Miniature goldendoodle enjoying a small splash pool on a hot summer day.

Fun in the Sun: How to Keep Your Pets Safe and Happy This Summer

Reading Time: 7 MIN

Heat Stroke in Dogs

The biggest worry for pets in the summertime is heat stroke. What is heat stroke? Heat stroke is a term commonly used for hyperthermia or elevated body temperature. Generally speaking, if a pet’s body temperature exceeds 103°F (39.4°C), it is considered abnormal or hyperthermic. Body temperatures above 106°F (41°F) without previous signs of illness are most commonly associated with exposure to excessive external or environmental heat and are often referred to as heat stroke. The critical temperature where multiple organ failure and impending death occurs is around 107°F to 109°F (41.2°C to 42.7°C).

Dogs suffering from heatstroke can have elevated breathing rates, dry or sticky gums, abnormal gum color, bruising in the gums, may appear lethargic or disoriented, and can have seizures.

Causes of Heat Stroke

Little dog in the driver seat of a truck

Most common cause of heat stroke is leaving a dog in a hot car. Other common causes are left outside without access to shade or water and excessive or vigorous exercise. Brachecephalyic breeds are at greater risk of heat stroke.

Other common causes of heat stroke include being left in a yard without access to shade or water on a hot day and excessive or vigorous exercise during hot temperatures. Excited or excessively exercised dogs are sometimes at risk even if the environmental temperature and humidity does not seem high. It is important to remember that dogs cannot control their body temperature by sweating as humans do since they only have a relatively small number of sweat glands located in their footpads. Their primary way of regulating body temperature is by panting.

Dogs with a restricted airway such as brachycephalic breeds (flat-faced dogs such as pugs, boxers, and bulldogs) are at greater risk. In these breeds, clinical signs of heat stroke can occur when the outside temperature and humidity are only moderately elevated.

Treatment for Heat Stroke

Hyperthermia is an immediate medical emergency. Safe, controlled reduction of body temperature is a priority. Cool water (not cold) may be poured over the head, stomach, armpits and feet, or cool cloths may be applied to these areas. If using cool wet cloths, these should be continually replaced, or they will start to retain heat. Ensure a continuous flow of air across the dog to help increase evaporative heat loss until treatment is received at your veterinary hospital.

Although of questionable benefit, rubbing alcohol may be applied to the footpads to dilate pores and increase perspiration. Using ice packs is controversial as they may contribute to reduced blood flow to the skin surface where heat exchange can take place. This can also cause parts of the skin to die (necrosis of the tissue).

The dog’s rectal temperature will be monitored and treatment discontinued once the dog shows signs of recovery or the temperature has fallen to 103ºF (39.4ºC). If cooling is not discontinued, then the patient could develop hypothermia(dangerously low body temperatures).

Prognosis for Heat Stroke

The prognosis depends on how high the body temperature elevated, how long the hyperthermia persisted and what the physical condition of the pet was prior to the heat stroke. If the body temperature does not become extremely high, most healthy pets will recover quickly if they are treated immediately. Some pets may experience permanent organ damage or may die at a later date from complications that developed secondarily to hyperthermia. Pets that experience hyperthermia are at greater risk for subsequent heat stroke due to damage to the thermoregulatory center.

Ways to Avoid Heat Stroke

Curly haired dog resting in the shade of a tree.

Limit activity to the cooler times of the day. While the most direct sunlight occurs around noon, the day will be the hottest towards late afternoon, around 3-5 p.m. Plan for walks in the early morning or evening hours to avoid the hottest times of the day.

Providing access to shady areas and avoid any strenuous activities. Keep indoors when there are extreme temperatures. In extreme temperatures, high humidity or on days when there is a dramatic temperature change, it may be best to keep pets cool indoors, ideally with air conditioning or fans.

Offer frequent water breaks. Always be sure to bring water and a collapsible bowl with you when you take your dog out and about, and remember to provide frequent opportunities for your dog to have a drink of water. Swimming pools or sprinklers are also effective tools to keep pups cool.

Use caution on black pavement. Blacktop retains a lot of heat and can be much hotter than the ambient temperatures. While the pads on dogs’ paw are a lot tougher than our skin, they can still suffer burns from walking on hot pavement. If you cannot put your own hand or stand barefoot on the pavement for about 10 seconds, then it is likely too hot for your dog to walk on too.

Never leave your dog in a car unattended. Cracking the windows is not an effective way to keep the car cool. For example, even if it is only 70 degrees Fahrenheit outside, the temperature inside of the car can increase by 40 degrees in an hour. This can happen even more quickly, since the majority of the temperature increase occurs during the first 15-30 minutes.

Other Summer Safety Concerns


Burned Paw Pads

In addition to cuts and punctures, dogs often injure their pads when exposed to extreme temperatures. Even though foot pads are tough, they can burn on a scorching sidewalk in the middle of the summer. If your dog licks at his feet or limps after a summer stroll, soothe his pads by soaking the foot in room temperature water. If the pads become discolored or if the tissue under the pad becomes exposed, contact your veterinarian. Severe burns need to be treated by your veterinarian. Avoid hot sidewalks in the summer. Using paw balm after walks and doing a thorough examination of the paw pads. Having your pet wear booties while on a walk to keep their paw pads safe.

Water/Boat Safety

Dachshund breed dog, black and tan, wearing orange life jacket while standing on beach at sea against the blue sky

Do not leave pets unsupervised around a pool—not all dogs are good swimmers. Introduce your pets to water gradually and make sure they wear flotation devices when on boats. Rinse your dog off after swimming to remove chlorine or salt from his fur, and try to keep your dog from drinking pool water, which contains chlorine and other chemicals.

Most pups, but not all, enjoy a good romp in the water. And while many are natural swimmers, it’s still important to practice swimming safety with them. First, if you own a pool, make sure to have a gate or pool cover. Puppies in particular are susceptible to drowning.

If you let your dog swim in your pool, make sure they don’t drink the water as the chlorine in it can cause nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea. If your dog will be swimming in a lake, pond, or river, check beforehand to make sure there are no algae warnings in the area. Certain water algae can cause sickness and even death in pets.

And lastly, we have a bit about ocean safety.  Please note that it’s a big risk to let your dog swim in the ocean even with a lifejacket. Rolling waves and rip tides can be dangerous for dogs, even if they’re good swimmers. And again, make sure that your dog is not drinking the ocean water. Some dogs like it and Salt Toxicity is a real danger when they do this.

Summertime Snacking

Remember that food and drink commonly found at barbeques can be poisonous to pets. Keep alcoholic beverages away from pets, as they can cause intoxication, depression and coma. Similarly, remember that the snacks enjoyed by your human friends should not be a treat for your pet; any change of diet, even for one meal, may give your dog or cat severe digestive ailments. Avoid raisins, grapes, onions, chocolate and products with the sweetener xylitol.

Summertime Activities

Please leave pets at home when you head out to Fourth of July celebrations, and never use fireworks around pets. Exposure to lit fireworks can potentially result in severe burns or trauma, and even unused fireworks can contain hazardous materials. Many pets are also fearful of loud noises and can become lost, scared or disoriented, so it’s best to keep your little guys safe from the noise in a quiet, sheltered and escape-proof area of your home.

Snake Season

A hiker and her dog cross the shallow part of a river in the western United States. They are on a day hike and the woman is carrying a small backpack.

When it’s especially hot outside, snakes like to retreat to cool, shady areas, such as rocks or overgrown brush. When you go hiking with your dog, staying on clearly marked trails allow you to move safely out of the way should you run into a snake. It also reduces the chance of accidentally finding one by surprise!

If you’re hiking off trail together, stay vigilant of your surroundings and check the ground often to make sure you and your pup are safe.

Dogs have an increased risk of getting a snake bite because they stick their nose to the ground while exploring. If your dog likes to stop and sniff a lot while hiking, keep a close eye on what he/she’s getting into. If your dog seems interested in something hidden from view, keep a safe distance until you can see what it is.

Thankfully, if your dog is treated in time, most snake bites aren’t fatal. Still, if your dog gets bitten, learn how to respond to keep you and your pup safe. Get to a veterinary emergency center as soon as you can.  Even is your pet has a venom vaccine, this only extends the window for getting treatment, it is not in itself one! They can provide antivenom medication if necessary. If you saw the snake, take note of its size, color, markings, and whether it had a rattle, as it might help with treatment.

Click the Link Below to Download Summer DIY Recipes for Your Pets

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