Summer is officially upon us and with the summer, comes the heat. We all have survived our first heat wave and the news is reporting how to protect ourselves against heat problems. A visit to the swimming pool, the local creek, or the ocean helps us stay cool during the “dog days” of summer. But what about our canine companions – how do we keep them cool?

The owner was frantic. Just an hour before, her Cairn Terrier, Snickers was playing in the yard. Now he was listless and having trouble breathing.

Rushing him to the nearest veterinary clinic, a concerned veterinary technician informed her Snicker’s temperature was over 106 degrees – he was suffering from heat stroke. Luckily for Snickers – and with the help of a quick thinking owner and veterinary technician – he recovered.

Every summer, hundreds of dogs find their way to the family veterinarian after spending just a few hours in the hot sun. Even cars are extremely dangerous. On summer days like this where you want to take the pets along for a ride, you must account for the heat. A pet would last only for a short while in a parked car—this is true even with the windows rolled partially down. The inside of the car can reach 120 to 160 degrees in just 30 minutes.

It’s important to remember dogs don’t sweat like we do. Cooling themselves by panting, dogs use the moisture evaporating off their tongue as a means to lower their body’s temperature. Anything overwhelming this natural cooling system leads to heat stroke. With more families away from home during the day, our dogs are often left outdoors where it may be difficult to find shady, cool places and water to drink.

Normally, a dog’s temperature ranges from 100 to 102.5 degrees. In cases of heat stroke, temperatures over 106 degrees are considered to be an emergency situation – temperatures over 110 degrees can be fatal in a matter of minutes.

This level of hyperthermia (higher than normal body temperature) can affect every major body system and it is imperative you get your pet to a veterinarian as soon as you safely can.

Dogs who succumb to heat stroke often show the following symptoms:

  • Vigorous panting
  • Inability to stand, or weakness while standing
  • Thick, ropy saliva, literally foaming at the mouth
  • Rigid muscles
  • Bright red mucous membranes, although some dogs may show pale or even muddy gums.

Heat stroke can affect any dog, although dogs with short faces, such as Boston, Pugs, and Bulldogs may be at higher risk due their inability to effectively pant and cool themselves. Remember, not only are they wearing a fur coat, but our pets have very limited ways of cooling themselves.

Many people believe that their pet will be fine outdoors. However, inadequate shade and/or water can affect even the most seasoned outdoor dog.

Interestingly, heat stroke in cats is very rare. Most animal experts believe that cats are extremely good at finding the coolest spots to lay and also avoid the excessive, excitatory exertions that many dogs seem to thrive on.

If you find your dog vigorously panting on a warm summer day, immediately move the pet out of the environment and into a cooler place. Getting the pet into a shady area with a fan running on him can be very helpful. Using cool, not cold, tap water on the extremities and trunk can also help to effectively lower the body temperature, as well as rubbing alcohol placed on the skin of the stomach. Do not use ice or extremely cold water. Although it seems logical, extreme cold will cause surface blood vessels to contract, forming an insulating area that traps heat in the body, delaying the cooling of the vital organs.

Attempting to force your pet to drink is also not advisable. If you suspect your dog is suffering from heat stroke, immediately load your pet carefully into a car and go to the veterinarian. Drive with the windows open and under no circumstances should you leave your pet alone in the vehicle.

Without these life saving steps, many dogs might lose their lives to the “dog-days” of summer. But, as Snickers will testify, quick thinking owners and veterinary professionals can help get them back on their feet in no time.

In summary, it is extremely important to provide an outside pet with a few basic survival items in this heat:

  • Shade-throughout the day.
  • Water-leave a sprinkler on, ice cubes in the water bowl.
  • Air circulation-a fan on the porch or near the dog’s bed.
  • When possible, bring them in.
  • Cooling area-Many dogs dig cooling holes in the yard this time of year, it is normal.
  • Hose them down-Hose them down 2 to 3 times per day if you need to.

I have seen and treated many cases of heat stress and heat stroke. Unfortunately, I have seen fatal ones. This is definitely a case where prevention is the cure. Do these preventative things, plus be aware of the signs of heat stroke and get your pets to the doctor in time to save their life!

To learn more about heat stroke in dogs, visit Breaking News or Veterinary News Network at to watch an informative video and, as always, seek the advice of your veterinarian to keep the summer days cool for you and your pet!