Getting Through the Dog Days of Summer: Avoiding Heat Exhaustion in Dogs

You’re an awesome dog owner! You know to provide shade, water, and limited exposure outside during hot summer months. You always monitor your pet when they are outside in the hot weather. You ensure they are not steadily exposed to the sun by how they are confined, fenced, or restricted outside.

Great owners also know to never, ever, leave a dog (or any pet) in a hot car, not even for a short time. It’s just too dangerous.

Did You Know the Breed of Dog You Have Makes A Difference Too?

  • Those with Especially Heavy Coats
    Akitas, Alaskan Malamutes, American Eskimo Dogs, Siberian Huskies, Bernese Mountain Dogs, Chow Chows, Great Pyrenees, Keeshonds, Newfoundlands, Samoyeds, Shelties, Shiba Inus, Tibetan Mastiffs and similar dogs with extra thick fur have an added risk. Originally bred for cold climates, take special care with these breeds in the summer.
  • The Short Snouted Breeds (Brachycephalic Breeds)
    Panting is the primary way dogs cool down, so dogs that have difficulty breathing are at risk in high heat. Dogs such as the Boston Terrier, Boxers, Bulldogs, French Bulldogs, Pekingese, Pugs, Shar-Peis and Shih Tzus all require careful monitoring during the hot weather. Even when the outside temperature and humidity are moderate, these dogs can experience clinical signs of heat exhaustion.
  • The Working, Herding, and Sporting Breeds
    These high energy dogs want to give 100% on the “job” – which in the case of urban pets, may be retrieving a toy or catching a Frisbee. Pets don’t always exhibit the best judgment about when to take it easy. The excitement of being outside and playing can be too distracting for them. Owners must be the decision makers and enforce play breaks.

What Are the Other Risk Factors?

  • Very Young or Very Old Dogs
  • Overweight Dogs
  • Dogs with medical conditions that cause difficulty breathing or heart problems

What is the difference between Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stoke?

Both are conditions of Hyperthermia or elevated body temperature.

  • Heat Exhaustion
    A term commonly used for Hyperthermia or elevated body temperature. Generally speaking, if a pet’s body temperature exceeds 103°F (39.4°C), it is considered abnormal or hyperthermic.
  • Heat Stroke
    Body temperatures above 106°F (41°F) without previous signs of illness are most commonly associated with exposure to excessive external or environmental heat. The critical temperature where multiple organ failure and impending death occurs is around 107°F to 109°F (41.2°C to 42.7°C).

What Are the Early Signs of Heat Exhaustion? And What Do I Do?

  • Heavy Panting
    It’s usually the first sign of overheating in a dog. Dogs cannot control their body temperature by sweating as humans do, since they only have a relatively small number of sweat glands located in their foot pads. Their primary way of regulating body temperature is by panting.
  • Reduced Responsiveness
    Your dog seems less responsive and a little confused. Examples would be a usually obedient dog not listening to your commands, or not turning their head when you say their name.

If you suspect your dog is getting overheated, get them out of the heat right away. Have them stop any vigorous activity, rest in the shade (or go inside with air conditioning if possible) and offer them water. If there is a pond, baby pool, or stream nearby, let your dog take a dip to cool down.

A safe, controlled reduction of body temperature is the objective. Cool water (not cold) may be poured over the head, stomach, armpits and feet, or cool cloths may be applied to these areas.

What Are the Signs of Heat Stroke? And What Do I Do?

  • Convulsions
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Gums or tongue that turn blue or bright red
  • Collapse

Heat stroke is more serious and requires immediate medical attention by a veterinarian.

What is the prognosis for heat stroke?

The prognosis depends on how high the body temperature elevated, how long the hyperthermia persisted and what the physical condition of the pet was prior to the heat stroke. If the body temperature did not become extremely high, most healthy pets will recover quickly if they are treated immediately. Some pets may experience permanent organ damage or may die at a later date from complications that developed secondarily to the hyperthermia. Pets that experience hyperthermia are at greater risk for subsequent heat stroke due to damage to the thermoregulatory center.


This blog post is based on material written by:
1. Ernest Ward, DVM, © Copyright 2009 Lifelearn Inc. Used and/or modified with permission under license by Harmony Veterinary Center © Harmony Veterinary Center 2019. 2. Jean Marie Bauhaus, 3. The American Kennel Club Health Foundation 4.