Heatwave advice for dog owners

A dog lying on a cooling mat

If you’ve landed here, you’re likely experiencing one of the few boiling hot days a year we get in the UK!

Heatwaves hold the potential for plenty of fun in the sun, though keeping our dogs happy and healthy is important. 

So, we’re going to explore when it’s too hot for your dog, the dangers of heatwaves, and our top 10 tips for keeping your dog safe during a heatwave…

Heatwave dangers for dogs

Sadly, despite our joy at seeing sunshine, heatwaves can wreak havoc on our canine companions’ health.

Since dogs are only able to sweat through their paws, panting is the only way for them to release heat from their bodies. But, when it’s humid (e.g. during a heatwave), panting isn’t very effective.

Health risks posed by hot weather include heatstroke, heat stress, heat exhaustion, overheating, and dehydration. Symptoms that suggest your dog is suffering from a heat-related illness include:

  • Panting excessively (please note that the corners of their mouth may widen, making them appear to be ‘smiling’ as they try hard to pant).
  • Drooling or foaming at the mouth.
  • Lack of co-ordination.
  • Confusion.
  • Wobbliness or trembling.
  • Lethargy or drowsiness.
  • Diarrhoea.
  • Vomiting.
  • Difficulty breathing.
  • Seizures.
  • Collapsing.

Important: Please call 999 immediately if you see a dog in distress who’s been locked in a car, caravan, or conservatory during hot weather. 

What to do if you think your dog is suffering from a heat-related illness

Step 1 – Have someone call a vet straight away, as you gently move your dog into the shade, where temperatures are cooler.

Step 2 – Offer your dog small amounts of fresh, cool drinking water.

Step 3 – Start cooling them carefully by placing your dog onto a cooling mat or a cool, damp towel. You shouldn’t wrap your dog in a damp towel, however, since that can trap the heat.

Alternatively, put an ice pack wrapped in a tea towel under your dog’s armpits and direct a cool fan at them, while spraying their coat with room temperature water. 

Please note: It’s crucial not to let your dog’s skin come into contact with an ice pack, or other frozen item(s), because that might cause ice burn and/or shock. 

Step 4 – As long as your dog doesn’t have a health condition, it might help if you pour cool water over their paws (don’t use ice water, though – it can cause shock). 

Provided they’re not stressed with water being poured over their paws, your dog may benefit from cool water being poured over larger areas of their body (never their face). 

Step 5 – Once the vet feels you’ve stabilised your dog’s condition, transport them to the vet practice on a cool, wet towel in an air-conditioned car or with the windows open. If you can, try to keep cooling your dog down while travelling in the car – according to your vet’s advice.

Which dogs are most at risk during a heatwave?

  • Flat-faced (brachycephalic) dogs, e.g. bulldogs and pugs.
  • Older dogs.
  • Puppies.
  • Large breeds.
  • Dogs who are overweight or obese.
  • Dogs with long and/or thick coats.
  • Dogs with underlying health conditions, e.g. heart disease.
  • Dogs who aren’t used to living in warm climates, e.g. Huskies.

When is weather too hot for dogs?

It can be challenging to know the threshold for it being too hot for our canine companions. Thankfully, there are ways to work out whether it’s safe for your dog to be outside or in a particular environment, including:

Five-second test 

Pavements and tarmac can become extremely hot in the sun, which could burn our dogs’ paws. 

To protect your dog’s paws, test the ground before letting them walk on it by holding your hand on the pavement or tarmac for five seconds. If you’re unable to withstand the temperature of the tarmac or pavement, that means it’s far too hot for your dog!

Should you discover the pavement or tarmac is too hot for your dog, you could reschedule their walk for later in the day, when it’s cooler. 

Measuring the heatstroke risk 

Understanding the heatstroke risk related to the temperature helps us control the environment as best we can, to keep it as safe as possible for our canine companions. Knowing when it’s too hot for our dogs to be exercising outside could help to reduce the risk of heatstroke: 

  • 7°C to 15°C = Generally considered safe for dogs of all breeds, sizes, and types.
  • 16°C to 19°C = Monitor the condition of those who are most at risk of heatstroke, including overweight and flat-faced dogs.
  • 20°C to 23°C = All dogs are at risk of heatstroke at these temperatures, especially if running around – though dogs with underlying health conditions and breathing difficulties are at the greatest risk.
  • 24°C to 31°C = These temperatures are dangerous for all dogs, with larger breeds and puppies being among the most vulnerable.
  • 32°C + = Heatstroke becomes a significant, life-threatening risk for all dogs.

Remember: Take into consideration your dog’s health, age, and coat type (e.g. short coated or long haired) when deciding whether they’re at greater risk of heatstroke. 

Remembering that temperatures rise inside 

Temperatures in cars, vans, caravans, conservatories, and other outbuildings can become extremely dangerous for dogs during a heatwave. For example, here are some approximate temperatures to expect in hot weather:

  • Cars can reach 43°C within 30 minutes when it’s mild and 23°C outside.
  • Cars can reach a sweltering 43°C after only 10 minutes in 32°C weather.
  • Cars can reach a deadly 54°C in just 30 minutes in 35°C conditions.

If your dog’s body reaches 40°C or above, it becomes a life-threatening situation – as your dog can no longer regulate their temperature. 

So, it’s vital that you never leave your dog in a hot vehicle, caravan, conservatory, outbuilding, or other hot environment (including outdoors). 

Top 10 tips for keeping your dog safe during a heatwave

Follow our top tips below, to discover the many ways to keep your dog safe and cool while the sun’s out…

1 – Keep them hydrated

Make sure your dog has constant access to fresh, clean drinking water that’s always kept cool. 

For inspiration to encourage dogs who don’t drink very much to drink more during hot weather, check out this article about keeping your canine companion hydrated.

2 – Walkies during cooler times only

By avoiding the hottest times of the day when walking your dog, and sticking to either sunrise or sunset, they’re less likely to overheat during the summer. 

3 – Offer cold treats

Creating some super tasty homemade frozen treats for your canine companion could inspire them to keep cool when the weather’s hot outside.

4 – Don’t let them lounge in the sun

Aside from allowing them outside to toilet, it’s essential that your dog doesn’t spend time sunbathing – as much as they might want to!

5 – Create cool spaces

If it’s challenging to stop your dog from wanting to spend time in the fresh air, you’ll need to set up a large, shaded space for them. 

Their special, shady spot in the garden should be a safe space for your dog to spend short amounts of time outside – with constant access to fresh drinking water.

6 – Avoid travelling 

Where possible, avoid travelling with your dog in a car or on public transport when the weather is hot.

Important: Leaving your dog in a car is never safe in a hot car. 

7 – Apply dog-safe suncream

Keeping your dog out of the sun altogether during a heatwave is best for their health. 

However, if you’re enjoying a daytrip in cooler temperatures while the sun is shining, using a vet-approved, pet-safe suncream on any exposed skin could help protect them from sunburn.

8 – Groom them more frequently

It’s especially important for dogs with long or thick coats to be clipped more often and groomed daily when there are heatwaves or hot weather predicted.

9 – Protect their paws

Along with testing that the tarmac is a safe temperature before walkies, you could protect your dog’s paws by walking on grass instead of pavements – if safe to do so. Otherwise, you could consider buying dog shoes which can help prevent potential burns or injuries if your dog will wear them.

10 – Entertain them with puzzle toys 

Active dogs may find themselves bored when their normal exercise routines are halted during heatwaves. To keep your canine companion entertained and their mind stimulated, introduce them to some super-fun, low-energy puzzle toys, e.g. a DIY snuffle mat.

Thinking of taking your dog to the beach? If so, check out our articles on beach safety and sand impaction, to enable you both to enjoy fun in the sun safely.

For even more advice about keeping your dog happy and healthy this summer, have a chat with the vet experts over at Joii Pet Care!

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