Updated - May 31st, 2023
As the summer months approach, pups need our help to stay cool and comfortable. To keep cool, dogs don’t sweat like humans do – instead, they pant to lower their body temperature. However, panting may not be enough to prevent heat exhaustion, they need our help, too! Keeping your pup safe means knowing how to help them cool down and recognizing the first signs of heat exhaustion before things take a turn for the worse.
- Signs of heat exhaustion in dogs include excessive panting, drooling, rapid respiratory rate, hot ears, bright red tongue, disorientation, and vomiting or diarrhea.
- Pet parents should move their dog to a cool area and contact their veterinarian at the first signs of heat-related illness.
- To prevent heat exhaustion in dogs, provide cool water, frozen treats, cooling mats, wet food, and shade. Limit strenuous exercise on hot days and never leave dogs in hot cars.
- If your dog is experiencing seizures, lethargy, or collapse, they may be experiencing heatstroke and require immediate medical attention.
To understand what heat exhaustion is and what you can do, let’s break down its causes, treatment, and prevention.
What is heat exhaustion in dogs?
Heat exhaustion occurs when your dog gets too hot and can’t cool down. Heat exhaustion can be managed by immediately lowering a dog’s body temperature. However, if left untreated, heat exhaustion can quickly lead to heat stroke and hyperthermia, which can cause organ damage, seizures, a coma, or even death. A dog with a body temperature of 102.5° Fahrenheit (F) or more has heat exhaustion, while a temperature of 105.8°F or more indicates heatstroke.
What are common causes of heat exhaustion in dogs?
Heat exhaustion occurs from exposure to hot or humid environments or from overly strenuous exercise. Even when indoors, dogs are at risk of heat stress, heat exhaustion, and heatstroke. Even on mild-weathered days, a parked car can quickly heat up and cause heat exhaustion in a dog.
“As a general guideline, dogs are at risk of heat exhaustion when they are exposed to temperatures above 80°F for prolonged periods,” says Dr. Alejandro Caos, DVM, a veterinarian at The Vets. However, when temperatures rise to 70°F and above, dogs with a higher risk may experience heat exhaustion.
Dogs most at risk of heat exhaustion include:
- Senior dogs
- Dogs with underlying medical conditions (e.g. kidney disease, heart disease, and respiratory conditions)
- Brachycephalic or flat-faced dogs
- Dogs with thick or dark coats
- Overweight dogs
What are the signs of heat exhaustion in dogs?
Heat exhaustion is the beginning phase of heatstroke, which is why it’s so important to stop and reverse it in its tracks. When your dog begins feeling too hot, they may excessively pant, refuse food, or lie on their side, sprawled out.
Dogs who are too hot may display the following symptoms:
- Excessive panting
- Excessive drooling
- Rapid respiratory rate
- Hot ears
- Bright red tongue
- Pale or dark red gums
- Depression or weakness
- Disorientation or slow responses
- Vomiting or diarrhea
- Sprawled on their side
Clinical signs of heatstroke are more severe and may include loss of consciousness, seizures, and extreme disorientation.
How to help a dog with heat exhaustion
If your dog’s body temperature is not within the normal range of 101.0°F to 102.5°F, contact your veterinarian or an emergency veterinary clinic for help.
Until you can get your dog medical care, Dr. Caos says you can lower their body temperature by:
- Moving your dog to a shaded area or air-conditioned room.
- Using cool, wet towels to lower their core body temperature and splash cool water on their paw pads and belly. However, don’t use ice or ice packs to cool your pup since they can lower their body temperature too quickly.
- Offering your dog cool water to drink, encouraging small sips but not forcing them to drink.
- Using a fan to encourage evaporation of the water from your dog’s skin, which helps cool them.
When to call your vet
Contact your veterinarian or an emergency veterinary clinic for guidance as soon as you move your dog out of direct sunlight, even if they seem fine. If your dog is showing severe symptoms of heat exhaustion such as seizures, lethargy, or collapse, they may be experiencing heatstroke and require immediate medical attention.
How to prevent heat exhaustion in dogs
Help your dog avoid heat exhaustion by following these simple tips for staying cool.
1. Provide cool water and frozen treats
On hot days, it’s important to prevent dehydration in your dog by providing them with cold drinking water. Adding ice to their water or making frozen treats with bone broth or dog-safe fruits can also cool them down. Keep an eye out for signs of dehydration in dogs, such as lethargy, excessive panting, loss of skin elasticity, loss of appetite, dry nose, sticky gums, and sunken eyes.
2. Use a durable cooling mat
Hot dog but no air conditioning? A cooling mat could be the solution. Make sure the mat is durable enough to withstand your dog’s nails or cut your dog’s nails before use.
3. Swap dry food for wet food
Wet dog food contains more water than dry dog food, which can help prevent dehydration and keep your dog cool. For an extra cooling effect, you can chill the wet food before serving it to your pup.
4. Limit strenuous exercise
Vigorous exercise increases the risk of overheating, especially in flat-faced breeds such as Pugs and Bulldogs. Take precautions by avoiding exercising during the hottest times of the day and providing frequent water breaks in the shade.
5. Provide airflow
If you don’t have air conditioning, proper airflow is crucial. Opening windows and turning on a fan can help on moderately hot days. But when temperatures reach triple digits, we strongly suggest finding a space with air conditioning or investing in a portable air conditioning unit.
6. Dress your dog in cooling accessories
Cooling vests and bandanas can help maintain a normal core temperature. A bonus: cooling vests also provide ultraviolet light (UV) protection.
7. Splash around in cool water
If you have access to a cool lake, stream, or shaded water body, your dog might enjoy splashing around. When you’re limited to your own backyard, dog pools are an ideal way to keep your dog’s body temperature down. On days too hot to be outside, give your dog a cool bath indoors.
8. Provide shade
If your backyard doesn’t have enough natural shade, consider creating shade with an umbrella, canopy, or summer-safe doghouse. Avoid leaving your dog outside during the hottest hours of the day and provide them with plenty of fresh water. If you’re planning an outdoor adventure like a hike, choose a location with lots of tree coverage. Don’t forget your pup’s portable water bottle or bowl!
9. Never leave your dog alone in a hot car
“Never leave your dog in a parked car, even with the windows cracked open,” Dr. Caos warns. Cars can quickly overheat in hot weather. Even on a 70° day, a car’s interior can exceed 100° in just 30 minutes, making it life-threatening for unattended pets. “In fact, it’s illegal to leave a dog in a hot car in many states,” he adds.
10. Avoid hot pavement
Hot pavement and asphalt can burn a dog’s paw pads and put them at higher risk of heat exhaustion. “Stick to grassy areas or walk early in the morning or late in the evening when temperatures are cooler,” Dr. Caos offers.
The bottom line on heat exhaustion in dogs
Heat exhaustion occurs when a dog gets too hot and can’t cool down due to exposure to hot or humid environments or from overly strenuous exercise. Elderly dogs, puppies, dogs with underlying health conditions, brachycephalic or flat-faced dogs, dogs with thick or dark-colored coats, and overweight dogs are most at risk for heat exhaustion.
To prevent heat exhaustion in your pup, keep them cool with fresh water and summer essential dog gear. If your dog shows symptoms of heat-related illness, such as seizures, lethargy, or collapse, they should be taken to a veterinarian or an emergency veterinary clinic immediately.
How do you treat a heat-exhausted dog?
Immediately move your dog to a cool or shady spot if you believe they’re experiencing heat exhaustion. Provide clean drinking water, wrap them in cool, wet towels, and splash cool water on their paw pads. Do not use ice packs or ice when dogs are experiencing a heat-related illness, as it can lower their core body temperature too quickly.
Call your veterinarian or emergency animal hospital for care, even if your dog appears to be okay. At the clinic, your veterinarian can assess organ damage, administer fluids, and provide other care as needed.
How do dogs act when overheated?
When dogs become overheated, they can display a range of symptoms that indicate they are experiencing heat exhaustion. Excessive panting and drooling are common, as well as rapid breathing and heart rate. Additionally, with heat exhaustion may have a bright red tongue, dark red or pale gums, and may be lying down, sprawled to one side. They may appear depressed or weak, and be disoriented or slow to respond. Vomiting or diarrhea can also be signs of heat exhaustion.
If the condition progresses to heatstroke, more severe symptoms such as loss of consciousness, seizures, and extreme disorientation may occur. It’s crucial that a dog suffering a heat-related illness receives medical care as soon as possible.
What is the normal body temperature of a dog?
The normal body temperature of a dog is 101.0°F to 102.5°F. A dog with a body temperature of 102.5° F or more has heat exhaustion, while a temperature of 105.8°F or more indicates heatstroke.