Although the summer months are welcomed by most of us, it isn’t always such good news for our canine companions. Dogs are naturally prone to heat stress, and as owners it’s important for us to recognise the signs that our canine companion may be over-heating, what to do if your dog overheats and generally how to keep them cool during the warmer summer months.
Heat stress in dogs is very serious and sadly can often lead to serious illness and death – a recent survey found that 48% of vets in the UK have treated dogs for heat stress during the summer months which is an astonishingly high number given how easily prevented it can be. Dogs can suffer from brain damage and death from heatstroke within 15 minutes so it’s vital that you recognise the signs.
Some dogs are more prone to heat stress than others – for example if they have dark coats (which absorb the heat from the sun rather than reflect it), overweight dogs, those which have long or dense coats and those with existing health issues. If your dog falls into one of these categories, then they deserve special attention in the hot weather.
Travelling in cars is still one of the most common reasons for heat stress in dogs and contrary to popular belief, it’s not just when pets are left unattended in vehicles. It goes without saying that you should never leave your dog unattended in a vehicle, but there are some simple precautions you can take when you’re travelling with your four-legged friend that will help to prevent heat stress:
- Use the air conditioning to keep the car cool at all times when your dog is travelling with you
- Make sure your dog has regular access to fresh water when in the car, either using a non-spill portable water bowl, or by taking regular breaks to offer a drink
- When travelling with your dog on longer journeys, it’s always recommended that you take regular breaks – we recommend allowing your dog to walk in a shaded area on short breaks in the summer months
Vigorous exercise during hot weather is the second largest cause of heat stress in dogs – take the following precautions to prevent your canine companion from suffering:
- Never walk your dog in the full heat of the day, instead take your dog for a walk during the early morning or evening time when the temperature is lower
- Make sure you have a portable water supply when out & about with your dog, and offer regular drinking breaks to your dog
- If you have access to an area of shallow water in the form of a river or lake during your walk, then it may be beneficial to allow your dog to have a dip as this will help to reduce their body temperature – we recommend an area no deeper than a foot in depth.
- Avoid walking your dog on footpaths and roads on sunny days as these surfaces can get very hot in direct sunlight and can cause burns to the pads on your dog’s feet
- If you notice your dog panting more than usual, then you should immediately move them to a cooler area – even if they look very happy lying in the sunshine (and even if they give you their best puppy eyes)
- If your dog has a long or dense coat, it may be worthwhile considering having their coat clipped for the summer months
- The process of digestion can surprisingly create a significant amount of body heat, so you may want to consider feeding your dog in the early morning or late evening time when it is generally cooler
- Provide fresh drinking water at all times – you may want to consider using cool water as this will also help to keep your dogs body temperature down
Recognising the signs of heat stress
There can be many symptoms associated with heat stress, and they may not all come at once (and some may not show at all) – so be alert to the following symptoms which could be an indication:
- excessive thirst
- thick saliva
- heavy panting
- lack of appetite
- darkening of the tongue
- rapid heartbeat
- bloody diarrhea
- lack of coordination
What to do if you think your dog may be suffering
If you recognise any potential signs that your dog could be suffering from heat stress then you should urgently aim to cool your dog down, without overchilling them. During the process of cooling your dog down, if their symptoms ease you should stop the cooling process to avoid overchilling.
- Provide your dog with fresh, cool water straight away.
- Apply cool water to your dog’s body – at home you can use a bucket and a sponge to pour cool water over them, give them a cool water bath or use a hose to apply water. If you’re out and about use a natural area of shallow water like a river or lake, making sure that it’s no more than one foot in depth to ensure that you can both stand confidently whilst in the water.
- Take your dog to the vet. This is particularly important if your dog is showing any serious symptoms like vomiting, bloody diarrhea or lack of co-ordination – but is a good precautionary measure for any sign of heat stress to avoid any more serious symptoms arising later.