How to keep a dog cool in the summer: 9 ways to prevent heatstroke

Our four-legged friends can have a hard time in the heat, so we’ve asked the experts for their top tips on how to keep a dog cool in the summer.

German shepherd puppy lying in a paddle pool cooling off
(Image credit: Jannes Mingram, Unsplash)

With temperatures reaching record highs again, if you have a four-legged buddy, it's no wonder you need to know how to keep a dog cool in the summer.

And with a rapid change in climate, more of us need to get clued up on how to keep pets cool as a result. None of us want to see our dogs suffering from heatstroke because yep, dogs get it too. In fact, Michael Nank of pet medical insurance company, Trupanion (opens in new tab), says that they see 333% more claims relating to heat stroke during the summer months. So, how do we keep our dogs cool in the summertime?

Having a good portable AC unit is an easy way to create a cool home that’s comfortable for your dog. However, if you’re on a budget or you’re out and about with your pooch, there are also so many other things you can do to help your dog stay comfortable this summer.

Dogs are smart and have innate strategies for keeping cool, we just need to provide them with easy cooling options and encouragement. Erica Barnes of Pet Smitten (opens in new tab) suggests that less is more when it comes to keeping dogs cool, saying ‘one of my biggest tips is ‘don’t do anything’, which always takes people aback at first - I’ll explain. Funnily enough, dogs are pretty good at managing themselves in the heat. They’ll seek out shade and cool surfaces to lie on, will drink when they need to (of course, you’ve got to keep their water bowl topped up), and will mostly just be inclined to sleep all day in hot weather. Most of the problems I see with dogs suffering from heat exhaustion etc. come when people try to force the dog to do things it wouldn’t naturally want to do in extremely hot weather … So that’s my first tip - when it’s hot, let your dog have a quiet day.’

But sometimes letting your dog chill out isn't enough. So, here are some of the best reccos from the pet experts.

1. Look out for warning signs of heatstroke

How do you know when it’s getting too hot for your pupper to handle? According to Nank, some key warning signs include:

He explains, ‘Heat stroke is an emergency condition and if you suspect that your pet is experiencing extreme heat you should move them to a cooler area and call your veterinarian immediately.’

Key signs of heatstroke are:

  • Restlessness and pacing
  • Heavy panting
  • More drooling than normal with very sticky saliva
  • Red tongue
  • High heart rate
  • Dry, dark or bruised-looking gums
  • Digestive issues such as vomiting or diarrhoea

If in doubt, you can always take your dog's temperature. You can use an in-ear thermometer designed for human use (opens in new tab). A dog's body temperature is normally between 97 and 99 degrees fahrenheit. If your dog's temperature gets above 103 (40°C), it can cause health issues.

2. Avoid walks during peak heat

An easy way to stop your dog from overheating is to stay indoors during the heat of the day. If you usually walk at lunchtime, try switching your schedule so you’re going for a walk early in the morning or at dusk when it’s cooler. Ensure you keep your house cool also.

Daniel Caughill, co-founder of The Dog Tale (opens in new tab) says, ‘Keep your dog indoors during the hottest hours. If you’re expecting hot weather over the next few days, you may have to adjust your dog’s walking schedule. Go for an extra long walk in the cooler morning or evening hours and limit outdoor exposure during the afternoon, when temperatures are hottest.’

3. Keep your pup hydrated

Dogs can get heat stroke just like humans, so make sure they always have fresh, cold water available. If you’re heading out, always take a portable water bowl (opens in new tab) so your pupper doesn’t have to go thirsty. 

Alexandra Bassett, lead trainer and behavior specialist at Dog Savvy LA (opens in new tab), explains, 'Since dogs don't sweat like humans do, their only way of keeping cool is by panting - which cools a dog down via the evaporation of water from the mouth and nose - so ensuring a dog remains well-hydrated is one of the most important ways to keep a dog cool when it's hot out.'

Get creative and do everything you can to make drinking water easy and fun for your dog. You can put some water in your dog's food or make drinking into a game using the hose in the yard. My dog loves ice cubes in her water bowl, although be careful as some vets warn against ice cold water. If your dog is overheating, it can shock their system.

Dr. Chyrle Bonk, doctor of veterinary medicine at Hepper (opens in new tab) suggests, ‘Consider setting multiple bowls out in different places around your home and yard so that fresh water is never far from reach. You can also encourage them to drink a little more by getting a water fountain since the movement and noise can attract them and make them more interested in drinking. You can also add a bit of low-sodium chicken broth for a little flavor.’

4. Do the tarmac test

The ground can get really hot in the sun, especially dark tarmac. Lovelia Horn, owner of Every Creature Counts (opens in new tab) suggests doing the tarmac test; ‘Place the palms of your hands on the tarmac for approximately five seconds. If you feel it’s too hot for you, then it’s too hot for your dog. The verdict would not be to go out at that particular time and wait until it cools down a bit.’

If your schedule doesn’t allow you to go out at cooler times, you could try getting some shoes for your dog. It may look a little silly and it can take some time for your dog to get used to booties, but it keeps their paws safe. Make sure you get boots with a good protective sole like these (opens in new tab) from Ruffwear (opens in new tab) on Amazon. However, do bear in mind that if it is too hot for your pet to walk on the ground, it is probably too hot for a walk.

5. Groom your dog daily

Dogs have to handle the heat in a warm fur coat! A simple and effective way to keep your dog cool is to brush them regularly to help remove excess hair when they’re shedding in the summer. Your dog stays cool, plus you get less dog hair on your furniture and less need to pull out your vacuum for all that pet hair when you're hot and bothered.

6. But don't give them a close shave

Some non-shedding breeds, like poodles or schnauzers, could benefit from a summer trim. However, shaving most dog breeds is not recommended. Jen Jones of yourdogadvisor.com (opens in new tab) says, ‘one myth I want to bust is shaving your pets during summer time to avoid heat. There is no need to shave your dog down during the summer – in fact, doing so can make them hotter. Taking away their fur makes them prone to heat dangers.’ Be careful and consult your vet before you give your dog a new hairdo.

7 . Make pupsicles

A tasty way to combat the summer heat for pets and humans alike is with an ice cream or popsicle. There are loads of different recipes out there for doggy ice cream, and they're usually super simple to make. We put chopped bananas and blueberries in the freezer, add some peanut butter and blend. Dogs love it, as do humans...

This delicious carrot and apple pupsicle recipe (opens in new tab) from Devin Stagg, marketing manager at Pupford (opens in new tab) is very popular with doggos.

8. Know your dog's breed

Some dog breeds fare better in the heat than others. If your dog is a rescue, it might be a good idea to get a doggie DNA test to gain some more insight. It can be super useful to know if your dog has a low heat tolerance so that you can keep a closer eye on them and be sure to follow all of these tips.

Dr. Brian Evans, medical director at Dutch (opens in new tab) says, ‘Brachycephalic dog breeds such as Bulldogs, French Bulldogs, Pugs, Boston Terriers, etc., are more prone to heat exhaustion than others. This is because their heat tolerance is much lower. Arctic breeds with thick coats also are more prone to overheating such as Siberian Husky, Alaskan Malamute, and Chow Chows’.

9. Get a cooling mat or try our easy DIY one

Cooling mats can be a real game changer if your dog suffers in the heat. Dr. Sabrina Kong, doctor of veterinary medicine at We Love Doodles (opens in new tab) explains, 'These are giant mats that are filled with this gel material that gets cool with the pressure of the dog's weight. My dogs love to lay down on these things, and they work perfectly while indoors, in the backyard, and even in the car! However, be careful if your dog likes to chew on things as the material shouldn't be eaten. Don't leave the mat in direct sunlight either as it will absorb the heat and do the opposite of what's intended.’

This cooling mat (opens in new tab) from Arf Pets (opens in new tab) at Amazon stays cool for three hours and is made with nontoxic materials so you can avoid major mishaps if your dog does chew their mat. There are also cooling jackets for when you’re on the go, like this one from Ruffwear on Amazon (opens in new tab).

If you’re on a budget, placing a wet towel in the fridge for around forty-five minutes makes an excellent cooling mat. It’s also damp, which helps dogs cool off too. It doesn’t stay cold for as long as the store-bought version, but you can use a couple of towels and rotate them. Don't forget to give the towel a good wash before putting it back in the fridge.

Pepper the blue heeler or australian cattle dog out in the sunshine on a DIY cooling blanket with sunglasses on

(Image credit: @pepper.the.heeler on instagram)

Will wetting a dog cool it down?

Caughill explains, ‘Yes. Wetting your dog allows the water to evaporate, carrying away heat in the process. This is similar to how sweat cools down humans. Wetting is especially effective if the water is cool.'

A lake or river is great on a warm day, but if it’s super hot it’s best to find somewhere where your dog can paddle or lay down in the water. Exercise can make them even hotter so it's best if they don't have to swim. Try this durable and foldable dog pool (opens in new tab) in your yard or install a sprinkler your dog can play in.

What is the fastest way to cool down a dog?

Dr. Amy Atlas, founder of City Pets (opens in new tab) warns, 'It's important to take every precaution to prevent a dog from overheating during the high heat of summer because by the time a dog is exhibiting symptoms of heatstroke, it's often too late to save them.'

If your dog is showing signs of heat exhaustion, get them out of the heat as soon as possible. She continues, 'Dogs do not have the ability to perspire, so their only cooling mechanism is panting. Panting is very inefficient if the air they are breathing in is extremely hot.'

Although wetting your dog is a great way to cool them down, don't use cold water if you think your dog is overheating. Caughill explains, 'If you think your dog is experiencing heat stroke, it’s important not to put very cold water on them or it could shock their system. Moderately cool water works best.'

How can I keep my dog cool in hot weather without AC?

Even without AC, creating a cool spot where your dog can chill out is essential on a hot day. Be sure to put your dog's bed or crate in a nice cool part of your home, and you can use a fan, cooling mat and cold water to create a cool haven.

Bonk suggests, 'Give your pup a cool spot to hang out. If outside, a dark, shady spot is best. If inside, look for a basement or dark, quiet area, such as behind a couch or in front of a fan. You can try a cooling dog bed or let them lie on a moist towel. Outside, try a wading pool or sprinkler.'

If you have other pets in your home too, check out this summer pet safety guide with tips for all your animal companions.

Emily Grant is a British ex-pat living in Squamish, Canada. She has written about all sorts from interior design and gardening, to travel, tourism, and pets. When she’s not writing, she loves finding DIY ways to beautify her rented space. She has become an expert in making small apartments feel like home and has written features on smart storage solutions, organization ideas, and seasonal decor. She also loves spending time out in the backyard, relaxing in the hammock on her beautiful patio. In addition to Real Homes, her work has featured on Gardeningetc and Homes & Gardens.

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