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Well, it’s July and theoretically the summer season is in full swing. In practice, in the UK the weather is pretty variable. As I write this it’s lashing rain outside. However, our furry friends need extra care to stay safe if it does heat up and as a pet sitter I take this responsibility very seriously. If you are a thinking of welcoming a dog into your home or are relatively new to having a dog family, then this blog is for you. Even if you already live with a dog, it’s always good to be reminded of what heatstroke is and what can be done to prevent it. Among other potential hazards of rising temperatures, heatstroke is a serious condition that can be fatal, so let us dive into understanding heatstroke in canines, its symptoms, and how to keep our beloved pets safe.

What is Heatstroke?

Heatstroke occurs when a dog’s body temperature rises to dangerous levels, usually due to prolonged exposure to high summer heat or excessive physical activity without adequate hydration. It can progress quite suddenly and the majority of cases occur when dogs are running around, either out on a walk or chasing around the garden. However, they are also at risk when in an overly warm environment such as a car or a sunny room like a conservatory.

Unlike humans, dogs don’t sweat through their skin but rely on panting to cool down. This makes them particularly susceptible to overheating. Interestingly, dogs do sweat through their paws, so cooling their paws makes sense and can help in regulating their body temperature.

Which Breeds Are More at Risk of Heatstroke and Why?

Some breeds are more prone to heatstroke than others:

  • Flat-nosed – known as Brachycephalic – breeds, like Bulldogs, Pugs, and Boxers, have short snouts that make it harder for them to pant efficiently. This limits their ability to regulate body temperature.
  • Dogs with thick fur coats, such as Chows, Huskies, Malamutes and German Shepherds can overheat quickly in hot weather. The warm air gets trapped in their furry coats, causing excessive heat.
  • Large breeds and overweight dogs also have trouble keeping cool.
  • Older dogs, puppies, and those with health conditions are similarly at higher risk.

My own Labrador Finn was very susceptible as he got older. Not only was he a larger breed, as he aged he did carry a little extra weight and his black fur absorbed more heat than other coat colours do. On the hottest of days he would find the sunniest spot in the garden and bask. I tried to encourage him to move to the shade to no avail. I left a cool mat for him to sit on…he sat next to it!  Therefore, I had to insist he stay indoors during the hottest part of the day. I would often take him for a walk later in the evening to the local seaside where he would cool his paws and enjoy a dip with me.

Ways to Prevent Heatstroke

Preventing heatstroke involves a combination of awareness and proactive measures:

  • Stay Hydrated: Always ensure your dog has access to fresh water. Placing multiple bowls around the home and in shady spots in the garden is ideal. Cool water is better than icy cold. Remember to refresh it when it heats up in the warmth of the day. When out for a walk always carry a portable water bowl and a supply of fresh water.
  • Ice: The question of whether to give dogs ice has been the subject of much discussion in recent years. In general, the experts seem to agree that it’s perfectly ok to feed ice to healthy dogs and will not cause any damage such as a condition known as bloat. It is best to avoid ice in the case of a dog who is already suffering heatstroke. In this instance, medical treatment is necessary and the body temperature shouldn’t be reduced too quickly.
    Some people like to add ice to a dogs drinking water. If this is done there is always the risk is that the dog could choke on the ice, so remain vigilant. Make sure the ice offered is suitable for the size of dog. Maybe ice chips or shavings would be a better option. Personally, I choose not to use ice – cool water taken often is my preferred approach.
    If you are interested in making an icy treat for your pooch, here is a recipe from Blue Cross. There are lots of variations you can try to suit your own pet.
  • Limit Exercise: Avoid strenuous exercise during the hottest parts of the day. Opt for early morning or late evening walks when it’s cooler. Even then, do stay vigilant for early signs that your pet may be overheating.
  • Provide Shade: If your dog spends time outdoors, make sure there’s ample shade. A cool, sheltered spot can help them escape the direct sun. However, do be aware that even shady spots, in extreme temperatures, can be too hot for pets. An option of an outdoor thermometer may be the answer to check the temperature in shady places.
  • Avoid Hot Surfaces: Remember, pavement and sand can become extremely hot and can burn your dog’s paws. A good test is to place your own hand on the pavement for 10-15 seconds. If it is too hot for you it will definitely be too hot for a dogs paws. Stick to grassy areas when possible. If it’s really that hot then don’t walk them, stay home and avoid the risk.
    Even patios may be too hot for paws on extremely hot days. Maybe towels or blankets laid down for pets to walk on to get to grass might be a solution. If it is too hot then brief trips to the garden for toilet breaks should be the only time outdoors in the hottest hours.
  • Never Leave Dogs in Hot, Airless Spaces: Cars are the obvious environment that is a definite no-no. Even with the windows ajar, cars can heat up rapidly and become fatal for dogs. Never, ever leave a dog ‘for a few minutes’ while popping into a shop. Even a few minutes in such an environment can cause an already hot dog to develop heatstroke. Never leave a pets in a sunny rooms or conservatories, especially when you are not around to move them as the day heats up.
  • Misting: Using a spray bottle with cool water to lightly spray a dog’s coat is a good idea. Try this gently at first as some sensitive pets will not like the noise a spray bottle will make.
  • Fan: Combining the misting with an electric fan on a cool setting would be a great way to cool down a hot dog. Again, some dogs won’t like the noise so try this with the fan on the slow setting first to gauge reactions. And never leave a fan on when the pet isn’t supervised.
  • Cooling products: There used to be an idea that towels kept in the freezer and draped over dogs would cool them down. This is now not recommended because the towels can warm up and actually have the reverse effect – trapping warm air around the pet and causing a rise in temperature.
    There are commercial products such as cooling mats and covers that draw the heat out from the fur of a dog, helping them stay cool. However, as my own pet proved, some dogs will be suspicious of any new-fangled gadget and will not comply! Maybe try borrowing one from a friend to see if your pet likes them, before investing in a purchase.
  • Paddling pools: These are very popular with dogs. There are even some available that are extra durable to prevent claws bursting them in the rush to get in. It is necessary to keep checking the water and replace it when it warms up.
  • Grooming: Make sure very furry dogs with thick coats are groomed regularly to minimise the chances of them overheating.

Symptoms to Look Out For

  • Recognizing the signs of heatstroke early can save your dog’s life. They can’t tell us what is going on so it’s important we are paying attention. Symptoms can range from mild to severe:

Mild Symptoms:

  • Excessive panting and drooling
  • Restlessness or discomfort
  • Reddened or darkened gums

Moderate Symptoms:

  • Weakness and lethargy
  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • Elevated heart rate

Severe Symptoms:

  • Collapsing or stumbling
  • Seizures
  • Unconsciousness


If you suspect your dog is suffering from heatstroke, immediate action is critical:

  1. Move to a Cooler Area: Get your dog out of the heat and into a shaded or air-conditioned environment.
  2. Cool Them Down: Use cool (not icy) water to wet your dog’s fur. You can use a hose, or place them in a shallow pool. Focus on the neck, underbelly, and paws. Remember, dogs sweat through their paws, so cooling them down is particularly effective.
  3. Hydrate: Offer small amounts of water to drink. Avoid forcing water into their mouth.
  4. Visit the Vet: Even if your dog seems to recover, it’s crucial to have them checked by a veterinarian. Heatstroke can cause internal damage that may not be immediately apparent.

Recently, I was petsitting a couple of regulars on a daily basis and it was time to walk them before their humans got home from work. It wasn’t the hottest of days but warm enough to cause me to really consider whether they should be out in the sun. There was a coastal breeze and the pavement didn’t feel overly hot when I placed my palm on it. As the pooches were showing signs of being keen to go out we took off. The older girl pulled me off the route I had intended to go (to the beach) and led me a way I wasn’t familiar with. After 5 minutes we entered a leafy lane which was very cool and pleasant and as it was a long one, it lasted most of our walk. It seems my charge knew exactly how to get a good walk and keep her cool at the same time!

Not all dogs are this canny! Being aware of the risks of heatstroke and taking proactive steps can help ensure our dogs stay healthy and happy throughout the summer months. Stay vigilant, stay cool, and enjoy the sunny days with your furry friends, knowing you’ve done everything and are well prepared to keep them safe.