When summer approaches, it's natural for people to want to spend more time outside with their family, friends, and pets. But sometimes, the heat can be too much. People may wear less clothing and more breathable fabrics to prevent becoming overheated outside, but dogs aren't able to shed their fur in order to stay cool. It's important for dog owners to know when it's too hot for their dog to be outside, as well as to recognize the signs of overheating. Heatstroke is a serious concern in dogs and can lead to death if ignored. It's best to take precautions whenever possible.
What Temperature Is Too Hot for Dogs?
Just like some people, some dogs can adjust to being exposed to higher temperatures over time but if it is over 77 degrees Fahrenheit outside, you should be thinking about whether or not your dog is affected by the heat. Pavement temperatures can be much hotter than the air if in direct sunlight with no wind and low humidity, so foot pad burns can occur even if the air doesn't feel that hot. The pavement can be 40-60 degrees hotter than the air temperature, so standing on ground this hot can cause burns in 60 seconds.
If the ground temperature isn't your concern, anything that is higher than a dog's body temperature short-term can be problematic. Since a dog's body temperature is normally between 100 and 103 degrees, this means that temperatures over 100 degrees can quickly cause problems for your dog, even if they are just sitting outside in the sun. But if it is cooler than 100 degrees and there is high humidity, this can also be a problem, since the humidity prevents a dog from being able to efficiently cool itself through panting. High humidity and temperatures in the 80s or 90s can cause issues if your dog is outside in the sun for lengthy amounts of time, especially if it is exercising.
All in all, the more humid it is, the lower the heat has to be to negatively affect your dog. Your dog may be able to withstand hotter temperatures and higher humidity if it is just sitting outside, but if you are going on a walk or run, you'll need to closely monitor whether or not your dog is getting too hot. If it's too hot for you to comfortably stand in the sun, then it's definitely too hot for your dog.
How to Tell If Your Dog Is Too Hot
Since there is no hard and fast rule regarding how hot is too hot for your dog, you should be well versed in how to tell if your dog is overheating. Excessive panting, drooling, lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, increased thirst, and bright red gums and tongue are the first signs that your dog is too hot. As their body temperature continues to rise, stumbling, collapse, unconsciousness, and even seizures can occur. If this happens, seek veterinary care immediately. Watching for these symptoms can help you decide whether you need to get your dog in a cooler environment or if they can stay outside. Water and shade will allow both big and small dogs to withstand higher temperatures for longer periods of time, but you should still monitor for signs of overheating and seek veterinary care if needed.
If you're not sure if your dog is has overheated, then you can always take its temperature. A digital thermometer can be obtained from a drugstore or pharmacy to see what your dog's rectal temperature is. If it is over 104 degrees, get your dog into a cooler environment and seek veterinary care immediately.
Breed Risk Factors for Overheating
Unless they are a giant breed, the size of your dog does not play a huge role in whether or not it can withstand hot temperatures, but it can still have a small effect. Typically, smaller dogs are able to tolerate higher temperatures when compared to larger dogs, but there are some exceptions. If a dog of any size is obese, very young, elderly, or is a brachycephalic breed, it will have a harder time in the heat regardless of its size. Additionally, dogs with thicker coats will have a more difficult time staying cool when compared to a dog with short or thin fur.
Patronek GJ. Tuft's Animal Care and Condition (TACC) scales for assessing body condition, weather and environmental safety, and physical care in dogs. Can Vet J 2000;41:634-635.