When they pant, wander around looking for shade, and finally stubbornly lie down and refuse to walk, your dog is telling you something, and you probably don’t need a dog whisperer to figure it out: Your canine friend is hot, and telling you in the adorable way that only dogs can.
Though you can’t control the humidity or tame the unrelenting cruelty of the summer sun, you can take active steps to keep your furry friend more comfortable during the hottest months of the year. Since dressing them down isn’t exactly an option—more on the benefits of a summer trim in a bit—most of the advice involves helping them avoid risky situations and recognizing the warning signs that your pup is overheated.
How to keep your dog from overheating
It probably goes without saying, but what’s true for humans applies to dogs as well: When it’s hot out, staying hydrated is key. Dogs love to run around and fraternize with their furry friends, and may do so even if it’s punishingly hot outside—but they can’t exactly ask you for a drink. So whenever you and your dog head out on a hot day, take cold water with you, and bring along a collapsable bowl or something else they can easily slurp from. Water consumption will vary based on your dog’s size and their activity level, but you should be giving them a chance to drink often. How often? Pet Health Network advises doing so every 15–20 minutes.
How much water does your dog need to drink?
Counterintuitively, your dog can also drink too much water at once, so you want to guard against overwatering them (while rare, water intoxication is a risk). Arleigh Reynolds, a senior research nutritionist and veterinarian with pet food company Purina, offers some guidelines for calculating a healthy water to weight ration:
For a forty-five to fifty-five pound dog, don’t let them drink more than four to eight ounces of water at a time. After they’ve had time to absorb it and get it out of their stomach, give them some more ten or fifteen minutes later.
Limit your dog’s activity on hot days
The heat also means you should impose limitations on your dog, because they aren’t able to cool themselves like humans are and aren’t as likely to naturally avoid overexerting themselves. The American Humane Society recommends being active with your dog during the morning and evening hours, which tend to be the coolest parts of the day, and limiting their outdoor activity in the midday heat.
Giving your dog a summer haircut won’t cut it
Seeing your longhaired pooch panting in the heat might make you wince (imagine the discomfort wearing a full fur coat in summer!), but don’t bother shaving them to cut down (no pun intended) on the likelihood they’ll get overcooked. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, longer coats actually help dogs regulate their internal temperature when it’s hot. You might be doing them more harm than good, as dogs can get sunburned, too, especially in areas with less fur coverage.
Never keep your dog in a parked car
This one is common sense, and applies to any living creature that can’t cool itself by lowering the windows or cranking the air conditioning. Your parked car becomes an oven when it’s hot enough (in some regions, this can happen throughout the year), even when the temps feel pleasant and balmy when you were driving or walking around outside.
Don’t assume cracking a window is enough, either: The American Veterinary Medical Association points to two studies, both of which demonstrated the temperatures inside cars parked on hot days increases almost exponentially, even if the windows are down. One of the studies, “found that the temperatures in a dark sedan as well as a light gray minivan parked on a hot, but partly cloudy day, exceeded [125 degrees Fahrenheit] within 20 minutes,” the AVMA writes.
This isn’t a selective grouping of data, either: Twenty-eight states currently have laws on the books that criminalize leaving dogs alone in parked cars.
Know the warning signs of dog heatstroke
The worst possible outcome is that your dog will experience heatstroke, which is defined as, “increased body temperature above 104°F,” Today’s Veterinary Practice writes. According to the American Humane Society, symptoms of this life-threatening condition include, “excessive panting, dark or bright red tongue and gums, lethargy, stumbling, seizures, bloody diarrhea, and vomiting.”
If you suspect your dog is experiencing heatstroke, consult a veterinarian immediately. In the interim, there are many things you can do to soothe and cool down your dog if necessary, including submerging them in cool water or rubbing them with a cold, wet towel or sponge. No matter what happens—and even if they seem to perk up once out of the heat—you should still take your dog to the vet, as organ failure is one of the unfortunate consequences of severe heatstroke.
While it’s great to watch your dog romping and frolicking during the torrid months of the year, it’s up to you to understand how their activity could potentially harm them. You’ll be a better dog owner for it, and probably you’ll enjoy more love from your furry buddies as a result.