8 signs your dog may be overheating and how to keep them safe in hot weather

·7-min read
Dog overheating in car in summer. (Getty Images)
Learn the vital dos and dont's of looking after your dog in hot weather. (Getty Images)

Yahoo Life’s editors are committed to independently selecting wonderful products at great prices for you. We may receive a share from purchases made via links on this page. Pricing and availability are subject to change.

While we're all – quite rightly – focused on trying to keep ourselves safe in the heatwave, it's important we don't forget about the nation's beloved dog's needs too.

Recent RSPCA polling found that more than a third of people wouldn't know what action to take if their four-legged companion was showing signs of heatstroke, with the charity's animal welfare experts urging pet owners to take every precaution possible to protect their pets, which starts with prevention.

We asked Dr Scott Miller, veterinary expert for Barking Heads and This Morning's resident vet expert, for advice.

Read more: Nearly half of dog owners unaware their pets need suncream in hot weather

Signs your pet may be overheating

Dog in shade in hot weather. (Getty Images)
Is your dog acting differently to normal? (Getty Images)
  1. Excessive panting: Panting helps dogs to cool off after exercising or in hotter weather. However, over time, you’ll understand your dog’s regular, normal breathing and panting, so watch out for when it starts to become suspiciously heavy.

  2. Drooling: When dogs salivate uncontrollably from their mouth, which may seem ‘normal’ in certain circumstances, where food may be involved. However, paired with these other listed symptoms, it is an indicator of overheating.

  3. Shaking: Watch out for muscle tremors or shivering even when it is a hot temperature.

  4. Rapid breathing: Also known as ‘tachypnea’. In dogs, you need to look out for fast, shallow breathing where their mouth is not as fully open as it would be when they are panting.

  5. Restlessness: This includes pacing back and forth; sitting down and then moving repeatedly; and having difficulty staying in one spot for a reasonable length of time.

  6. Lethargy (Not themselves!): You will know your dog’s regular behaviour, so keep an eye out whether they’re acting like themselves or are not. Overheating also tends to leave dogs sleeping more than usual.

  7. Prolonged lack of appetite: Again, dogs do tend to go off their food when it is hot, due to lower activity levels. However, if this continues for a prolonged time with little to no food eaten, then there may be a cause for concern.

  8. Inability to stand up: Another more obvious sign, if a healthy dog (who wouldn’t normally have trouble) cannot walk or lift themselves up to stand.

Read more: Heatwave advice: Should we keep our windows open or closed in hot weather?

Can dogs suffer from heat exhaustion and heatstroke?

Vet with husky. (Getty Images)
It's better to take precautionary measures, but if your dog does become extremely distressed, consult a vet. (Getty Images)

Us humans usually experience heat exhaustion before heatstroke, which can include symptoms like a headache, dizziness and confusion and light-headedness. If we do not take the right measures, such as moving out of the sun and cooling down, we can develop a more serious heatstroke.

But while the symptoms may be slightly different, can dogs suffer in similar ways?

“Definitely," says Dr Miller. "Heat exhaustion and heatstroke can present itself as excessive panting that does not abate, distress, drooling or even collapse. It’s of course, best to not let it get this far by taking precautionary measures to keep your pets as cool as possible during heatwaves."

While keeping them cool in the first place is of course the best thing to do, he adds that if you think your pet is in "extreme distress from the heat", to contact your local vet who can decide on the best course of action as it is then a serious situation.

Read more: Three-quarters of British dogs are depressed – how can we improve their mood?

Watch: How to prevent your dog from overheating

These precautionary measures outlined by Dr Miller should prevent you from having to seek medical care for your pet pooch:

  • Add extra water to their food – soak their dry food and/or feed them wet food for additional hydration support

  • Keep your pet indoors and out of the sun during the strong, direct sunlight hours

  • Don’t shave your dog's coat. Although tempting, it's very important not to shave your dog's fur as this acts as an insulator; keeping your pet warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Regular grooming can help them regulate their temperature, particularly if they have long or thick fur.

  • Walk your dogs early in the morning/late in the evening (feel the pavement with your hand to see if it's cool, to ensure no risk of burning their pads)

  • Always ensure they have access to a full water bowl – you can add ice packs or cubes to their water, make pet ice lollies ('pupsicles')

  • Circulate cool air inside using fans or air conditioning

  • Use damp towels or a cooling mat

  • Add shaded areas in the garden. If your pet loves to be outside with you, ensure there are shaded spots for your dog with access to water and their favourite toys and treats to keep them busy out of the sun.

  • Apply dog-friendly sunscreen to their skin. Dogs can get sunburnt, too, so don't forget to apply sunscreen to those sensitive areas on your dog’s skin (nose, ears, lips, and stomach). Especially if you have a white, light coloured, or patchy furred dog.

  • Don’t leave your dog in a hot car, no matter the circumstances.

Read more: Mosquitoes in summer: Why do some people get bitten more?

What to do if your dog is overheating?

Dog standing in water. (Getty Images)
Many might not know that dogs shouldn't be fully immersed in water in hot weather. (Getty Images)

Dr Miller says there are plenty of ways you can keep your pet safe from these soaring temperatures and help make them feel more comfortable. But before you act instinctively, there are a few things to be aware of.

“It’s important NOT to fully immerse them in water as that can shock them or turn overheating into shock and/or drowning," he warns.

"Instead, standing them in cold water and scooping it over your dog can work well. Otherwise, find shade and dowse them in water from a water bottle. If at home, consider draping them in damp towels and use a fan to cool them."

You should allow you dog to drink as much as they wish and consider early or late walks and resting during the hottest part of the day to avoid heat stroke – very similar to how we should look after ourselves!

Hopefully you won't be in a serious situation with your pet pooch, but if they are collapsed, Dr Miller says you should "extend the neck, clear the mouth, and vigorously massage the legs to maintain healthy blood flow". 

"Always advise your vet after an incident of hyperthermia, as your canine companion may show signs of ill health a few days after the event and should be monitored closely," he adds.

Read more: Your sun protection guide: SPF, UVB and UVA explained

Watch: How people are getting their pets to eat their food

If you notice your dog is overheating, contact your vet immediately for help.

For more information on helping other animals in the summer, which is equally as important, see the RSPCA's page on animal welfare advice for summer.

The charity also launched its Cancel Out Cruelty summer appeal, which highlights how as the temperatures rise, so do calls to the charity's cruelty hotline.

If you do need to report cruelty you can phone the RSPCA on 0300 1234 999 or for some help visit its website page advice and welfare or complete its online enquiry form.

6 top-rated cooling products for pets

Pecute Dog Cooling Mat Large | from £13.99 to £42.99 depending on size

ALL FOR PAWS Chill Out Ice Bandana
| from £7.50 - £10.10 depending on size

UKCOCO Pet Cooling Vest Jacket | from £14.99 to £22.99 depending on size

Pecute Paddling Pool for Pets & Kids | from £23.99 to £52.99 depending on size

Jolitac Elevated Dog Cot Large with Removable Canopy
| from £56.61 to £71.02

Amazon Basics Elevated Portable Pet House | £41.46 to £67.46 depending on size/colour