Dangers of heatwaves for dogs
Heatwaves can put dogs at higher risk of heatstroke, as well as other dangers.
While we often enjoy spending time in the sun, a heatwave can be dangerous for dogs. Being aware of the risks and how to help your dog is vital.
Heatstroke in dogs
Unlike humans, dogs cannot sweat through their skin. They rely on panting and releasing heat through their paw pads and nose to regulate their body temperature. If they cannot cool down, they will quickly develop heatstroke. Signs of heatstroke include:
- purple gums or red skin
- excessive panting
If you suspect your dog is suffering from heatstroke, move them to a cool place and keep them still and calm. Wet their coat with tepid water and contact your vet immediately. In severe cases, if heatstroke is left untreated, it can be fatal.
If you suspect your pet is suffering from the condition, move them to a cool place, preferably with a draught, wet their coat with cool - not freezing - water, and contact your vet immediately.
How hot is too hot for dogs?
Temperatures up to 20 degrees celsius are suitable for most dogs. You can continue to walk and play with your dog in this weather. Temperatures over 20 degrees celsius can put dogs at higher risk of heatstroke, especially during exercise. Dogs with underlying conditions – such as obesity – are at risk even in temperatures cooler than this.
Pay close attention to elderly and brachycephalic dogs, as well as dogs who are overweight, as they may struggle with breathing and panting in warm weather.
How to keep dogs cool
Preventing heatstroke is always better than treating it. You can do this by helping your dog to stay cool in hot weather:
- Make sure your dog has access to clean, fresh water at all times, ideally in a large bowl filled to the brim. You can also add ice cubes to keep water cold. Always bring a travel bowl and water with you on walks.
- Limit exercise to early morning when temperatures are lower. During a heatwave, temperatures will often stay high in the evening. On particularly hot days you should avoid exercise altogether.
- Offer cooling treats, such as ice licks, refreshing smoothies and frozen Kong recipes
- Place a fan near your dog’s favourite resting spot – just make sure they can avoid the breeze if they choose
- Stay on top of daily grooming as matted fur can prevent dogs from regulating their own temperature
Other risks of hot weather
Dogs in hot cars
A hot car is very dangerous for dogs. When it’s 22 degrees celsius outside, in minutes the temperature in a car can reach up to 47 degrees celsius. While leaving your dog in the car for only a minute may seem harmless, it can quickly become fatal.
If you see a dog in a hot car showing signs of distress, call 999 immediately. A dog in distress in a hot car is an emergency and the police will advise you what to do based on the situation.
Dogs and sunburn
All dogs are at greater risk of sunburn during the sunny seasons. But breeds with light fur coverage or light skin are particularly susceptible. Areas with little to no fur – such as the bridge of the nose, belly and groin – are the most likely to get burnt. Look out for:
- red or pink skin
- dry or cracked skin
- ears that curl at the edges
Persistent sunburn can develop into skin cancer. To prevent it, use a pet-safe sunblock that is zinc oxide or para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA) free. Make sure to take regular breaks in the shade and, if necessary, use a t-shirt to cover vulnerable skin. If your dog’s skin looks crusty or sore, contact your vet.
Bugs and snakes
Bugs and creatures that bite usually thrive in the summer.
Flea bites are annoying and itchy for most dogs. If your dog is allergic to them then they can cause real discomfort. Excessive scratching can also lead to infections. Regular flea treatment is the only way to prevent these little critters – a one-off application will not be enough.
Ticks are spider-like, egg-shaped creepy crawlies that are common in woodland, grassland and heath areas. They carry diseases, so it’s important to safely remove any that attach themselves to your dog as quickly as possible. Find out more about removing ticks.
Bees and wasps
Most insect stings will simply cause your dog pain and irritation, but multiple stings can be fatal. Dogs are also at risk when they snap at bees and wasps because this makes them more likely to be stung in the mouth or throat. Stings in these areas are hazardous because any swelling can block your pet’s airway. If you think your dog has been stung in the mouth or throat, contact your vet for advice.
Adders are the only venomous snake in the UK. While they tend to stay out of the way of humans and dogs, your pet may encounter one while exploring heathland, woodland or sandy areas. Adders can be dangerous to dogs if disturbed because they bite when threatened. If you think an adder has bitten your dog, call your vet straight away.
If your dog has any wounds, make sure to keep them clean and dry. Fly strike can be more common in warm weather, and they may be attracted to open wounds.
Exercising dogs in hot weather
Walking dogs in hot weather
Depending on your dog's breed, coat, age and whether they are brachycephalic, they may not tolerate warm weather. Dogs’ paw pads can also burn on hot pavements. As a general rule if it’s too hot for your hand, it’s too hot for their paws. To avoid the peak of the heat, walk them in the early morning, preferably in shady woodland or forest. Make sure to bring fresh water and a bowl, and offer your dog plenty of breaks.
While exercise is important for dogs, it is not necessary in extreme heat. All dogs should be kept indoors during periods of very hot weather. If your dog is prone to getting bored, refresh their basic training or offer them a tasty treat puzzle to keep them stimulated.
Dogs’ paw pads can burn on hot pavements. As a general rule if it’s too hot for your hand, it’s too hot for their paws.
Dogs and swimming
Taking your dog swimming to cool off can be tempting during a heatwave. But the motivation to play or chase a ball in the water can mask the signs of heatstroke. Playful dogs are still at risk of overheating, even while in the water.
You should also remember that not all dogs like to swim. Do not force them and never throw a dog into water.
During a heatwave, a shallow paddling pool in the garden is an ideal way to gradually introduce your dog to the water, and is much safer than a day at the beach. It will also prevent your dog from exhausting themselves. You should remove any toys and games that may excite your dog. If necessary, for particularly playful dogs, remove the paddling pool altogether.
If you’re taking your dog to the beach or a river, you should:
- keep an eye out for strong currents
- make a note of the tide times
- bring fresh water to the beach to discourage your dog from drinking seawater
- check freshwater lakes, rivers, ponds and canals to make sure they are clear of sewage and blue-green algae before letting your dog dive in. If your dog swims in algae-contaminated water, contact your vet immediately.
Water intoxication in dogs
Water intoxication is when dogs swallow too much water in a short space of time. It’s rare, but this condition can lead to brain damage and, in extreme circumstances, can be fatal.
Signs of water intoxication include:
- loss of coordination (this can include falling over or swaying)
- pale gums
To prevent water intoxication, keep an eye on your dog when they're in water. If they look like they’re swallowing too much water, call them back and let them relax. You can also limit their swimming sessions to no more than five minutes at a time, giving them breaks in between.
• 12 June 2023
• 12 June 2026