How to keep pets cool in summer: 12 essential tips for cats, dogs, hamsters and more

Knowing how to keep pets cool in summer is a must to prevent cats, dogs, hamsters, rabbits and more from overheating. Hydration is key plus cooling mats and more techniques can help keep big and small animals comfortable in the heat

A dog relaxing on a inflatable mat in a swimming pool
(Image credit: Cohen/Ostrow / Getty)

Knowing how to keep pets cool in summer is a must for any responsible pet owner. As temperatures begin to climb, cats, dogs and smaller pets like hamsters and rabbits can really suffer in the summer heat, particularly in areas that are seeing truly scorching, record-breaking temperatures. 

Keeping rooms cool using the best fans for ventilation also is a must but there are a few more things that you can do to make the hot season more comfortable for them and more importantly, to stop them from getting heatstroke.

How to keep pets cool in summer

You may be seeing that your pet is shedding more hair than usual (fortunately, there are the best vacuums for pet hair to take care of that issue), or that they’re drinking a lot of water and eating less. 

It's also important to look out for any signs of heatstroke in pets when it's hot. Debbie Littany of  says how 'Heat stroke is serious and life-threatening for our pets. If you noticed that they are excessively panting, drooling, vomiting, or showing signs of lethargy, then seek immediate medical help. During hot days, you can prevent heat stroke by ensuring that your pets stay in a cool, well-ventilated area, and have clean drinking water nearby. There are also cooling accessories that you can buy like cooling mats, beds, and vests.' 

So stay aware of serious early signs of heatstroke and apart from accommodating your pets' natural seasonal behaviors, follow these essential summer safety tips for pets from certified veterinarians to keep your furry friend happy and cool during summer:

1. Offer plenty of water

This may seem like an obvious point, but providing your pet with plenty of fresh, cool drinking water is essential. For dogs, some recommend ice cubes as a snack and dropping these into their water supply also but the cold can be too shocking so we wouldn't recommend it for all canines. It goes without saying, that water should always be clean and changed regularly. 

Cats can be particularly fussy customers and will sometimes refuse water from a bowl even when thirsty. A cat water fountain (from Amazon) can be a good solution. You can also try leaving multiple bowls of water to see if they prefer a particular spot for drinking. 

You can also flavor water for those that don't naturally flock to hydrate. A few ml of apple juice in water for rabbits and hamsters can entice them a little more. Cats may be more inclined to drink water from their bowl with a little cooled chicken broth in there too.

Additionally, you want to make sure the water is fresh and not warm. If you keep rabbits outdoors, consider an insulated water bottle cover to help with changes in temperature which will help keep their water supply cool in summer and ambient come winter. Walmart has a few different options as will your local pet store or Lixit' all-weather water bottle on Amazon is a good option.

2. Avoid play and walking in peak hours

Keep your pooch indoors during the hottest daytime hours; instead, to make daily walks pleasurable for both you and your dog, walk them in the morning and in the evening. According to Simon, ‘the best time to bring a dog for a walk is in the morning, before the sun has warmed the ground. In summer, the asphalt can get so hot it can even burn paw pads. If you cannot comfortably hold your hand flat on the ground for 5 seconds, it is too hot for your pooch.’

Jen Jones founder of Your Dog Advisor says 'Avoid walking or exercising your pet during the hottest part of the day. If you must go out, keep the activity moderate and bring along water.' A portable water dispenser for dogs is a must all through the year but especially in the summertime.

3. Bring pets indoors

Felines might be sunbathers but to keep cats cool in hot weather, even they will benefit from being brought inside for a few hours during the hottest part of the day. 

Small animals in cages like rabbits should also be brought inside and if possible let out onto shaded areas that are tiled to help them cool down. 

4. Cool down your patio area

For off-peak hours where the sun may still be shining on your yard or patio space, add shade and cover any warm ground with damp towels or pads so that paws don't get burned and sore. Ensuring your yard is generally pet safe is a must also.

Musher's Dog Paw Wax is good to protect pet paws from the heat but also in all seasons so when it's cold and snowing also.

4. Keep your home cool 

Thinking about all the rooms in your home is crucial here. Dr. Linda Simon, a veterinary surgeon*, tells us that ‘while most owners are aware of the dangers of leaving pets in hot cars, not all owners understand the danger posed in their own home and yard.’ 

With pets inside, you need your space to be cool and comfortable. You’re probably already doing this as humans are even more sensitive to high ambient temperature than dogs and cats. However, if you don’t notice the heat as much, you should still try to keep your home cool, ideally around 80 degrees, to keep your pets comfortable. Simon points out that ‘this is especially important for those with long coats and breeds not used to the heat, like the Malamute and Siberian Husky.'

It also may be worth investing in the best portable air conditioner to keep the ambient temperature down. 

As a general rule, if a room has glazing on the sunny side or is all glass, like a conservatory or orangery, it will likely get too hot for your pet on hot summer afternoons. The same applies to garden rooms that have large windows. Try to restrict access to these rooms during the hottest hours, between 11-3 pm and be sure to keep rooms cool as much as possible with the best fans and more clever tricks.

Dr. Courtnye Jackson, veterinarian and owner of the growing pet blog  ‘The Pets Digest’ notes how 'Dogs predominantly lose heat by touching or laying on cool surfaces so making sure they are comfortable in a cool part of the house is crucial. Have them set up with a fan and a cooling pad or tile floor.'

A cocker spaniel shaking off water

(Image credit: Busybee-CR / Getty)

5. Offer cooling pads for dogs and cats

Simon says,' A cooling mat or cooling vest works well when the home is hotter than you would like.’ 

Littany recommends cooling pads for some pets, recommending 'This Cooling Bed has a gel-infused memory foam top for a cooling effect. If you like traveling with your pets, you can buy this cooling vest that's breathable and lightweight.'

6. Avoid over-energetic play when it’s hot 

‘It is usually okay for your dog to exercise outside when the temperature is 70 degrees or less. When it is very hot or humid, your dog doesn’t need much exercise and won’t be able for it. Instead of hikes or runs, stick to ‘find it’’ games in the garden and fun with the paddling pool. Ensure they always have shade to go under and access to fresh water.’

The same goes for cats, especially young kittens. While an older cat is unlikely to engage in play with you when they’re hot anyway, kittens have a lot of energy and are best kept indoors when it’s very hot.

A white cat resting in a summer backyard

(Image credit: AegeanBlue / Getty)

7. Take them swimming

We are talking specifically about keep dogs cool here probably, unless you have a swimming, water-loving cat. But consider taking your dog to a nearby pond or lake that is safe for them to have a dip in. Alternatively, if you have the room in your garden, set up a paddling pool for them to have a splosh around in. 

8. Cool cages down with wet towels

For small animals like rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters and birds draping a cool, damp towel over their cages can help lower the temperature and make it more comfortable for them, just make sure you don't cover the entire cage, that there is good airflow and that they have plenty of water.

9. Cool caged spaces with ice

Alternatively, you could pop an ice pack or a frozen water bottle into their cage, this will bring down the temperature of the cage. 

10. Sunscreen is not just for humans

If your cat or dog has a light coloring and likes playing outside in the sun, you will need to apply sunscreen to their ears. They can get skin cancer from UV radiation, just like humans. There are a few different options on Amazon.

11. Keep your car cool 

Dr Simon advises against leaving your dog in a car for any length of time during the summer months.‘ If you’re traveling, make sure the car is kept cool by running the AC for a little while before you leave and opening the windows enough to allow some cooler air in.

You can also lay a cool mat on the seat for your dog to lie on whilst you travel to your destination. 'Of course, it goes without saying, this option should only be used if your dog is still able to be properly strapped in.’

12. Groom pets regularly

If your dog goes in for a haircut, now is the perfect time to do it. ‘As the weather heats up, getting your dog in for a good groom is a good way of removing all excess hair and will aid in keeping them cooler in the summer sun.’

If you don’t tend to take them for a haircut as such, giving them a good brush is very beneficial. This also goes for cats, many of whom really enjoy a good brush. 

Top tip: Do avoid harsh brushes with metal bristles – instead invest in a Zoom Groom. It is made from silicone and won’t irritate your pet’s skin.  

How can I keep my pet cool in the summer without AC?

Hydration is key as is keeping your home cool to help chill pets out without air conditioning installed. Jackson notes how for dogs 'if they seem to be overheating you can wipe their paw pads with alcohol (make sure they don't lick it) to help them cool down as well.  Also, make sure they have cool (not ice cold) water available.' 

'Many of the same goes for cats, they could also enjoy a cooling pad or being placed in a cooler part of the home like the first level of a two-story home.'

Jones adds 'Provide plenty of fresh water and make sure that your pet has access to shade.' Noting how walking pets that need it early morning or in the evening when it's cool. Additionally 'Wetting your dog down with cool water can help to lower their body temperature. You can also place a wet towel over their bed or crate. Just be sure that the towel is not sopping wet, as this can make your pet uncomfortable.' Cats may not appreciate this!

If you are trying to keep a household hampster cool, Jackson recommends: 'Try moving their cage to a cooler part of the house, if you have two levels move them to the lower level. Use a fan and have cool water available at all times. Make sure there is nothing blocking the airflow in their cages and keep them out of sunlight. You can also try a frozen sand bath since hamsters will enjoy a sand bath every once and a while you can freeze the sand or make it cooler by placing it in the freezer first.'

How do I know if my pet is too hot?

It is quite easy to tell when your dog is overheated. Dr Simon recommends watching out for ‘panting, glazed eyes, red gums and a reluctance to run.’ Melissa M. Brock

Jackson says that 'Signs of heat stroke in dogs include bright red gums, confusion, vomiting, diarrhea, excessive panting, elevated heart rate and temperature (103 degrees F)' noting that heatstroke in smaller animals is also very serious and needs to be looked out for 'Heat stroke in hamsters is very serious as they are very sensitive to heat.'

Board-Certified Veterinarian at Pango Pets, also says that, in more severe cases, you may see ‘ vomiting, diarrhea (more than usual), increased heart rate (over 100 beats per minute), and lethargy or weakness, seizures or unconsciousness.’ Of course, it is best not to let your pet get to that stage, but if it’s happened, for whatever reason, take them to a vet immediately.

Cats can be trickier. They have evolved not to show pain or illness, so they may seem normal when they’re actually not feeling well. The best way to tell if your cat is too hot is to check if they’re dehydrated. To check a cat for dehydration:

  • Check their nose and gums. Both should be moist. 
  • Do the skin pinch test:  take a small area of skin on your cat’s neck and gently pinch it. In a well-hydrated cat, the skin should snap back into place immediately. If this doesn’t happen, your cat needs more water and to be kept in a cooler space.   

 What temperature is generally too hot for pets?

The answer is, typically, less hot than is too hot for you. Brock explains that ‘pets are more susceptible to heat than humans because they don't have sweat glands. This means that they rely on panting to cool themselves down, and if it's too hot outside, they can't do that very well.’

Generally speaking, dogs are more prone to overheating than cats and shouldn’t be exposed to temperatures above 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Cats ‘need shade and water to keep cool’, but some actually enjoy lounging in a shady spot even when it’s hot.

Birds should never be left in cars—even if only for a few minutes—and reptiles need different care depending on their species. It’s always best to consult your veterinarian if you’re unsure, and especially if your pet is of a less common species. 

* Dr Linda Simon has provided her tips on behalf of Five Barks and Pooch and Mutt.  

Anna is a professional writer with many years of experience. She has a passion for contemporary home decor and gardening. She covers a range of topics, from practical advice to interior and garden design.