Beating the heat for dog health

June 3rd, 2013
cool down for dog health

You can’t beat an Aussie summer. Endless sun, trips to the beach, backyard barbies and days that seem to go on forever.

But while the warmer months offer the perfect opportunity for dog owners to get out and about with their pooches, the increased heat can cause plenty of serious dog health consequences for our canine companions.

“Like humans, dogs can suffer from a range of problems after exposure to the sun or high temperatures, depending on how hot they have got and how long they have been in the sun,” says Dr Elise Vogt, senior veterinarian from animal welfare organisation, Animal Aid.

“Sunburn can be a painful consequence of too much sun. Dehydration can result from prolonged, low-grade exposure to sun or warm conditions, especially if access to water is limited. In more extreme heat, dogs can also suffer from heat stress, also known as heat exhaustion.”

And heat exhaustion can be extremely serious; in some cases, it can lead to death. Heat exhaustion occurs when the body’s core temperature rises above a normal safe level, usually due to exposure to high environmental temperatures.

“The internal temperature can increase due to exercise and/or the ambient environmental temperature being high, and if the body cannot maintain its normal temperature, problems start to be seen,” says Dr Jane Kohler, from Barkers Vet Clinic in Hawthorn, Victoria.

Unlike people, dogs can’t sweat to cool themselves down. They rely on panting instead, which isn’t a particularly effective method of staying cool. As a result, dogs are particularly prone to heat stress.

The most common scenario that causes heat stress in dogs is being shut in cars. Even on a mild day, temperatures inside a closed car can rise rapidly to many degrees above the outside temperature. On hot days, temperatures can reach dangerous levels within a matter of minutes, and many dogs have died from being shut in hot cars even for short periods of time, Dr Vogt says.

“Other situations that can cause heat stress are generally related to hot days, where the dog has no access to shade or water. Excessive exercise on hot days can also contribute to heat stress.”


“The best way to prevent heat exhaustion is to avoid these dangerous scenarios. In particular, dogs should never be left alone in cars,” Dr Vogt says.

Dr Kohler says that all animals should always be left with plenty of water. “I recommend leaving more than one full bowl of water available in case one bowl is knocked over. Make sure the water is clean and preferably in the shade,” she says.

“Make sure there is shelter and/or shade available for your dog, remembering that shade patterns change during the day as the sun moves.”

Any dog can be susceptible to heat-related problems, but there are particular types of dogs that can be at extra risk as they are unable to cool themselves effectively:

Overweight dogs

• Black or dark-coloured dogs

• Dogs with very thick, dense coats such as Pomeranians, Huskies and Malamutes

• Short-nosed breeds such as Pugs, Boston Terriers and Bulldogs — these dogs are unable to pant properly and heat stress can quickly lead to severe respiratory problems.

Heat exhaustion can result in clinical signs ranging from panting and exhaustion to weakness, confusion, vomiting, diarrhoea, seizures and even death. Dr Kohler outlines the signs and symptoms dog owners should keep an eye out for: “If the dog becomes lethargic or non-responsive to voice commands, if it is breathing heavily or hyperventilating for more than a few minutes continuously, if the gums feel dry, if they are weak or confused, or if they suddenly develop vomiting or diarrhoea for no reason on a hot day,” she says.

If you suspect your dog is suffering from heat exhaustion, call your vet as soon as possible. Move your pet to a cool spot and keep him calm. Use a hose, a tub of water or damp towels to apply cool (not cold) water — it’s important to gradually lower your dog’s temperature to avoid hypothermia. Depending on the seriousness of your pooch’s condition, he may need to be taken to the vet.

With careful management and a sensible approach, heat stress need not be a problem for your pooch — leaving him free to enjoy all the benefits of a long Aussie summer.


One of the perils of living in a sunburnt country is that our dogs can get sunburnt as well. “Dogs with white coats and with pink skin on their noses, ears, eyelids and bellies are particularly prone to getting sunburn, which can cause painful redness and scabs on the skin in exposed areas,” Dr Vogt says. “Long-term sun exposure can lead to skin cancer, as in humans, particularly a type of cancer called squamous cell carcinoma.”

Provide plenty of shade, keep your pet out of the sun in the middle of the day, and slip, slop, slap with a pet-safe sunscreen to keep your pooch safe.

How to keep cool

Dr Vogt lists several great tips to help your dog stay cool in summer:

• Ensure that the dog has access to shade at all times. Remember that shade moves with the sun and morning shade may be gone by the afternoon.

• Provide access to plenty of water, so that they will not run out throughout the day if you’re not home. On hot days, a large frozen iceblock in the water will help to keep it cool.

• Some dogs will play with and appreciate a frozen treat; freeze some of your dog’s favourite treats into a bowl of water the night before.

• Apply a pet-safe sunscreen to exposed areas for dogs at risk of sunburn.

• Avoid walking or exercising dogs in the heat of the day. Early morning and late evening are preferable times.

• Arrange for a friend or family member to check the dog during the day if you can’t.

• Dogs that stay inside will appreciate a source of moving air, such as a fan, air conditioner or an open window or door.

• Options exist for supervised stays during the day in many boarding kennels or doggy daycare centres for owners who are concerned about leaving their animals unsupervised at home.

You need to look after your pooch's health - check out our all-new DOGSLife Directory

Got Something To Say: