Dogs die in hot cars. It’s a warning we’re all familiar with, and yet one that bears reiterating every time the mercury rises.
Warm, sunny weather is welcomed by most of us, but it isn’t always good news for pets. Heat stress is a serious issue. A 2020 study by researchers at Nottingham Trent University and the Royal Veterinary College found that the main reason for canine heatstroke is dogs overexerting in the sun.
“It appears that people are hearing the message about the dangers of hot vehicles but campaigns to raise public awareness about heat-related illness in dogs need to highlight that dogs don’t just die in hot cars,” said Emily Hall, a researcher and veterinary surgeon in Nottingham Trent University’s school of animal, rural and environmental sciences.
“Taking a dog for a walk or a run in hot weather can be just as deadly, so consider skipping walks during heatwaves or take dogs out early in the morning while it’s still cool.”
Owners need to be aware of the signs of a pet overheating, as well as how to keep their loved animals cool – and what to do should they become overheated.
How to keep pets safe and cool during a heatwave
1. Keep dogs cool in cars
There are laws that penalise those who leave their pets inside cars on hot days, so severe are the consequences sometimes. As animal rights campaigners PETA state: “On a 78-degree day, the temperature inside a parked car can soar to between 100 and 120 degrees in just minutes”. However, cars are not the only dangerous environments to be aware of. Pet owners should also be alive to the dangers of conservatories and greenhouses, says Scholz.
2. Avoid peak heat times and hot surfaces
Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun. The truth of those lyrics still stands: don’t take your dog out, mad or otherwise, between the hours of 11am and 4pm if you can possibly avoid it. These hours of peak heat can put animals at risk of heat stroke, symptoms of which include excessive panting, anxiety and, in severe cases, collapse and convulsions. Any such symptoms require immediate veterinary attention.
Another danger to be aware of is the heat of the ground surface. Materials such as asphalt get particularly hot. To test the heat of a surface and save your dog’s paws from burning, try laying the back of your hand against the surface for at least five seconds as this will give you a good indication whether it is safe for your dog, says Scholz.
3. Keep pets hydrated
A seemingly obvious but commonly forgotten rule: keep water bowls topped up. And remember, your pet’s weight and age can have a big effect on the amount of water they require to avoid dehydration.
Dogs with thicker coats are at particular risk of overheating and should be kept well groomed. Most long-haried breeds do shed some of their hair naturally in the summer months, but Scholz emphasises the importance of regular washing and grooming to speed up the process.
5. Cool off
Get the hosepipe out. It’s fun for your dog and, more importantly, keeps them cool.
6. Prevent heat stroke
Heat stroke is an emergency, with the potential for serious illness and death. The best approach is to prevent heat stroke by taking some simple steps.
Avoid activities, such as those listed above, that are linked to dogs getting overheated.
Never exercise your pet in the full heat of the day: instead take your dog for walks in the early morning or evening.
Provide fresh water for your pet at all times, taking a portable water supply on walks with you.
If you notice your pet panting more than normal, move them into a cooler, shady area: even if they seem happy lying in full sunlight.
Dogs with long, dense coats may benefit from having their fur clipped short
Give less food in hot weather, and feed in the early morning or evening (the process of digestion can generate a surprising amount of body heat.)
It can be difficult to recognise that a dog has heat stroke without taking their temperature. But if a previously healthy dog flops down to the ground, continually panting, in the full heat of the day, then heat stroke is high on the list of possibilities. If the dogs has been in an enclosed space (like a car) or has been exercising heavily in a warm environment, then the diagnosis is even more likely.
Urgent treatment is essential in such cases: the general principle is to cool the dog down without causing over-chilling.
This article is kept updated with the latest advice.