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Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources

Protect your pet from summer heat

Summer has officially arrived, and it comes with many opportunities to spend time outdoors. Many pet owners enjoy spending time outside with family, friends and even household pets.

While a lot of animals do enjoy spending time out of the house, pet owners need to take precautions to ensure their animals stay safe in the summer heat, said Dr. Elisabeth Giedt, director of Continuing Education, Extension and Community Engagement at the Center for Veterinary Health Sciences at Oklahoma State University.

“Just as you hydrate yourself and take other precautions such as applying sunscreen, it’s vital to keep a close eye on your pet when spending time outdoors,” Giedt said. “Many pet owners will tell you their pets talk to them. Pay close attention to messages your pet may be sending when they’re outside on a hot, sunny day.”

Dogs cool themselves primarily by panting. They do not sweat like humans. Excessive panting indicates your pet is overheated. Dogs also will seek shade or a cool breeze to help cool themselves.

“If you’re out for a walk or simply playing in the yard and your dog stops and plops down, he is telling you he can’t keep cool enough for this activity,” she said. “A dog’s gums are a great indicator of being overheated. Gums may appear more red early on, and if they’re excessively overheated, gums may appear pale. In addition, a dog’s gums also may be dry or tacky if they’re not staying adequately hydrated.”

If you are spending time at a pond or lake with your pet, do not assume your pet will drink that water. Your dog is accustomed to and likely prefers city water. Always bring a bowl and water along on your outings, and try to keep the water cool.

Dogs often love to travel in the car with you. Unfortunately, one of the most life-threatening mistakes people can make is to leave a dog in a vehicle in hot weather.

“Never, ever leave your dog in the car, even with the windows open. Cars heat up very quickly. In fact, in 80-degree weather, cars can heat up to 110 degrees in only 15 minutes,” Giedt said. “Because dogs pant to keep themselves cool, taking in the hot air inside a vehicle has little cooling effect and the animal will quickly overheat. Your pet may pay dearly for even a few minutes spent in a sweltering car. As much as you enjoy your pet’s company, if it’s really hot outside, it’s better to simply leave your pet at home.”

Pet owners who enjoy going for a walk or run with their dog must remember asphalt gets very hot during the summer - hot enough to burn the pads on a dog’s foot. Your best option is to go on short walks early in the morning or later in the evening when the temperature is lower.

Before taking your dog for a walk, check the ground for hotness with one of your hands or bare feet. If you cannot keep your hand or foot on the ground for more than three seconds, it is certainly too hot for an animal.

“Dogs who are older or overweight, have a thick coat or have a pushed-in nose are especially at risk of overheating,” she said. “It’s always a good idea to bring water for both you and your pet.”

Keeping your dog hydrated is essential to good health and is especially important during the summer months. If your dog is inside during the day, make sure you supply fresh, cool water that remains in a shaded spot throughout the day, since sun coming through a window can heat a bowl of water. Most dogs will not drink hot water no matter how thirsty they are.

If your dog stays outside during the day, make sure the water bowl is in a place where it cannot be tipped over. Water bowls can be tipped over by dogs trying to make a cool spot to lie down. If possible, give your dog fresh, clean water several times throughout the day.

Also, make sure to provide your pup with a shady area to get out of the sun. A small kiddie pool is a great way to provide a fun cooling-off spot where your dog can play.

“Despite all your precautions, your dog may still show signs of heat stress or heat stroke. Signs of heat stroke include heavy panting that does not resolve as the pet rests, increasing distress, a tongue color that is dark red to almost purple, weakness or collapse, hyper-salivation, vomiting and labored breathing,” Giedt said. “If you suspect a dog or cat is suffering from heat stroke, move him to a cooler environment immediately and apply cool water to the abdomen, ears and foot pads.”

Do not pour ice water over the whole animal, nor should you submerge your pet in a tub of cold water or cover in a cold, wet blanket. Once stable, get him to a vet as quickly as possible, even if he seems to be cooling down and his temperature seems normal. Things may be happening on the inside that are not obvious from the outside.

Keeping your dog well-groomed is another way to cut down on the risk of heat stress and help keep the animal more comfortable in the summer heat. A natural coat that has been groomed offers protection from sunburn and acts as cooling insulation. Shaving your dog’s coat will take away that protection.

“Remember, your pet can’t tell you in words when something is wrong. As responsible pet owners, it’s your job to protect and provide for your pet,” she said. “If you’re feeling uncomfortably warm, it’s a sure bet your dog is, too.”


Trisha Gedon
Communications Specialist
Agricultural Communications Services
Oklahoma State University
159 Agriculture North
Stillwater, OK  74078
405-744-3625 (phone)
405-744-5739 (fax)

Oklahoma State University - Stillwater, OK 74078