There’s nothing like a warm summer day, full of fun in the sun for your pet. But is there such a thing as too much sun for your furry friend? The answer is a resounding yes, which means you should always keep an eye on your pet’s health when the sun is high and the weather is hot! 

Effects of heat exposure can be brutal for your pet. Knowing how to keep them cool can ensure your summer and fall festivities are fun for the whole family!

How Hot Weather Affects Your Pet

Hot weather can be fun for a little while, but once your pet is exposed for too long, the effects of extreme heat can be tough to beat. Knowing how your pet’s internal heating and cooling systems work will help you better understand how to support them if they get too hot.

First, let’s talk about body temperature. Your pet’s ideal internal temperature should be between 100 -102.5º Fahrenheit, while a temperature of 103º or above is considered hyperthermic (too hot) and over 106º indicates heat stroke. FYI, these numbers apply to both dogs and cats!

A rectal thermometer should be used when taking your cat or dog’s temperature, which should be well-lubricated and slowly inserted no more than 1-3 inches depending on the size of your pet. Have someone hold your pet’s torso and head while you take the temperature to keep both you and your pet safe.

PET Fact

Hyperthermia (abnormally high body temperature) is the opposite of hypothermia (abnormally low body temperature), while normothermia is the state of a normal, healthy internal body temperature

In normal circumstances, dogs and cats will regulate their body heat through sweat glands in the nose and paw pads. They don’t sweat through the skin on the rest of their bodies like humans do which means dogs and cats can take longer to cool down. 

When dogs expel water (sweat) from their bodies, it’s in the form of wet noses and paws. Dry noses, by comparison, could mean your pet is dehydrated but also may be normal for some dogs. When your pet is feeling hot and sweating in order to cool down, it’s not uncommon to see a trail of wet pawprints on the ground. 

Dogs and cats also regulate their body temperature through panting (respiration). Rapid panting helps overheated dogs take in, humidify, and expel air from their nose and lungs to aid in evaporation. Ever noticed how stepping out of a shower leaves your skin feeling cold? That’s because evaporation can help cool you down which is why dogs pant and sweat to beat the heat.
how hot weather affects pets

Signs of Heat-Related Illness in Pets

If your pet has been exposed to high temperatures for an extended period, the effects will start to affect their health. A good rule of thumb is to use caution anytime your pet steps outside in temperatures 75º or higher. To keep your pet as safe as possible, get to know the three escalating phases of heat-related illness (HRI) in dogs and cats:

If your pet has been exposed to high temperatures for an extended period, the effects will start to affect their health. A good rule of thumb is to use caution anytime your pet steps outside in temperatures 75º or higher. To keep your pet as safe as possible, get to know the three escalating phases of heat-related illness (HRI) in dogs and cats:

1. Heat Stress

Signs of heat stress in dogs and cats can be subtle at first, and may range in severity depending on factors like the animal’s coat and weight. Here are the basic signs of heat stress in pets: 

  • Excessive, rapid panting
  • Visibly tired or less animated than usual
  • Reduced alertness
  • Changes in mood (seeming more anxious or hesitant)
  • Tongue fully extended with a lax, flattened end
  • Sudden cramps or muscle spasms 
  • Upper lips pulled back revealing full set of teeth

2. Heat Exhaustion

If the signs of heat stress have been overlooked, heat exhaustion will be the progression of HRI. Heat exhaustion can look like: 

  • Extreme thirst
  • Excessive panting
  • Stumbling and muscle weakness
  • Continued or worsening muscle spasms
  • Digestive upset (vomiting, diarrhea)
  • Dry tongue, gums, and nose

3. Heat Stroke

Heat stroke is severe exposure to high temperatures and means your pet can no longer cool themselves down. If your dog or cat is exhibiting these symptoms, it’s time to seek medical attention: 

  • Collapse or inability to get up from a prone position
  • Unresponsive or seemingly confused
  • Dark urine or lack of urination
  • Seizures or tremors of the head or neck
  • Loss of balance or unsteadiness
  • Non-stop panting that’s noisy or labored
  • Weakness in the hips or back legs

These symptoms can continue with each stage of heat-related illness. Most will worsen as long as your pet remains exposed to high heat–so it’s important to keep a close eye on their condition!

How to Support an Overheated Pet

If your pet is already exhibiting signs of HRI, how you care for them will determine how quickly they recover. Below, you’ll find vet-recommended advice on how to cool down your pet in order to prevent serious symptoms of heat-related illness.

1. Heat Stress

If your pet is just beginning to become affected by heat, here’s what you can do to make them more comfortable: 

  • Have your pet take a rest, either by bringing them to a shaded area or by stopping the activity 
  • Give them cool water to drink 
  • Provide ventilation, either by finding a breezy area or using a handheld fan
  • Rinse their mouth to remove thick, sticky saliva
  • Soak a cotton pad in rubbing alcohol then apply to their inner ear flaps, armpits, and groin area (this can cool blood near the surface of their skin)
  • Use a cool compress on their paw pads, nose, and underbelly
  • If your pet still appears fatigued or is showing signs of heat stress, call it a day and let them rest until tomorrow
  • Finally, contact your veterinarian if any of their symptoms concern you

2. Heat Exhaustion

If your pet’s heat exposure symptoms have escalated, take these immediate steps to cool them down: 

  • Head to your nearest veterinary clinic for immediate care
  • Keep your pet’s kennel, backseat, or wherever they’re riding cool with a cold, wet blanket
  • Lay your dog on their side to allow for maximum heat release from the body
  • Turn on a fan pointed directly at your pet 
  • Avoid submerging your pet in cold water or applying ice directly to their skin
  • Call your vet’s office to get additional advice on how to treat your pet’s symptoms 

2. Heat Stroke

Heat stroke can be life-threatening, and requires immediate medical attention. Take your pet to the nearest vet hospital for emergency treatment. Until you get there, keep them comfortable by following the action items outlined above for both heat stress and heat exhaustion. 

Best Practice for Keeping Your Pet Safe in Summer

Providing your pet with a few basic amenities can better prepare them for heat exposure and reduce their likelihood of heat-related illness: 

1. Ventilated houses
If your pet sleeps in a dog house or cozies up in a cat kennel, be sure these structures allow plenty of airflow. Poorly ventilated enclosures–even if they’re shaded–can actually raise temperatures making the effects of heat more intense. If you can’t replace your pet’s house with a more ventilated option or move it to a more ventilated area, compromise by positioning an oscillating fan nearby to increase air flow.

2. Adequate shade
If your dog is playing outdoors in the heat, giving them access to shade is a must. Shade, combined with airflow, can quickly cool down your pet if they need a break from the heat. If your dog is leashed, be sure the shade is accessible from where they’re restrained.

3. Cold Water
Hydration is critical for cooling down your pet in hot weather. If your pet’s water bowl is outside, be sure it stays in the shade or pay close attention to its temperature. Outdoor water sitting in direct sunlight should be replaced at least twice per day, or have ice added throughout the day to ensure it’s cool enough for your pet to drink. Warm or hot water won’t provide much relief to an overheated dog.

4. Pupsicles
Yes, pupsicles are a real thing and can be reserved as a special treat for your pet during hot weather. Prepare fresh, dog-friendly ingredients like pureed cantaloupe, apples, or carrots. For a savory option combine water, low-sodium chicken broth, and cooked chicken. Prepare and combine your dog’s favorite ingredients and freeze them in a silicone popsicle mold. Serve the refreshing (and nourishing) treat to your dog whenever they need a quick cool-down.

5. Bath
Now we know not all pets will go for this option, but it’s useful for thoroughly cooling down pets who need it. Run a cool water bath (just below lukewarm and never ice cold) or let your dog splash around a kiddie pool to bring down their body temperature. 

6. Cool Compress
If bathing is not possible try soaking a towel or mat in cold water. Drape it over your pet while they rest or have them lay on the cooled mat during naptime. 

7. Know when to rest
Knowing the signs of heat exhaustion is perhaps the most important strategy for protecting your pet. Have a plan in place for when to call it quits for playtime; for example, when your dog starts panting, give them water, shade, and rest right away. If they return to the activity and are still showing signs of heat stress, don’t repeat your first step–just accept that it might be too hot for your pet’s outdoor activity in the current conditions.

As long as your pet is safe and cooperative, you can get creative with how to keep dogs and cats cool in hot weather. 

Heat-Safe Summer Activities For Pets

After reading about the signs of heat-related illness in dogs and cats, are you nervous about bringing your pet outside during hot weather? Your pet still needs physical exercise to keep them healthy and happy–and there are ways to do that without putting them in danger of HRI.

Not all dogs love to swim, but those that do can keep much cooler in hot weather! Take your water-loving pup to the beach, lake, or river to give them a chance to cool off the old-fashioned way. If you love taking your pet kayaking, boating, or paddle boarding with you, just remember to bring plenty of cool water to drink and portable shade. 
If swimming in a pool, know that chlorine can dry out your pet’s skin and cause irritation. Anytime your pet goes for a swim, you’ll want to follow up with a moisturizing shampoo or, at the very least, a good wipe-down until they’re ready for a bath. And, if your dog is prone to ear infections, use an ear rinse 1-2 times per week if they’re swimming often. 

Backyard play
This option requires both adequate access to shade at all times of day and access to clean, cool water. Keeping your pet in a confined area (like a backyard) lets you keep a close eye on them to ensure they’re not overheating. Installing a doggie door is an added protection allowing them to come inside if they get too hot. 

Kiddie pool
If your pet can’t swim but still likes to get wet, make them a personal splash zone! Buy a kiddie pool and fill it with clean, cool water until it reaches your dog’s rib cage. Placing the kiddie pool on the grass or a towel can also help keep your pet’s paws from sizzling on hot pavement.

If you have a yard, set up a sprinkler for your pet to run through when it gets hot outside. Sprinklers are a great way to keep energetic pets occupied, especially if you choose one with an oscillating water pattern.

summer activities to keep your dog cool
Frozen toys
There are plenty of dog toys made specifically for freezing which means your dog can chew on them on hot days to keep cool. Throwing a few ice cubes into their water bowl also can be a delight and a refreshing way to give them a cool drink. 

Keeping your pet cool in hot weather is easy with the right knowledge, but paying close attention to their behavior remains your most useful tool. At the very least, always provide clean water and shade for your pet in hot weather, and try to limit their time outdoors to avoid heat-related illness. With these tips, you’ll be able to enjoy every new adventure with your pet no matter the season!
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Dr. Joya Griffin | Vet Board Bio


Dr. Joya Griffin is an Ohio native and graduated from Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. She has a special interest in fungal and immune-mediated skin diseases as well as feline and equine dermatology. Dr. Joya always strives to care for her patients as if they are her own pets and loves building long-lasting relationships with their pet parents. Dr. Joya also stars in the Nat Geo WILD television series, “Pop Goes the Vet with Dr. Joya,” which highlights the challenging and mysterious cases she encounters in veterinary dermatology.
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