How to Keep Dogs Safe in the Desert

Golden Retriever in Desert at Sunset
Jonathan Davidson / Getty Images

Desert regions are known for having hot temperatures during the day for most of the year. Temperatures in the summer can be above 100°. Having pets while living in desert areas requires owners to take some specific cautions to ensure their pets remain safe and healthy.

Inside or Outside?

Your decision on where your dog will live comes with additional responsibilities regarding the outside temperatures.

Inside Dogs

Ideally, your dog will be an inside dog, able to enjoy an air-conditioned environment while it is hot outside. Even when owners may not be at home during the day, the temperature of the house should be at a level that is comfortable for your pet.

Outside Dogs

If you must keep your dog outside, shade and water supply are essential. Your dog should have access to a shaded area that will protect them from the blazing sun and high temperatures. The shade should be provided by a cover such as a covered deck or patio, ventilated doghouse, or spot with a shade cover. Consider purchasing a cooling dog bed for your dog. The shade should be accessible and present all day and not be dependent on the location of the sun. For example, using a tree for shade will probably not provide consistent shade all day long.

For all dogs, but especially outdoor dogs in the desert region, access to cool and clean drinking water is necessary. Owners should make sure there is enough water for their dog to stay hydrated and cool all the hours they are outside. If you use water bowls, make sure they are weighted or designed to be difficult to tip over. Make sure the water is changed and bowls are cleaned every day. Consider a cooling water bowl for your dog's water.

One of the ways for people to keep cool while having fun outside is to swim. Your dog may be the type of dog that also enjoys swimming and water. Some pets enjoy having a small wading pool with cool water in it to sit or lay in to help them keep cool. If your dog likes digging and uses that as a cooling technique, a sandbox in a shady area with damp sand might be an option for them.

If you have a pool at your home, your pet may like taking a swim in the pool. Be mindful of what to consider for pet safety and chlorine or saltwater pools. Your dog should never have access to the pool without supervision. The pool area should be inaccessible if there are safety concerns or the dog is unsupervised. They should be trained on how to get out of the pool safely

While there are public pools as well as lakes and rivers for people to use, dogs may not be welcome. Before trying to take your pet to a public swimming area, be aware of the rules regarding animal attendance. Also, understand the different risks of swimming in pools, a lake, or a river. 

Exercising With Your Dog

If you take your dog on walks with you, try and do so in the cooler temperatures of the morning and night. Make sure that the places you walk do not have hot surfaces to walk on that might burn your dog’s paws. If the ground is too hot for you to stand on in your bare feet, it is too hot for your pet. 

Your pet should not be exposed to the sun for too long. Especially with dogs that have little hair and/or light fur, too much exposure in the sun can cause a sunburn on you both. Do not be too aggressive in your exercise walking routine while it is hot; keep the exercise light and easily tolerable for your pet in the desert heat.

Heat Exhaustion

Heat exhaustion in dogs can be a common response to exposure to hot temperatures. Panting is a dog’s way of cooling off. Unlike people, dogs cannot sweat all over to regulate their body temperature, so they pant. Panting is not a very efficient way to cool off. If a dog gets overheated and cannot cool themselves down, they may experience a heat stroke. Heat stroke for dogs can be extremely serious. Signs to look for are excessive panting, fast and/or heavy breathing, salivating, disorientation, fatigue, collapse, or muscle tremors. If you notice any of these signs, get your pet in a shady, cool space; cover them with set towels to slowly cool them off, offer sips of water, and contact your vet immediately. Heat stroke can cause death in dogs and should be taken seriously.

Riding in the Car with Dogs

If you travel with your dog in the car while summer temperatures are high, never leave them unattended in the car. Temperatures inside a car--even with the windows cracked open--can increase rapidly. Heat stroke causing brain damage or death can occur. If you must take your dog on a car ride, plan to be able to leave your dog supervised with the air conditioning running.
If you drive a pick-up truck, do not travel with your dog in the back bed of the truck. The bed floor can get too hot for your pet to stand or sit on. If you cannot stand barefoot or sit with your bare skin on the truck bed, neither can your dog.

Enjoying time with your dog in the desert heat is possible and easily managed by following a few common-sense guidelines and staying aware of your dog’s surroundings and needs.