Dogs cannot sweat to cool down like people can. They can sweat a little through their paw pads, but the main way dogs cool down is by panting. Given cool shade and water to drink, will dogs "know" when to stop and take a rest while at the beach or dog park?
The quick answer is "no"—many dogs will not stop on their own when actively playing or fetching until they have to. On a hot day, the time between having fun and heatstroke can be very short. The time is even shorter in high humidity when the animal is out of shape, and/or unaccustomed to the heat and humidity.
We know of several cases of heatstroke in dogs who were having a great time playing and jogging with their people, and when they finally do stop to lay down, it is because they physically can't go on anymore. Heatstroke happens fast. We recently read about a Labrador playing fetch in a lake, in and out of the water, who suffered from heatstroke due to overexertion.
Panting isn't the easiest way to cool off, and it is much more difficult in humid weather, as there is very little evaporation. The activity doesn't have to be strenuous either, dogs just aren't built to cool off like humans are. Please keep "overexertion" in mind when out playing with your dog. It can happen much quicker than expected. Especially the "short-nosed" breeds. Dogs such as Bulldogs, Pugs, and Pekingese are called brachycephalic breeds. They are most at risk for heatstroke due to high temperatures and overexertion. Because of their anatomy, nostrils may be smaller, the soft tissue at the back of the throat may impede airflow, and they may have a smaller trachea (windpipe) than other dogs their size.
Tips to Avoid Overexertion and Heatstroke in Pets
- Work up slowly to exercise fitness. Make exercise part of the regular routine.
- Exercise in the early morning and late evening when it is (hopefully) cooler. Avoid the midday heat. It can be a killer.
- Offer small amounts of fresh cool (not iced) water, frequently.
- Use a hose or let your pet swim in a lake or pool to become thoroughly wet before a walk. Evaporation will help keep your pet cool. Be sure to wet all layers of coat, especially double-coated breeds, such as Retrievers, for maximum cooling.
- Watch your pet for signs of tiring and too much panting. The panting tongue out too far will indicate break time.
- Search for shade-available areas.
- Some dogs love having their own kiddie pool in the yard.
- Be mindful of pad burns on hot pavement and metal surfaces.
Copyright Janet Tobiassen Crosby DVM
Please note: This article has been provided for informational purposes only. If your pet is showing any signs of illness, please consult a veterinarian as quickly as possible.