Summertime is undoubtedly one of the most popular seasons for hiking. Those of us who hike with our pups need to be cognizant of the temperature and know how to keep a dog cool in hot weather.
According to the Washington State Animal Response Team (WASART), some of the most frequent calls are for overheated dogs.
Hot summer weather can cause serious conditions to your dog, like heat stroke or death, so managing their exposure to the heat is nothing to take lightly.
Anything above 75°F can be too much for some dogs. Read on for tips on how to keep your dog cool in hot weather and to learn the warning signs of exposure to excessive heat.
Precautions of Hiking with Your Dog in Hot Weather
Dogs can seemingly go on and on and on forever, however, they also infamously don’t display signs of pain or exhaustion until it’s a serious problem.
Learning to recognize and actively look for signs that your dog is overheating can literally save their life.
Heat stroke can result from leaving your dog in the car on a sunny day with temperatures exceeding 70°F, exercising in hot temperatures, or even sitting outside on hot days, including in the shade.
Heat stroke can cause seizures, coma, cardiac arrest, or death if not treated.
If you notice any of the following signs, your dog may be suffering from heat stroke.
- Rapid heart rate
- Excessive panting
- Heavy drooling and/or thick saliva
- Red or pale gums and tongue
- Extreme fatigue
If you see these symptoms, get your dog indoors immediately and call your vet.
Cooling Down a Dog that is Overheating
If you notice that your dog is panting excessively or see other displays of heat exhaustion, then you’ll want to cool them down.
There’s a right and wrong way to cool down a dog that is overheating. Cooling a hot dog down too quickly can shock their system, so you want to go gradually.
Slowly wet your dog. On the trail, you can take your water bottle, or if you’re near a water source and apply water to your dog.
If you have a bandana or extra shirt, you can soak that and place it over your dog.
Key areas to pay attention to include the belly, chest, groin, and paws. They cool more quickly so will help your dog get back to their normal temperature faster.
Move your dog to the shade. If you can, get your dog to shade as soon as possible. Let them lie down and rest before returning to your car.
Offer your dog drinking water. They may not feel like drinking, which is normal. Don’t force them to drink, just leave it out as an option and encourage them every few minutes.
What Temperature is Too Hot to Walk a Dog?
A quick test to see if the ground is too hot is to place the back of your hand on the surface for five seconds. If it’s too hot for you, then it’s too hot for your dog.
Temperatures above 70°F can heat up quickly, so perform this test accordingly.
Surface matters as well. Pavement is going to be the hottest material, sand heats up pretty quickly as well. Dirt will be cooler, but can still feel hot to your dog.
Temperatures above 90°F are the most dangerous temperatures for hikes and increase the likelihood of heat-related problems like torn paw pads and overheating.
Heat Can Affect Breeds Differently
Brachycephalic breeds (or short-nosed dogs), like Pugs, Boston Terriers, and French Bulldogs are highly susceptible to overheating and incurring other medical problems due to the heat.
The bone structure of their faces don’t allow enough air for them to breathe well in hot weather and under exertion. Panting in extreme temperatures does little to cool them down as a result.
Similarly, northern breeds like Malamutes and Samoyed may have to become acclimated to the heat more than other shorter-haired breeds. I know plenty of northern breeds that live in hot places, but they’re used to it.
If you were to move from say, Oregon to Arizona with your Husky, you shouldn’t resume the same exercise in the hotter weather. Gradually build up your dog’s tolerance to the heat.
7 Tips for Keeping Your Dog Cool on Hot Weather Adventures
Just because the temperatures are soaring doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to stop all outdoor activity with your dog. You just have to go about it differently, in a safe way to avoid any potential injuries or life-threatening situations.
Hike in the Morning
The weather is significantly cooler during the morning hours, particularly just before sunrise.
It is the coolest part of the day because the sun has been down for a good several hours compared to the evening when the heat from the day still radiates from the ground.
Personally, the morning is my favorite time of day to run, walk, or hike during the summer months because it’s quiet, there are few cars on the roads and people on the trails, and the temperatures are simply lovely.
Choose Cooler Hikes
Look for hikes with plenty of shade, that are located near water, and/or that are at high elevation, where the air is typically cooler.
Often, in the shade the temperature will stay 10-15℉ cooler than in the direct sun.
Study the hike before you head out and note any exposed hillsides that will significantly raise the temperatures.
In some locations, the coastal temperatures will stay significantly cooler. The Oregon Coast is most certainly one of the more comfortable places to spend time outdoors when the temperature rises inland.
If you opt for high elevation, understand that also comes with some risks:
- Inversions can make it feel hotter in higher elevations, check the weather before you head out.
- Sun exposure is more extreme, both for you and your dog.
- Like humans, dogs can feel the effects of altitude, so acclimate accordingly and know the signs to look for in altitude sickness.
Check Regularly on Paw Pads
Walking over hot surfaces can burn your dog’s paws, and it’s quite common, according to WASART. Rocks, dirt trails, and sand can all heat up significantly.
If the ground feels too hot, then you can train your dog to wear booties or apply a dog paw wax, like Musher’s Secret.
I personally don’t use booties for my dog, however, I have friends that use the following brands and feel comfortable recommending them to you:
- Ruffwear Grip Trex Dog Boots ($74.95)
- Kurgo Step-n-Strobe Dog Boots ($71.08)
- Muttluks Mud Monsters ($47.99/2 pack)
Finding booties that fit small dogs is notoriously difficult. My friend Katherine of @robinventures has done extensive research on her dog.
Opt for a Water Activity Instead of a Hike
On really hot days, I love to take my dog paddle boarding.
While the sun exposure can still certainly be an issue on the water, rivers and lakes are nature’s air conditioning and will enable your dog to regulate their body temperature more easily if they can just hop in for a swim.
Bring Enough Water for Both You and Your Dog
Failing to bring enough water for both the human and their dog is pretty common for dog owners. I’ve been guilty of it myself.
I often underestimate the amount of water I need and so have been trying to get into the habit of bringing too much.
Keeping your dog hydrated during outdoor activities will reduce the risk of heat exhaustion and dehydration.
If your dog is picky about drinking water, you can bring coconut water or a broth mix, like the one from The Honest Kitchen is one way to entice your dog to drink.
Remember that dogs can and frequently do contract water-borne illnesses from bacteria in water, so offering fresh water is always ideal.
Brush Your Pet Regularly
Regular brushing removes the dead undercoat, which will help air circulate through the fur better.
In the summer, brushing can help remove mats that form when your dog gets wet. An added bonus is that it can help you find ticks that might have burrowed deep into their fur.
I love FURminator brushes for getting out a ton of fur. They do the best job of removing excess hair from the undercoat.
Don’t Shave Your Dog’s Fur!
Shaving your dog for the summer might seem like it should keep them cool, but it can actually have the opposite effect.
Dog fur is insulating, like merino wool. It keeps them cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Removing the bulk of the fur can interfere with the dog’s natural ability to regulate their temperature.
Moreover, dog fur acts as a natural sunblock and shaving a dog’s fur can increase their risk of sunburn.
Some dogs may benefit from a summer haircut, such as those who are susceptible to hot spots. If this describes your dog, then talk with your vet about best options for conquering the heat.