What to Do if Your Dog Overheats

Heat-related illness can happen when dogs heat up faster than they can cool down. Knowing the signs and actions to take are key to helping your dog if he overheats.

Summer weather allows us to get outside with our dogs. For some, preseason training for Opening Day is in full swing while others like to hike, mountain bike, or trail run with our dogs. But it’s hot and humid, so we need to help safeguard active dogs from overheating. If we’re not careful, our dogs may develop heat-related illness (HRI).

HRI can happen when dogs heat up faster than they can cool down. There are three, progressive phases: heat stress, exhaustion and stroke.

Assessing Your Dog’s Heat Tolerance

A dog’s optimal body temperature is a range of between 99.5°F-102.5°F, and that’s due to breed, size, condition, and other variables. Some dogs face a greater risk of overheating. Overweight dogs, those with thick coats or sedentary dogs suddenly asked to work in warm weather without proper conditioning and acclimation are more at risk of HRI. Likewise, active dogs exercising in heat and humidity without frequent cool down periods in the shade and adequate hydration can overheat. Young, active dogs that don’t know when to stop can be impacted as can older dogs that may have pre-existing medical conditions. And during intense activities, male dogs develop a higher body temperature than females.

Early mornings offer the lowest temperatures of the day. They're the best time for summer training.
During preseason training, it’s important to help safeguard sporting dogs from overheating. Eukanuba

Recognizing the Signs of HRI

Knowing the signs of HRI and actions to take are key to helping your dog if he overheats. As a dog’s body temperature begins to rise, the heat buildup can quickly compound. Her temperature can continue to rise even after physical activity stops. The sooner owners can recognize the signs and take action, the better.

STAGE 1 – HEAT STRESS

Clinical Signs

  • Less animated behavior
  • Visibly tired or moving at a slower pace
  • Changes in the dog’s focus or readiness
  • Change in attitude (ie: seems apprehensive)
  • Excessive panting
  • Pasty saliva in the mouth
  • Increased thirst
  • Feels overly warm to the touch
  • Tongue excessively protruding out with a flattened end
  • Cheeks pulled back revealing the full arcade of the teeth including the molars
  • Brick red mucous membranes
  • Heat cramps or muscle spasms

Actions to Take

  • Take a break from the activity at hand. Sit in a shady area with a cool breeze and provide your dog with lots of water.
  • Apply cool water to his paw pads and underbelly.
  • Rinse out his mouth to remove any pasty saliva from his gums and tongue.
  • Dab rubbing alcohol-soaked pads to the pinnae of the ears, in his armpits and in the groin area. The alcohol placed in these areas will help cool the surface blood immediately.
  • Do not start exercising your dog until he is fully recovered, but even then, it might be best to rest him until the next day.
  • Consult your vet for additional instruction.

STAGE 2 – HEAT EXHAUSTION

Clinical Signs

Any of the signs from Stage 1, plus additional signs:

  • Weakness or stumbling
  • Mentally aware but too tired to react
  • Excessive panting becomes uncontrollable
  • Significant thirst
  • Sunken, dry eyes
  • Dry mouth, gums and nose
  • Vomit or diarrhea
  • Lack of skin elasticity
  • Muscle tremors

Actions to Take

  • Get your dog to the nearest vet immediately.
  • Before heading to the vet, place a cool, wet towel on the bottom of his kennel.
  • Be sure he is in a crate or other area large enough for him to lay on his side. It is important that your dog stretch out so there is maximum heat dissipation.
  • Apply cool water to his paw pads and underbelly.
  • Dab rubbing alcohol-soaked pads to the pinnae of the ears, in his armpits and in the groin area.
  • If you have a fan on the cage door, turn it on.
  • Absolutely do not put the dog in extremely cold water and never put ice on his skin. That extreme cold causes surface blood vessels to shrink and increases the risk of both dehydration and heatstroke.

STAGE 3 – HEAT STROKE

Clinical Signs

Any of the signs from Stage 1 and 2, plus additional signs:

  • Significant slowness or lack of coordination
  • Weakness in the hind end
  • Wobbly and unsteady
  • Unresponsive or confused
  • Incessant or noisy panting
  • Dark urine or lack of urine
  • Seizures
  • Head tremors
  • Shock
  • Collapse
  • Coma

Actions to Take

  • Get your dog to the nearest vet immediately.
  • Follow the before-mentioned actions from Stage 2 before you begin your drive to the nearest vet.

Preparing Your Dog for the Summer Heat: Acclimation, Physical Conditioning, Environmental Factors

Dogs need time to acclimate to changing environments. You can’t expect an indoor dog to spend the majority of her day in air conditioning and then perform well in the heat and humidity without gradual acclimation. It can take weeks to completely acclimate a dog to a rapidly changing environment, especially if you’re asking her to perform a strenuous activity.

Before beginning a workout routine, make sure your dog is at the correct weight. Use the Body Condition Score as a reference and visit your vet for a checkup. If your dog is overweight she’ll have a harder time working in the heat. It’s important to help her shed extra pounds by reducing her caloric intake or changing her diet.

When exercising outdoors, seek out areas with good air circulation and shade. Provide frequent breaks and plenty of fresh water. Slowly increase your dog’s time outdoors in the heat and use a progressive conditioning program. Consider water work or training near water and try to exercise your dog during cooler times of day (immediately after sunrise often provides the coolest ground and air temps).

In the summer. work dogs in open areas with pockets of shade. Circulating air helps keep them cool.
In the summer. work dogs in open areas with pockets of shade. Circulating air helps keep them cool. Eukanuba

Pay attention to environmental factors, including temperature, humidity, sun exposure, water access and terrain. High humidity can exacerbate HRI. Use caution when the heat index is greater than 75. Another method is to add the temperature and humidity percentage together; if that number exceeds 140 you might want to hold off on strenuous work.

It’s your job as the owner to know your dog. You are responsible for understanding your dog’s natural abilities and honestly evaluating her physical condition and endurance levels – don’t push your dog past them, especially in heat and humidity. Err on the side of caution and take plenty of breaks to rest and rehydrate.

In hot, humid conditions, give your gun dogs frequent breaks so they can cool down.
In hot, humid conditions, give your gun dogs frequent breaks so they can cool down. Eukanuba

A Word on Watering Your Dog

Hydration is important when working dogs in the heat. In a 2005 summary of working dogs, it was stated that while dogs can recover from the loss of most of their fat and half of their muscle, a loss of more than 10 percent of a dog’s body water stores can result in death. Obviously, water requirements vary by breed, size and activity, but as a gauge, a 44-pound dog needs to drink between .5 and 1.5 gallons per day, more when at work.

One way to increase hydration is to add water to your dog’s kibble. Feed immediately as some dogs don’t like mushy kibble. Water baiting works as well. Add a tablespoon of canned dog food to her water bowl and she’ll lap up water trying to get to the food. Remember to increase hydration 3 to 5 days prior to rigorous exercise in hot weather, continue watering your dog while running, and be sure there is plenty of water in the days following the activity.

Summer is a great time to get outside with your dog. If you’re a hunter, conditioning and training for the field demand that you and your dog endure the heat together. Just remember that your dog lives to please you, and that she will work herself hard to make you happy. It’s up to you to set fair expectations and give plenty of rest and water to help keep her safe from HRI.