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Tips for keeping dogs cool in the summer

Summer is a dangerous time for dogs - making adjustments to their living conditions and lifestyle will help them make it through the heat wave in good health.

Keeping Cool in the Summer Heat
Traci Murdock

Here are some tips on what to do in the summer months to make sure your dog stays safe.

Watch out for Anti-Freeze

Animals are attracted to the sweet taste of coolant and ingesting just a small amount can cause an animal's death. There are an enormous number of animal fatalities each year from anti-freeze (ethylene glycol) - consider using animal-friendly products that use propylene glycol rather than those containing ethylene glycol. Poisoning from anti-freeze is considered a serious medical emergency which must be treated by a qualified veterinarian immediately.

Heatstroke and Heat Exhaustion

According to Dr. Lila Miller, ASPCA Vice President of Veterinary Outreach, "symptoms of overheating in pets include excessive panting or difficulty breathing, increased heart and respiratory rate, drooling, mild weakness, stupor or even collapse. They can also include seizures, bloody diarrhea and vomit along with an elevated body temperature of over 104 degrees."

Please be sensitive to old and overweight animals in hot weather. Brachycephalic (snub-nosed) dogs (breeds like bulldogs, Pekingese, and Boston terriers) are more susceptible to heat stroke since they cannot pant as effectively, and those with heart or lung diseases should be kept indoors in air-conditioning as much as possible.

Look for:
• profuse and rapid panting
• bright red tongue and skin (watch the inside of his ears and his feet pads)
• pale gums
• thick, drooling saliva
• wide eyes with a glassy look
• a staggering gait
• dizziness and lethargy
• nausea, vomiting and diarrhea

What to do:
To cool off an overheated dog, offer him plenty of water, wet the dog's lower body and paws with cool (not ice cold) water, then use a fan. Make sure to spray the paws and stomach, not the top of the dog, when spraying with water, and a wet towel does more good on the bottom of your dog than when laid on the top of its coat. A dog's normal internal body temperature is between 100.5 degrees F and 102 degrees F. If the dog experiences heatstroke or heat exhaustion, he should receive veterinary attention as soon as possible.

Forget the haircut – As the temperature rises, it might seem logical to take your pet to the groomer for a summer haircut. Although a long coat may look hot, in many cases it helps insulate your pet against and keeps him cooler. Mother Nature gave dogs (and other fur-bearing species) coats to offer protection from heat, cold and other elements. Shaving to the skin can actually make a dog hotter and subject him to sunburn, even skin cancer.

Dogs sweat from their paws and disperse body heat as they pant. This means that in many cases, having a long coat does not significantly affect the dog's body temperature. Unlike humans, the skin of dogs and cats does not contain the vast network of blood vessels and sweat glands designed to dissipate body heat during hot weather conditions. True, dogs do possess sweat glands in their footpads, but these glands play a minimal role in overall thermoregulation. Despite being sweat-gland deficient, dogs and cats have an uncanny ability to vaporize large amounts of water from their lungs and airways, water that carries heat from the body when they pant.

Sunburn – Dogs and cats can get sunburn on areas of exposed skin, especially on their noses, ears and other pink spots. Dogs that are at particular risk are dogs who have recently been clipped, dogs with thinning hair because of a medical problem, light-colored short-haired dogs, black dogs (they absorb the sun’s rays) and older dogs who fall asleep in the sun. To be effective, sun block should be at least SPF 15, plus should be applied more than 15 minutes before sun exposure. Note: some experts recommend that zinc oxide not be used on pets.

Parked Cars

Parked cars can quickly become ovens - leaving your dog in a parked car in the summer (even with the window left a few inches open), can cause heatstroke within minutes. Note: Leaving your dog in a car parked in the shade does not assure that your dog will not become seriously overheated. Shaded cars may still get very hot due to the greenhouse effect, and the sun may also move enough to change shaded areas into sunny ones. Dogs left in parked cars also risk being harassed or stolen.

July 4th Fireworks

Avoid exposing your puppy or dog to fireworks noise – this can result in serious (and often longterm) phobias. Unfortunately, in many communities, firecracker noise often begins weeks before the July 4th holiday. Keep evening walks with your dog very brief, and never leave your dog outdoors in your yard or property if there is any risk of exposure to firecracker noise. When indoors, try to disguise outdoor noises with music, television, air conditioners and "white noise" machines. Otherwise, if at all possible, consider taking a short vacation with your dog to a quieter community where firework noise is minimal.

The shelters say that July 5th is the busiest day of the year for them, so making sure that your dog is in a secure enclosure is paramount.

Open Windows, Fire Escapes, and Rooftops

During hot weather, many people leave a few windows open in their home to help create a nice cool cross-breeze. If you have a dog or cat at home, be certain to install secure window screens (or safety bars) in any of the windows which will be left open, as many companion animals fall out of windows and off fire-escapes every year and are often seriously injured or killed. Also, if you allow your dog access to your building's balconies or rooftop, make sure the sidewalls which enclose them are high enough to prevent your dog from being able to fall or jump off, and make sure that you accompany him.

Swimming Pools

Each year, puppies, dogs and small children accidentally drown in backyard swimming pools when left unattended. To help prevent such a tragedy, always keep fenced-in pools locked securely when not being used, and keep companion animals and small children away from unenclosed and unoccupied pools.

Make Sure They Have Shelter

Direct sunshine raises body temperature fast, which is why dogs and cats need cool places where they can go to escape the sun. Make sure the space where they spend the hottest part of the day includes a porch, an umbrella, or even a leafy tree; they’ll find ways to keep cool. If your dog stays in a doghouse, garage, or other building during the day, wait until the hottest part of the day and check the temperature yourself. If it feels uncomfortable to you, it’s probably too hot for your pet.

When to Exercise

Rather than taking your pet outside during the hottest times of the day, try scheduling your exercise routines or walks during the early morning or later evening hours, when temperatures are cooler. Dogs that play all day during the cooler months may find themselves slowing down when it’s hot outside. Don’t push too hard, particularly when they start panting. Pets don’t always know their limits so we have to set the limits for them.


Traci Murdock, CPDT-KA, is a Master Trainer, Canine Behavior Specialist, and Certified Professional Dog Trainer, and she is a Talent Scout and Wrangler. She has trained dogs and their humans for over 11 years. Traci's expertise includes pet dog issues, nutrition, behavior issues, dog sports and activities, and rescue and adoption, and she has experience in just about any dog-related subject. Traci volunteers as a behavior consultant and trainer for rescues and shelters.

For more info: If you are interested in learning different ways to solve problems and communicate with your dog, you can go to or send an email to with any questions or comments or for help with specific issues that you are having with your dog.


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