With more of us dealing with scorching hot temperatures, the question of when it is too hot for dogs or too hot to go for a walk becomes a pressing matter.
Heat-related conditions such as sunburn and heatstroke can endanger your pup’s life, and even being too warm inside the house or in the yard can create extreme discomfort.
Most dogs can handle temperatures up to 32°C (89.6°F). Above that, it usually becomes hot for our canines.
However, how much heat a dog can handle also depends on factors such as health, age, and weight.
Luckily, there’s a lot we can do to keep them safe from the sun and cool on hot days.
How Your Dog Regulates Its Body Temperature
To understand how your dog’s body handles heat, we need to look at the four mechanisms canines use to thermo-regulate. That is, to manage their core body heat.
The first of these is conduction. This is where your dog chooses to lay on cold tiles or dig a hole in the ground, where the earth is cooler.
Dogs generally have less hair on their bellies for precisely this reason, so that they can press their stomachs and chests against cooler areas and shed some of the excess heat through their skin.
The second mechanism is convection. This is access to a cool breeze from the wind or a fan that can penetrate your dog’s coat and replace the hot air either trapped in the fur or emanating from the body.
Owners should note that a thick and matted coat blocks cool air from entering and doing its job. So, coat maintenance and regular brushing are critical for long or double-coated breeds.
The third way your dog manages its coat is called radiation, and, no, it’s not the nuclear type. It is how the body releases heat into the environment.
As body temperature increases, blood flow to the skin increases too so that cool ground or good airflow will remove some excess heat.
Again, a poorly kept coat can undermine this process by trapping the skin’s heat close to the body.
Finally, the dog uses evaporation. This is done through sweat glands in its paws and increasing blood flow to the mouth, nose, ears, and skin.
The mouth and nose become the primary means of releasing heat as the hot blood in the nose and mouth is sent to meet the cooler air outside through panting.
Factors That Affect How Your Dog Handles Heat
Humidity can interfere with a dog’s ability to get rid of excess body heat by messing with the evaporation process.
When a dog is panting, it aims to release warm moisture from its lungs through evaporation. Thus, too much water already in the humid air can stop them from cooling themselves effectively.
This can cause their core temperature to rise to dangerous levels. A dog’s temperature should never be above 104°F (38.5°C), and anything above this needs intervention.
Another critical factor in how well a dog can regulate its own body temperature is its age.
Newborn puppies only reach their adult temperature when they are four weeks old. Yet, they only develop the ability to maintain their body temperature at seven weeks.
This means the environmental temperature for young puppies should be kept at around 85°F (29°C) and carefully monitored.
On the other end of the scale are old or geriatric dogs. Like puppies, older dogs struggle to maintain their core body temperature. Therefore, they should always be kept warm and dry indoors.
Seniors are also more vulnerable to overheating.
Special care needs to be taken with an older dog on hot days to prevent heat-related complications.
Breed plays a critical role in how well a dog can handle the heat.
Breeds developed in hot environments like the Basenji, Chihuahuas, or Pharaoh Hounds are better equipped to handle the summer.
They have short coats, pigmented skin, and slimmer bodies. They also often have large ears, and long noses that heat can escape from.
Conversely, brachycephalic (short-nosed) breeds such as Pugs, Bulldogs, or Boston Terriers struggle far more to regulate their body temperature.
Their shorter airways don’t allow them to cool themselves down as much as long nose breeds.
Breeds with heavy jowls such as the Neapolitan or English Mastiff can also struggle to pant properly and usually do not handle heat well.
Heavy-set bodies don’t help either. Even if an English Bull Terrier isn’t fat, it still carries more muscle mass than other dogs for its weight, which can impede its ability to get rid of body heat.
Another problem is long-haired or double-coated breeds, especially those that originate from cold regions, such as Alaskan Malamutes, Siberian Huskies, Samoyeds, and their descendants, the Tamaskan and Alaskan Shepherd.
Opinions are split on whether these breeds should have their coat clipped or not. Indeed, in the case of double-coated breeds, there is the danger that the coat may not grow back the way it once was.
Some argue that double coats insulate the dog against heat as well as cold.
What isn’t in question is that these dogs do enjoy colder climates. Whether you decide on a summer cut or not, they will need extra coat management in the summertime and additional precautions to prevent them from overheating.
There’s a reason seals have loads of blubber in arctic regions. Fat is an excellent insulator against cold weather, but it’s a significant drawback when it’s hot.
Overweight or obese dogs not only have increased heat insulation, but they generate more heat when exercising.
Owners of overweight dogs need to take special care to avoid heatstroke as well as other health complications.
Can Dogs Go For Walks in Hot Weather?
How hot it can be while being still safe to walk a dog can depend. But please be cautious. Any temperature over 20°C (70°C) can be dangerous to a dog limited by age, weight, or breed.
And don’t forget, humidity makes it harder for a dog to cool down naturally.
This means even 21°C can be too hot to walk a dog.
There also are other considerations to be considered when walking your dog in hot weather. Dogs with a lack of pigment like white dogs or dilute colors like champagne will need sunscreen to prevent sunburn. So, will dogs who have been shaved or hairless breeds like the Chinese Crested.
This is especially important since sunburn can lead to skin cancer.
Another vital point is to make sure that your dog stays hydrated.
Always carry water and a collapsible water bowl with you when walking in warm weather to prevent dehydration.
Finally, keep the temperature of the ground you are walking on in mind. While your feet are protected by shoes, your dog’s paws are not.
A general rule of thumb is to put your hand flat on the ground. If you can hold it there comfortably for ten seconds, it should be okay for your dog.
What Temperatures Are Safe For Your Dog?
It is usually safe for most to go outside and exercise between 45°F (7°C) and 68°F (19°C).
If the mercury falls below or over these parameters, temperature-sensitive dogs may begin to become uncomfortable or even suffer.
When it comes to heat, most dogs can tolerate temperatures up to 90°F. Still, since every dog is different, owners will need to watch their dogs for signs of distress or discomfort.
Keep in mind that a dog having fun running around in the sun is not going to monitor its own body heat, so it’s up to you to keep them cool and hydrated.
At What Temperature Do Dogs Overheat?
There is no specific temperature that can cause a dog to overheat or suffer from heat exhaustion. It depends on your dog’s individual susceptibility to heat based on their breed, age, and other factors mentioned above.
While a fit Afghan hound might be unaffected by a sprint at 25°C (77°F), an excited, overweight Pug can quickly be overcome by heat exhaustion or heat stroke.
Heat Exhaustion and Heatstroke in Dogs
A dog with heat exhaustion usually recovers by being moved to a cool area and re-hydrated with lots of fluids.
Frozen Gatorade shavings may be helpful, so it’s useful to keep a bottle in your freezer just in case.
You can tell the difference between heat exhaustion and heatstroke by taking your dog’s temperature.
A temperature which falls between 103°F (39°C) and 106°F (41°C) indicates heat exhaustion. But if the body temperature rises 106°F (41°C), your dog is at risk of heatstroke and needs medical attention.
How to prevent heatstroke in dogs
Do not exercise your dog in the heat of the day. Instead, go for walks or jog in the cool morning hours or in the evening.Make sure your dog has plenty of shade and ventilation.Always ensure plenty of fresh, cool drinking water is available.Avoid keeping your dog near surfaces that reflect or retain heat, such as asphalt, hot sand, or concrete.Never leave your dog in a car unattended.Be aware that windy conditions can make it feel cooler than it is. A dog running around on the beach might have waterlogged fur that impairs its ability to insulate itself, and the added sun might cause heatstroke.
Signs of Heatstroke in Dogs
Suppose you don’t have a thermometer to verify that your dog is overheating. In that case, there are plenty of other symptoms of heatstroke, such as:
- Increased heart rate
- Uncontrollable panting
- Foaming at the mouth
- Excessive thirst
- Loss of consciousness
- Tongue and gums turning bright red to purple, blue, or gray
- Capillary refill time of more than two seconds
You can check for dehydration by gently pinching the skin on the top of your dog’s skull. If it takes a few seconds to go back to normal, your dog is dehydrated.
Any signs of heatstroke are an indication that you should take your dog to the vet immediately.
Leaving Your Dog in the Car
Temperatures inside cars rise quicker than many people realize. In fact, in just 10 minutes, the temperature in your car can go up by 20°F. After an hour, it rises by 40°F.
That means that even on a 70°F (21°C) day, the mercury can rise to 110°F (43°F) inside a vehicle. This is dangerous for any dog, but particularly for short-nosed breeds.
Even inside the house, anything over 90°F (32°C) is too hot and needs to be managed. So, never leave your dog inside a car.
This applies even if it doesn’t feel that hot outside or the window is left open, or you’ll “only be a minute.” The risk is simply too high.
How Can I Cool My Dog Down?
Whenever you are dealing with a sweltering summer, you need to keep an eye on how your dog handles the heat. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to manage the temperature your dog is exposed to.
Ways to help your dog beat the heat
Make sure there is a shaded area outside. A doghouse can become an oven on a hot day.Let your dog cool down in a swimming pool, lake, or other body of water. You can also turn on the sprinkler system. Be sure to clean and dry out the inside of their ears afterward to prevent ear infections.Keep the dog inside if your house is air-conditioned or if there are cool places to lie, like a tiled bathroom.Fill a child’s pool with ice water for them to splash around in.Fill a hot water bottle with chilled water or put a damp towel down for your dog to lie on.
Dogs have great inbuilt systems to regulate their own temperature. Even so, humans have introduced challenges that can be too much for them. Hot cars, exercising on asphalt or in the heat of the day, or breeds that can’t manage the heat all need to be considered. As owners, we need to do our best to keep our animals healthy and comfortable, and keeping an eye on the temperature is part of that job.
Tamsin De La HarpeAuthor
Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions.
Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.