Summer is my favorite season. The pollen is (mostly) gone, trees and flowers are in full bloom, and it is HOT outside! The thing I love the most is to get into the car and drive with the windows up and the AC off. You likely think I am crazy or bizarre, but I love the feeling of the intense heat and the calm it creates in me. I would, however, NEVER subject any of my pets to such intense heat, in the car or outdoors.
I don’t think any of us like to see our pets suffering from the heat and excessively panting. So, when the heat of summer strikes, we need to be sure to provide them with ways to help them stay cool.
Set Up Shady Spots
Dog Pools, Sprinklers, and Water Spots
Can Dogs Have Ice Water?
Cooling Dog Vests and Mats
Maintaining a Healthy Weight
Should You Shave Your Dog's Coat?
Protecting Your Dog's Paws
Dog Sunscreen & Sun Protection
Besides not wanting them to be uncomfortable, letting a dog get too hot puts them at high risk of heatstroke. When a dog’s body temperature becomes elevated, exceeding 106° F (with no known illness), it's termed a heatstroke since it is due to excessive heat from the environment or external source. When a dog’s body temperature reaches around 107° F, multiple organs begin to fail and death can occur. Naturally, we all want to avoid this horrible situation.
How Dogs Naturally Cool Down
Now I must honest, if I were a dog and my main way to cool down was panting, I wouldn't sit in a hot car. Unlike people, which from a smell standpoint may be a good thing, dogs don’t sweat through their skin. Their main form of temperature regulation is panting. Moisture is evaporated from their tongues, nasal passages, and the lining of their lungs as they pant. As this air circulates through their body it helps cool them off.
Ways to Keep Your Dog Cool in the Summer
The first obvious suggestion is for you and your dog to stay inside with the air conditioning blowing, especially during the hottest part of the day. You and your pup can just venture out early in the morning and later in the evening when the temperatures are lower to walk, hike, bike, etc. But the thing is, not everyone has AC and not everyone, including your dog, may want to be trapped inside binge-watching TV shows.
Set Up Outdoor Shade
Some dogs (and people) don’t like to be trapped indoors or being outside in the heat just isn’t avoidable. So if either of these situations exists, find some shade or create your own.
Sometimes, depending on the heat, something as simple as a tree is great. But not all yards have trees or the direction of the sun makes even having them kinda pointless. So what can you do? Portable sun shades, patio umbrellas, and pop-up canopies are great for creating shade in yards. There are even some products that combine the shade of a pop-up canopy with the cooling effect of a misting system.
While a dog house may provide shade, it prevents airflow. The lack of airflow can be dangerous and cause your dog to overheat.
A popular portable shade option used by dog sport enthusiasts is the Aluminet Shade Cloth, which can be draped over ex-pens, wire crates, or over the back of an open car hatchback while you're waiting between events with your dog. It's made from a reflective material to reduce heat and provides airflow with a loosely knitted design.
Safety Note: Pets should never be left in a closed car even with a shade cloth over their carrier or over the car.
Some yards are just not designed for canopies, so smaller may be better. Consider a shaded pet cot. They can provide reliable shade and the ones linked in the photos below are elevated off of the ground, which helps with air circulation and cooling. And both of these cot options also come with a travel bag, making them handy for keeping your pup cool on the go, too. Don't be surprised though if these beds are sometimes out of stock, as they're very popular!
To make your dog's raised cot and canopy area extra appealing, you can put a pan of ice below the cot. This cools the air under the bed, helping to keep your dog a bit comfier. And you should generally try to keep these raised cots on cooler surfaces anyway (e.g., grass, rather than asphalt or concrete), and you can cool the surface under the cot even more by wetting it down periodically.
Cool-Down Spots for Your Dog (Think Doggie Water Park!)
Most dogs will seek cooler locations when they get hot. Why not make it something they can really enjoy! Add water to your dog's play by setting up an oscillating yard sprinkler and letting your dog run through and play in it.
Don't allow your dog to drink excessively. Overconsumption of water can lead to water intoxication, where sodium levels in your dog's body are depleted. The symptoms of water intoxication include nausea, vomiting, bloating, dilated pupils, glazed eyes, excessive salivation, staggering, and lethargy. Drinking excessively can lead to bloat, especially if your dog exercises before or after doing so.
Everyone loves to take a dip in the pool to cool off. So why not provide your dog with their own swimming pool? You can simply get a small plastic toddler’s pool or invest in a "dog pool," like this sturdy, easy-to-set-up and drain, foldable pool. Be sure to fill it with fresh cool water each morning and properly clean it in the evenings. Ideally, providing shade over the pool will keep the water cooler throughout the day.
Pools come in a variety of different sizes, be sure you get the one that's the right size for your dog. And, speaking of sizes, I do need to caution you to not leave your dog unattended in the pool and to not fill it up too high, especially if your dog is a puppy, senior dog, or just not all that steady on their paws or "sure of themselves" in the water.
Be sure to clean and dry the inside of your dog’s ears with a veterinary-approved ear cleaner at the end of the day after playing in the water to help avoid ear infections.
Fans are always a great way to cool down. What helps make them even better is attaching a misting system! Especially if you can provide some additional shade, they can potentially lower the temperature by 10 degrees. That may not seem like much, but to your dog, it can be.
Attach this mister to any existing outdoor fan
Provide Lots of Fresh Water to Drink
Providing your dog with plenty of cool water to drink is essential in the heat. Just like us, they can get dehydrated. Plus, nothing feels better on a hot day than a cool drink.
Summer is a great time to explore with your dog. Be sure to bring your dog a portable water bowl or have a doggie-dedicated water bottle. You need to have enough water for the entire outing. While out walking or hiking, be sure that you are providing them with a small amount of water every 15 to 20 minutes so their stomach has time to absorb it. It isn’t good to let them get too much water at one time.
How much water should you bring on a long walk or hike?
The general recommendation is 4–8 ounces of water at a time for a dog weighing 45 to 55 lbs. Using this as a guideline, adjust down for smaller dogs and slightly up for larger dogs.
Dog Water Stations in Your Yard
Provide several large bowls or buckets of drinking water for your dogs around your home or yard, making sure to check and refill them (at least) daily. Be sure to place them where your dog can easily reach them and try to put them in areas with reliable shade. You can even get automatic waterers that easily attach to your garden hose, a "lick-activated" spigot attachment (will likely take some time/work to train your dog to use it – think, gerbil drinking from a water bottle!), or even a "paw-activated" water geyser.
You can also encourage your dog to stay hydrated by making them an interactive and icy treat to play with. It's as easy as just putting your dog's favorite toys and treats in a metal dog bowl, filling it with water (and you can add a little bit of low-sodium chicken broth – no onions or garlic! – for an additional incentive), then freeze and serve. These can be a huge hit — so you might want to have several of these freezing at any one time, so you've got plenty ready to go for a string of warm days! Here's a video of Wendy the dog enjoying one of these frozen bowl treasure hunt treats:
Can Dogs Have Ice Water?
Don’t worry about giving your dog ice water — it doesn’t cause bloat (as a popular, but incorrect, internet story has claimed). And while ice is ok for dogs, just watch they don’t end up breaking a tooth while chewing on it (this is where crushed ice may be a better option). Also, monitor that they don’t choke on an ice cube.
Cooling Gear to Help Your Dog "Sweat"
As mentioned earlier, our four-legged buddies don’t sweat through their skin like us. Instead, they predominantly cool themselves through their respiratory system — this is why dogs pant when they're hot. The jackets below can help to keep dogs cooler in warmer weather by mimicking sweating across the dog's body. As the water from the coat evaporates, it helps to move heat from the dog’s body to the environment.
These vests are not fail-proof nor a replacement for the careful and cautious exercise of dogs on warm/hot days, but can be a nice aid when walking or hiking with dogs on warmer days (just be sure to “recharge” the coat regularly by dousing it with water, as per the instructions). Both Hurrta and Ruffwear are good companies making great dog products — their two cooling jackets work similarly. Or, if you already use Ruffwear, they offer a Core Cooler Vest that attaches to all of their harnesses or packs.
These types of cooling vests will be less effective on humid days, as evaporation diminishes on days where there’s already a lot of moisture already in the air.
Cooling collars or bandanas like this can help a little, as does wetting your dog's fur with cool (but not ice cold) water every once in a while. This type of bandana may not work as well on a dog with a thick coat of fur around their neck.
Other options include cooling mats and cooling blankets. You can place these in the shade outdoors or for your dog's normal indoor resting spots. These can come in handy if you don't have tile floors or if your dog sleeps in their crate or pen during hot summer nights.
Since brachycephalic (flat-faced) dogs do better when cooler, these cooling mats can benefit them year-round, especially in homes that keep the heater on high during the winter months. Additionally, senior pets that may struggle to get comfortable in the heat can benefit from cool resting mats.
Never allow any pet, most especially those with mobility issues to lay directly on ice or ice packs, as this can lead to ice burns.
Keep Your Dog at a Healthy Weight
Overweight dogs have a harder time keeping cool in warm weather and are at greater risk of overheating. Extra weight is an even bigger concern for brachycephalic breeds (Bulldogs, Pugs, Frenchies, etc.) during the summer. These breeds struggle in warmer weather to breathe but the situation is worse when they are overweight and it is hot.
Help your dog by working to get them to and keeping them at an ideal body condition. Measuring their food, monitoring the number of treats (and the calories per treat), and stopping all table food will help them drop some weight. Your veterinarian can help guide you on how much to feed your dog and what your pet’s ideal body weight is.
Summer Fur and Coat Care
Keeping your dog regularly groomed in the summer is important. Keep them clean and free of knots. Matted fur can trap heat. Remember, your dog’s coat doesn’t just insulate them and keep them warm in the winter, but it can actually help keep them cooler in the summer. Additionally, it helps protect their skin against sunburn.
What you can do is brush them regularly to help get out any undercoat that they’re “blowing” from the winter/cooler months (which was there to help keep them warm). Brushing will help thin out their coat to allow for proper airflow along their skin, but not eliminate their natural sun protection as shaving would. Regular brushing also helps prevent matted fur and tangles.
Should You Shave Your Dog's Coat to Keep Them Cool?
If your dog has a double coat, do not shave them in an effort to keep them cool during hot weather. This can have the opposite effect! Double-coated breeds such as Huskies, Corgis, Labs, etc., should never be shaved unless directed to do so by a veterinarian.
If your dog has a single-layer coat (such as a Poodle, Labradoodle, Yorkie, etc.), shaving their coat will not cause damage to their fur like it would a double-coated breed. However, they are more at risk of sunburn with shorter coats.
Protect Your Dog's Paws From Hot Pavement
Because asphalt, dirt, and sand can get very hot after the sun's been beating down on it all day, you might want to consider boots to protect your pup while out walking, hiking, or playing at the beach. If you put the back of your hand against the hot surface for 5 to 7 seconds, and it's too hot for you, then it's too hot for your dog's paws. Read more about protecting your dog's paw pads and recommended dog booties, including how to help your dog get comfortable wearing them.
Sun Protection and Sunscreen for Dogs
Since dogs can get sunburn and skin cancer just like us, you may want to use UV-blocking clothes and/or sunscreen on your pup when they're outdoors on sunny days. There are several brands of UPF sun-blocking clothes for pets out there, and a lot of what will work best for your pup will be dependent on how it's sized. But, all other things being equal, try and go with the shirts and visors that have the highest UPF rating.
As for sunscreen for your pup, this is especially important if they've got a thin or non-existent coat ... I'm looking at you, Chinese Cresteds. If you needed to or decided to shave them (see the note above re: shaving dogs in the summer), apply sunscreen on the typically hairless or thin-coated areas (their belly, tips of ears, and bridge of their nose). There is actually an FDA-approved sunscreen available for dogs, it's called Epi-Pet and it works great. And check out this article for more info about skin cancer and sunburn in pets. Do not spray the sunscreen directly on or around their face. Spray it onto your hand first, then rub it onto their nose and ears.
Enjoy Your Summer with Your Dog
I mentioned earlier I love being in a hot car but NEVER leave your dog alone in a hot car. It can be fatal. Even if you are parked in the shade and have the windows down, it can still be too hot for your dog. They can become distressed and uncomfortable very fast. It is always best to preplan any trip your dog may be taking with you and pack the necessary items to help keep your dog cool and hydrated.
These are a few ideas to get you started for enjoying fun in the sun with your dog. Don’t forget to protect yourself too!