Summer can be a fun time for you and your pooch. But just as heat and sun can be dangerous to your health, the summer can leave your dog vulnerable to a number of heat health risks.

Pets may not be able to tolerate a brisk jog or lounging in the sun, so it's important to know your dog's limits and to recognize signs of heat stress in your pet.

Heat-related illnesses include heat stroke, heat exhaustion, and heat cramps, and can occur after exposure to extremely high outdoor temperatures. Thankfully, these illnesses can be prevented if you take the right precautions.

Heat Stress 101

Heat exhaustion is extremely serious and can lead to death. A sunny afternoon can quickly turn fatal if your dog gets overheated.

Dogs can't sweat through their skin like us. Panting allows evaporation of water from the respiratory tract and is an effective method of heat dissipation in dogs.

However, when these normal mechanisms get overwhelmed (due to exposure to extreme heat, for instance), hyperthermia and heat stroke can develop. The elevation in body temperature stimulates the body to release substances that cause inflammation.

Hyperthermia is an elevation in body temperature that is above the generally accepted normal range. Although normal values for dogs vary, it is typically accepted that body temperatures above 103°F (39°C) are considered abnormal.

Hyperthermia can be categorized as either fever or nonfever hyperthermia. Fever hyperthermia results from inflammation in the body (such as the type that occurs secondary to a bacterial infection). Nonfever hyperthermia results from all other causes of increased body temperature.

Other causes of nonfever hyperthermia include:

  • excessive exercise
  • excessive levels of thyroid hormones in the body
  • lesions in the hypothalamus — the part of the brain that regulates body temperature

Heatstroke is a form of nonfever hyperthermia that occurs when the body cannot handle excessive exposure to the heat. Typically associated with a temperature ranging from 105°F to 110°F — without signs of inflammation — heatstroke can lead to weakness, lethargy, and potentially greater damage including failure of vital organs.

Dogs Most At Risk

  • puppies up to six months old
  • large dogs over seven years
  • small dogs over 14 years
  • overweight dogs
  • overexerted dogs
  • ill dogs, or dogs on medication
  • dogs with cardiovascular disease and/or poor circulation
  • dogs with a previous history of heat-related disease
  • brachycephalic dogs (short, wide heads, or smushed-faced dogs) like pugs, English bulldogs, and Boston terriers
  • dogs with heat intolerance due to poor acclimation to the environment (heavy-coated dogs in a hot geographical location)
  • dogs with underlying heart/lung disease
  • dogs with hyperthyroidism (increased levels of thyroid hormone)
  • dehydrated dogs with restricted access to water

Signs of Overheating

Watch for warning signs, which include:

  • sluggishness
  • unresponsiveness
  • appearing disorientated
  • bright red gums, tongue, and/or eyes
  • excessive panting
  • high body temperature
  • noisy breathing (this may indicate an upper airway obstruction)
  • rapid heart rate
  • irregular heart beat
  • muscle tremors
  • wobbly, uncoordinated movement

Extreme signs of overheating include vomiting, which could eventually lead to collapse, seizure, or coma.

If your dog shows any signs of overheating, treat them as an emergency. Call your veterinarian immediately. Keep your dog cool with wet towels, cool water from a hose, or ice chips to chew, until you can get him to the vet. Be sure not to place ice on your dog's body, however, as this can actually hurt his skin.

Proper Shade

Don't be surprised to see your dog dig into shady patches of dirt — he's seeking a cool spot to hide from the heat. Basically, if you feel uncomfortable outside in the heat, it is safe to say your dog feels the same.

Dogs left in the yard need shade. While a dog house may seem like a good idea, it usually prevents air flow and can get extremely hot in summer. A better bet is to keep your dog next to a small wading pool filled with cool water.

Other options for outdoor dogs include letting them seek shelter beneath your house or deck, or letting them enjoy the cool shade of a large tree in the yard. Even a simple wood roof on four legs can provide adequate shade.

Heat Protection Tips

1. Never leave your dog in the car. Not even with the windows down. Remember, a sunny day can turn a metal car into an oven pretty fast. Your car can reach boiling temperatures in minutes, even if the weather is reasonable outside.

2. Keep your dog hydrated. If you head outdoors, bring plenty of water for your pet. Keep a portable travel water dish on hand and replenish with cool, fresh water.

3. Keep mid-day walks to a minimum. Stick to early morning or evening walking/jogging sessions. And never force your dog to run after a meal in hot, humid weather.

4. Don't bring your dog to the beach. Unless you can find a cool spot, don't bring your dog to the beach. Remember, the hot sand can affect your dog's ability to cool down later. If you do hit the sand, make sure to rinse any saltwater off after.

5. Keep old and overweight dogs out of the heat. Certain breeds like snub-nosed dogs, especially bulldogs and Pekingese, as well as dogs with heart or lung disease, should be kept inside (in cool, air-conditioned rooms) as much as possible.

Concerned about your pet? Check for symptoms in your dog.