Each summer, there comes a point when it’s simply too hot to handle. So what do you do? You head indoors, soak up some sweet air conditioning, and wait for the weather to return to its senses—hopefully, with your dog right beside you.
Despite being called the “dog days of summer,” the season’s hottest, muggiest stretches are particularly dangerous for your four-legged friend. Because dogs don’t sweat like humans, they have a more difficult time cooling down their bodies—which are, don’t forget, covered in a thick, furry coat.
“If it’s too hot outside for you, it’s definitely too hot for your dog,” cautions Vicki Stevens, senior manager of companion animals at the Humane Society of the United States.
With the mercury rising, Stevens shares tips for keeping your pup cool and comfortable this summer.
Limit Yard Time
No matter the weather, make sure your dog always has access to plenty of fresh water and ample shade provided by trees or a tarp when in the yard. (Although a dog house technically provides shade, it obstructs airflow and can make the heat worse.)
However, in many areas of the country, there will be days when it’s too hot for your dog to spend any significant time outside, even with the best accommodations. Although there’s no hard-and-fast temperature cutoff, humidity plays a big role. "Animals pant to evaporate moisture from their lungs, which takes heat away from their body,” says Stevens. “If the humidity is too high, they are unable to cool themselves, and their temperature will skyrocket to dangerous levels very quickly."
If you suspect your dog is overheating, look for signs of distress (including heavy panting, glazed eyes, rapid heartbeat, difficulty breathing, lethargy, vomiting, and lack of coordination) and take his temperature. Is it above 104 degrees? If so, cautions Stevens, your dog is experiencing heat stroke and must be seen by a veterinarian immediately. As you make arrangements to see the vet, move your dog to an air-conditioned area, apply ice packs to his head, neck, and chest, and run cool water over him.
On high-temperature days, consider decreasing your dog’s activity level. “Just as humans are advised to restrict the intensity of their exercise in hot weather, it is equally important that we ensure our pets aren’t over-exercised in the heat,” advises Stevens. “Limit long walks and other exercise to the times of day that are most cool—early morning or late evening.”
It’s especially important to scale back exercise if your dog is particularly vulnerable to the heat. “Animals are at increased risk for heat stroke if they are very old, very young, overweight, not conditioned to prolonged exercise, or have heart or respiratory disease,” says Stevens. Additionally, dogs who are brachycephalic (meaning they have short muzzles, such as boxers, pugs, and bulldogs) should be closely monitored—their anatomy makes it difficult to pant and expel heat effectively.
While you’re out and about, have a supply of fresh, cold water on hand, and try to walk in the grass whenever possible. Asphalt and concrete heat up quickly and can burn your pup’s paw pads—test it out by pressing your hand to the ground.
Say No to the Car
Even worse than leaving your pup outside this summer? Leaving him outside in the car.
Regardless of the forecast, it is never, ever a good idea to leave your dog unattended in a car for any amount of time. In fact, depending where you live, it may even be illegal. Many states have laws prohibiting confining dogs to cars, and some allow good Samaritans to break in and rescue an animal exhibiting signs of distress.
“Hundreds of dogs left unattended in parked cars suffer and die each year from heat stroke—this is a preventable tragedy,” says Stevens. “The truth is, we can’t judge how dangerous the inside of a parked car is simply by how the weather outside feels to us. A warm, 70-degree day with a nice breeze outside can quickly turn a parked car into a death trap, even with windows cracked open.”
If some of your errands aren’t pet-friendly, leave your dog home to enjoy a little quality time with the air conditioner. Sometimes—especially during the summer—there’s no place like home!