Skip to main content

How to cool down a dog: A vet's guide

How to cool down a dog: Chocolate colored Labrador lying on sun lounger with woman in the background
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Would you know how to cool down a dog in an emergency? What about how to keep dogs cool in the heat of the summer? Dogs can’t take off their fur coats and are prone to overheating in hot weather, but it’s not just the thick-furred breeds that are at risk. Short-snouted breeds, like Bulldogs and Pugs, are at increased risk of heatstroke, as are dogs that are overweight or with heart or lung conditions that make panting more dangerous. 

And heatstroke doesn’t just happen in hot cars – one study showed that nearly three quarters of heatstroke cases occurred after exercise. A study in 2020 showed that July and August are the worst months for heatstroke, so it’s important that pet parents not only try to prevent heatstroke, but understand how to cool dogs down safely.

The signs of heatstroke in dogs

If you’re going to cool your pet down effectively, you first need to know what the early signs of heatstroke are, as well as when and how to intervene. The early, mild signs of heatstroke include:

  • Panting 
  • Breathing changes
  • Labored breathing
  • Lethargy
  • Tiredness
  • Changes in behavior

Treating during these early stages gives your dog a 98% chance of survival. However, without treatment, the signs can progress to:

  • Dark red tongue or gums
  • Confusion
  • Unsteadiness
  • Collapse
  • Diarrhoea
  • Vomiting 
  • Seizures
  • Coma
  • Death

Once your dog progresses into these more serious signs, the chance of survival is less than 50%, meaning early recognition really is key. Once you’ve spotted the signs, you’ll need to know how best to cool a dog down.

How to cool down a dog that is overheating

If you suspect your dog is overheating, the best thing you can do is get him to a veterinarian as soon as possible. However, there are some things you can do at home and on the way to the vet that may help.

Dogs cannot sweat, but evaporation is still effective at cooling them down. Therefore, getting their fur wet and then providing plenty of airflow to encourage evaporation of the water is one of the best ways you can cool them down.

DO

  • Use a hose, wet towel, or cups of lukewarm water to wet your dog’s fur
  • Place in front of a fan, or in the car with the air con on
  • Offer them a drink of water

DON'T

  • Leave wet towels over your dog – like a wetsuit they’ll start to trap in heat, airflow is key!
  • Waste time waiting for your dog to drink if they aren’t interested
  • Delay getting them to the vet

How to cool down a dog fast – should I use ice water?

The quickest way to cool a dog down is by encouraging evaporation. Whilst it might seem that cold water is best, it’s important that you don’t shock your dog by throwing him into cold water. You can also take the cooling too far – you don’t want your dog to get hypothermia! That’s why it’s best to start the cooling and leave it to the vet to determine the best time to stop. 

How to cool down a dog at night

How to cool a dog down: Dog lying on floor in front of fan

(Image credit: Getty Images)

If you have a dog that seems to be struggling with the heat, you might be thinking that night is a more comfortable time for them. But whilst night time is naturally cooler than day, dogs can have just as much trouble sleeping if they’re too warm as humans do. 

You might find your dog is more comfortable downstairs, or on a hard surface. They may also appreciate a cooling mat to lie on, as this will help them dissipate heat more easily. Don’t forget to ensure you have plenty of water available for them to drink. In some situations, your dog might be cooler with a fan on all night. This, of course, depends on where your dog sleeps and how they feel about the fan but is worth considering.

Of course, there are other causes for panting and restlessness at night other than heat – make sure you get your dog a check-up if it continues!

Preventing heatstroke in dogs

Of course, if you can stop your dog from getting heatstroke in the first place that’s by far the safest option. Make sure your dog has access to shade and fresh water at all times – like with children, you may have to force them into the shade if they’re a sun-lover! Since exercise is the biggest cause of heatstroke, think carefully about the temperature when you walk your dog. It’s ok to miss a dog walk if the weather is too hot or consider a swim or a shady woodland walk in the morning before it gets too warm.

Conclusion

It’s best to prevent your dog from overheating in the first place, but in an emergency, knowing how to cool down a dog is important. The best thing you can do for your dog is get them wet, then get them in the car to the vets. With early treatment of mild signs, your dog’s prognosis is excellent, but they can quickly go downhill if you delay getting them to the vet.

Dr Joanna Woodnutt MRCVS

Dr Joanna Woodnutt is an experienced vet with an interest in companion animals. She recently left full-time practice to work as a relief vet and write articles about pets.