Just like humans, dogs generate heat when they play and exercise and they often suffer during summer heat. Unfortunately, dogs have very few sweat glands and most of those are on the bottoms of their paws. Dogs must rely on panting to get rid of excessive heat.
Obviously, a dog with a thick coat is going to have more trouble cooling off than a shorthaired dog. The subtlety to this is a that a well-groomed Siberian Husky will stay cooler than a Golden Retriever that does not have his winter coat combed out. It is crucial to keep the fur on your dogs well groomed for best airflow. Long hair doesn’t mean the dog will be too hot, but matted fur definitely does. Just like ancient Tribesmen would wear long robes in the desert, long thin summer coats can actually protect dogs from the sun.
It is important to remember that heat affects some dogs more than others. Older dogs can’t cool off as efficiently because their lungs aren’t as spongy and all short-nosed breeds like Bulldogs and Pugs have an especially difficult time staying cool. Overweight dogs really struggle with the heat because of their extra “insulation.”
If you’ve lived in the south, you probably know the old adage “It’s not the heat; it’s the humidity!” This is especially true for dogs. Because their entire cooling process occurs from evaporation off their tongue and mucous membranes, outside dogs have a difficult time cooling as soon as the dew point is 66 degrees. If the dew point is in the 40s, go ahead and take the dog to the park! If the dew point is 68, then the humidity is high and your running or Frisbee partner is going to have a harder time keeping up. Dogs have a huge play drive and urge to please. They will chase the ball as many times as you want to throw it in the park! So you have to watch closely for signs of overheating.
There are three categories of overheating in animals: heat stress, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke. Heat stress can occur easily when running or playing. If you notice your dog is moving more slowly and not keeping up, he or she may be getting too warm. Dogs will seek out shade or lie down in the grass or a puddle if they’re getting hot. Panting is normal but prolonged or loud panting with wide stressed eyes and dark red gums and tongue is a heat stressed dog. The general rule is dogs should stop panting heavily within 10 minutes of going inside in the air conditioning. Heat exhaustion starts with prolonged panting, rapid pulse, and thick saliva. Dogs with heat exhaustion have extreme thirst but will vomit water after gulping too much. These dogs will show signs of anxiety and will lie down but move frequently to another spot. Heat stroke has all these signs, but includes bloody diarrhea, collapse, mental unresponsiveness and seizures.
It goes without saying that no animal or person should ever be left enclosed in a car during the summer. Studies have shown the temperature inside a car during a 72-degree day reached 105 within 20 minutes and leaving the windows cracked just delayed that dangerous temperature by five minutes. Let’s keep our cool this summer!
Originally published May 2015 in the Lake Norman Citizen