Keep your pets safe in the summer heat

While the summer months can give us great opportunities to get outside and spend time with our favorite four-legged friends, when temperatures elevate the conditions can become dangerous for our pets and put them at risk of heatstroke and other heat-related injuries.

Dr. Jessica Bell, a community practice veterinarian at Washington State University’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital, provides some tips to help keep your dog safe during the summer.

What is heatstroke in dogs?

Heatstroke in dogs is a serious condition that can escalate into an emergency and life-threatening situation quickly. Unlike humans, dogs can’t sweat and instead eliminate heat from their bodies by panting. When panting is not enough, a dog’s body temperature rises to unsafe levels and the animal can suffer heatstroke.

“When the panting stops and they are still exposed to the heat that is not a good sign,” Dr. Bell said. “Panting is a good natural way to cool down, so if they are overheating and they stop panting, that means the heat stress has become more advanced.”

Dogs that are older, overweight, have health conditions and those with stubby faces, like pugs and bulldogs, are at increased risk.

What are the symptoms of heatstroke in dogs?

The signs of heatstroke in dogs include excessive panting, restlessness, lethargy, nausea, vomiting, staggering, seizures and coma.

What should I do if my dog is showing signs of heatstroke?

If caught during the early stages of heatstroke and before your dog has stopped panting, ensure the animal is provided fresh, cool water. Hosing them off with cool water may also help.

If symptoms progress, you should seek immediate veterinary medical care. WSU’s emergency services can be reached at 509-335-0711.

When is it too hot for my dog to be outside?

If it is too hot for you to be outside and doing physical activity, then it is too hot for your dog.

On hot days, it is best to limit physical activities to mornings and evenings, when the temperatures are more suitable. It is important to remember that concrete and asphalt can be considerably hotter than the air temperature. Dogs walking on those surfaces during the heat of the day can suffer thermal burns to their paw pads.

“Dogs can get some pretty deep burns on their pads and have severe tissue damage and chronic pain and infections associated with that,” Dr. Bell said. “Earlier morning is the best time to go for walks or runs, especially here in the Inland Northwest because we have cooler nights and warmer days.”

When outside make sure your dog has access to a shade and cool, fresh water.  

“Access to freshwater is really important,” Dr. Bell said. “And water heats up too, so you may have to change their water once or twice a day if it is outside water.”

Can dogs get sunburn?

Dogs can get sunburn. Dogs with short and lightly colored hair and pink noses or faces are at increased risk. There are numerous brands of sunscreen specifically formulated for pets.

Can I leave my dog in a car for even a few minutes?

During warmer months, pets should never be left in a car without an air conditioner running. The interior of an automobile can reach temperatures approaching 200 degrees in a matter of minutes. Temperatures can reach dangerous levels even when the car is parked in the shade and windows are cracked.

It is illegal to leave or confine any animal unattended in a motor vehicle or enclosed space if the animal could be harmed or killed by exposure to excessive heat, cold, lack of ventilation, or lack of necessary water. In addition to potential fines, the Washington state law also authorizes and protects animal control personnel and law enforcement officers who break into a vehicle or enclosed space to prevent harm to an animal. Egregious cases could result in animal cruelty charges.

This information is not meant to be a substitute for veterinary care. Always follow the instructions provided by your veterinarian. Washington State University assumes no liability for injury to you or your pet incurred by following these descriptions or procedures.