How to Tell if Your Dog is Overheating

By Dr. Patrick Mahaney

Although you may feel uncomfortable from hot and humid summertime weather, your canine companion could face risk of mild to severe health problems.

Unlike humans, dogs can’t clear heat in a manner that permits body cooling to a safe level when exposed to indoor or outdoor temperatures above room temperature (68-77 F). Therefore, it’s crucial for owners to recognize the signs their dog may be overheating and take measures to prevent or quickly resolve heat-related illness.

  1. Panting

Although dogs pant for many reasons, they primarily do so to evacuate heat from their bodies. Dogs lose some heat through the paw pads and skin, but not in the broad sense like we humans as a result of their inability to sweat.

  1. Lethargy

Lethargy occurs when a dog is acting tired or less energetic.  Lethargic dogs tend to lay still to reduce muscle contraction that leads to heat generation.  There are a variety of causes for a dog to be lethargic, but hot environmental temperatures sap near all dogs’ interest in anything besides staying cool.

  1. Cool-Seeking Behavior

Your dog instinctively knows that he needs to find a location to cool down instead of becoming further heated.  Sites that are shaded, well-ventilated, and have surfaces that are cool to the touch will be sought over full-sun, poorly-ventilated and furnished with warm or hot surfaces.

  1. Increased Water Consumption

Water evaporates in attempt to cool down the body and can also be lost through muscle contraction, breathing, and to a limited degree through the skin.  Nearly 70-80% of canine tissues are made of water, so a loss of only 10% of the body’s total fluids can cause serious illness.

In effort to manage heat, your dog will seek more frequent and larger volumes of water.

  1. Decreased Appetite

As your dog will be more concerned with cooling down over eating, owners often see a corresponding decrease in appetite during times of heat exposure.   More blood is directed to the surface of the skin and away from the digestive tract (stomach and small intestines), so less oxygen and nutrients are available to permit normal processing of meals and snacks.

If your dog isn’t able to sufficiently cool down, then more extreme clinical signs can occur, including vomit, diarrhea, collapse, seizures, multi-system organ failure, coma, and death.

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