evening
Watch your pet for signs of over-heating, including heavy panting and loss of energy. If you recognise these signs when on a walk, stop, find a shady spot and give your dog water.
Never leave your dog (or any pet) alone in a car, even with the windows open
Make cooling tasty treats by making ice cubes with your dog’s favourite food inside or stuff a Kong and pop it in the freezer
Be particularly careful with short nosed dogs such as bull breeds, boxers, pugs, older dogs, and those that are overweight. These dogs can get heatstroke simply by running around.
Walk your dog at the cooler times of the day, either first thing in the morning or early evening
Dogs’ paw pads can burn on hot pavements. As a general rule, if it’s too hot for your hand it’s too hot for their paws.
If it’s too hot for the usual long walk, keep your dog mentally stimulated by doing some brain games instead. Refresh their basic training with some sits and stays, or teach them new tricks.
Swimming is excellent exercise for dogs and a great exercise alternative to walking in the summer heat. But remember that not all dogs like to swim, so if yours doesn’t then don’t force them and never throw a dog into water.
Be wary of tides at the beach
Drinking salt water is likely to make your dog sick and isn’t very good for them. Bring fresh water with you to the beach.
Wash salt and sand off your dog’s coat after swimming to prevent it drying and irritating their skin
Be careful to avoid heatstroke on the beach
Watch out for currents in rivers
Check freshwater lakes, rivers, ponds and canals to make sure they are clean before letting your dog dive in. Some types of algae, including blue-green algae, are toxic to dogs. If your dog swims in algae-contaminated water, contact your vet immediately.
Dogs can and do drown in rivers and the sea. If your dog has inhaled water, contact your vet, as they can suffer complications.
Sadly, each year dog owners drown trying to rescue their pets. Don’t risk dangerous situations.
Water intoxication: Top five things to look out for!
Water intoxication is when dogs swallow too much water in a short space of time. It’s rare, but this condition can lead to brain damage and, in extreme circumstances, can be fatal.
Dogs can sometimes swallow too much water when they are swimming, so it’s key that you keep an eye on them when you’re treating them to a cool off.
5 signs to look out for
Loss of coordination (this can include falling over or swaying)
If your dog starts to struggle with their breathing or loses consciousness after playing in the water, call your vet immediately.