Getting the whole family out of the house is one of the greatest joys of summertime. Of course, the family dog surely enjoys getting to stretch their legs, too, and you'll love getting to spend some quality time with your pup for extra walks, hikes, or playtime in the warmer months.
But our dogs can't tell us when they've had too much, so staying alert for the warning signs is crucial whether your little ones are playing Frisbee with your doggo or you're taking the whole gang out for a nice long walk.
So how do you know what to look for? Two veterinarians gave Scary Mommy the full scoop.
What should you watch for?
When the weather is particularly hot and humid, you'll want to consider several factors, including your dog's age, breed, and typical level of activity, as Don LeHoullier, DVM, Countryside Veterinary Clinic and CareCredit partner, shares. "Animals with flat faces, like Pugs and Persian cats, are more susceptible to heat stroke because they can't pant as effectively," he explains.
You'll also want to stick to short bursts of activity for young puppies and senior dogs, as well as dogs of any age who aren't used to regular strenuous exercise. A short neighborhood walk or a few minutes of fetch outside is ideal for getting your pooch active without overdoing it.
For dogs of any age or breed, there are some surefire signs they are overheating or overtired, says LeHoullier. "Excessive panting or difficulty breathing, increased heart and respiratory rate, drooling, mild weakness, and vomiting are all warning signs."
"They might also show signs of confusion or disorientation or may be unable to stand or walk properly," adds Dr. Lindsay Butzer, DVM, and PetMeds partner. "In extreme cases, they might even collapse."
Obviously, you'll want to avoid getting your pup to this point in the first place, so how do you know if the weather conditions are safe for your beloved fur baby?
"In the hot summer months, it's best to exercise your dog in the early morning or late evening when temperatures are cooler," says Butzer. "Dogs can be at risk of heat stroke at temperatures as low as 70F," adds LeHoullier. "As you exercise your dog, you will get to know their tolerance for exercise during various weather conditions. Start slow, and don't overdo it. This is where routine visits to your family veterinarian are important. This will allow you to understand the uniqueness of your dog as well as be aware of any underlying health conditions."
Why do dogs pant, anyway?
"Dogs are not able to sweat like humans do," says LeHoullier. "Panting allows an alternate method for cooling the body. While panting, the dog moves hot air over the moist mucous membranes of the mouth and respiratory tract. This evaporates the moisture, removing heat from the body and cooling the dog. The normal respiratory rate of a dog is ten-to-thirty breaths per minute and, when panting, can reach over two hundred breaths per minute."
Not sure if your pet's panting is cause for concern? "Panting should correlate with the ambient temperature and/or the level of activity," he adds. "Stress, excitement, and pain can also lead to panting. If the breathing or panting is irregular, has an abnormal sound, or the mucous membranes are not a normal color (i.e., purple or pale instead of pink), this would be a cause for concern, and your veterinarian should be called."
Staying Safe All Summer Long
No matter the weather, there are several ways you can ensure your dog's safety in the great outdoors, wherever your adventures may take you.
"Always bring water for both you and your dog, and avoid hot surfaces like asphalt that can burn their paws," says Butzer. "Offer them water to drink, and if possible, wet their body with cool (not cold) water. Avoid submerging them in cold water as this can cause shock." LeHoullier recommends offering cool, fresh water in small amounts, encouraging them to slow down if they are drinking too much, too fast.
While it might feel instinctive to wrap your pup in a cold, damp towel, LeHoullier says you should absolutely not do this. "Never cover a dog with a wet towel to cool them off," he explains. "This actually traps heat close to their body. "If enough water is available, it can also be used to dampen the dog's fur."
"If you're far from home and need to cool your dog off, try to find a shady spot and encourage them to rest," says Butzer. You'll want to cease activity immediately, and getting them to a building or car with air conditioning is ideal, says LeHoullier.
Swimming is also a great way to get them some exercise without worrying about overheating, but you'll want to keep an eye on your pup the same way you keep an eye on your kids. And if it's just too hot or stormy to step outside, Butzer says, "Indoors, you can play games like hide and seek, use puzzle toys to keep them mentally stimulated, or set up an indoor obstacle course."
"Remember, every dog is different, and what works for one might not work for another," says Butzer. "It's always best to consult with your vet about your dog's specific exercise needs and how to keep them safe in hot weather."
Keeping up on your pet's veterinary care year-round will help you stay on top of any potential health concerns, adds LeHoullier. Of course, any time you notice something concerning with your furry pals — during exercise or otherwise — checking in with your vet is never a bad idea. It's always better to err on the side of caution, especially when it comes to the health and well-being of your furriest family members.