When it starts getting warmer outside, the first thing many dog owners want to do is enjoy the weather with their pups—but when is it too hot to walk your dog? The answer is not straightforward as there are several factors that play into this, including the weather, the length and intensity of the walk, and the dog itself.
When it gets hot outside, humans sweat to cool themselves down, so dog owners may wonder, “Do dogs sweat?” Unfortunately, dogs aren’t able to sweat the same way that humans do, which prevents them from cooling their bodies as efficiently as we can. This means that they are prone to overheating—and even developing heatstroke—when it’s hot outside. Heatstroke can be fatal, so it is crucial that owners learn how to cool down a dog before walking their dog outside in the heat or learn how to exercise their dogs inside when it’s too hot for walks - like playing with the best puppy toys.
Let’s take a closer look at when it is too hot to walk your dog, what heatstroke looks like in dogs, and what you can do to keep your dog cool.
When is it too hot to walk your dog?
There is no hard and fast rule about when it is too hot to walk your dog–in general, if it’s too hot outside for you, it will be too hot outside for your dog! Because dogs have fur coats and cannot cool down as quickly as humans, it will feel hotter to them than their owners. Dogs can develop heatstroke in temperatures as low as 70 °F, so it is always important for owners to monitor them closely in warm weather.
In addition to the temperature, factors such as wind and humidity influence how dogs handle the heat. Their size, coat, and health can also affect this. Certain dogs have a higher risk of overheating, including overweight and obese dogs, brachycephalic (or “flat-faced”) breeds like pugs and French bulldogs, young puppies under six months of age, geriatric dogs, and dogs with underlying health conditions such as heart disease.
Another concern when it gets hot outside is the temperature of the ground. According to the ASPCA, at an outside temperature of 77 °F, asphalt surfaces can be as hot as 125 °F. Concrete can also heat up quickly, meaning that sidewalks and roads can easily burn dogs’ paw pads. A general rule is that if you can’t touch the ground for more than a few seconds, it’s too hot for your dog to walk on and you should consider sticking to grass and shaded areas.
Why is it a risk to walk a dog when it’s too hot?
In addition to the risk of burnt paw pads, dogs can easily become overheated in hot weather, which can progress to heatstroke—a sometimes fatal condition. The main cooling mechanism that dogs have is panting, but this does not cool them down as quickly as sweating in humans, and it becomes even less effective in humid weather. The normal body temperature of dogs ranges from 101 to 102.5 °F—heatstroke generally occurs when their body temperature rises to 105 °F or above.
Several studies have examined the risk factors associated with heatstroke. For example, a 2020 study published in Animals reviewed the veterinary records of over 900,000 dogs in the UK and found that exercise was the most common cause of heatstroke. Another study published in Veterinary Sciences in 2022 found that fatal outcomes were more common among older dogs and brachycephalic breeds, with brachycephalic dogs being three times more likely to die than dogs with a normal skull shape.
Heatstroke can lead to multiorgan damage and even death. Its prognosis depends on the dog’s body temperature and how long the dog has been overheated. Dogs with heatstroke are more likely to survive if their condition is diagnosed and treated early, so all dog owners should be aware of the signs of heatstroke.
How to tell if a dog is overheating
Early signs that a dog is overheating or developing heatstroke include:
- Anxiousness or restlessness
- Heavy panting
- Increased heart rate
- Excessive drooling
- Dry mucous membranes
- Bright red gums and tongue
- Hot to the touch
- Excessive thirst
- Lack of coordination
As a dog’s condition deteriorates, they may begin to show signs such as:
- Rapid heart rate
- Irregular pulse
- Pale mucous membranes
- White or blue gums
Because of the risk of death, any dog showing signs of heatstroke should be moved out of the heat (ideally into an air-conditioned area) and cooled slowly. This can be done by applying damp, cool towels to the body (especially the belly), providing small amounts of cool water, and blowing a fan on them. It is important to avoid ice or water that is too cold, as lowering the body temperature too quickly can result in dangerous changes in blood pressure.
Once the dog has been cooled slightly, they should be taken straight to their veterinarian in case they require additional treatment or supportive care. According to a review article published in Temperature, even with treatment, the mortality rate of heatstroke in dogs can be as high as 50%, so seeking prompt veterinary advice is imperative.
Ways to exercise a dog when it’s too hot to walk
Luckily, there are several ways to keep your dog cool in the summer while keeping them active. On warm days, dogs can be walked in shady areas and given frequent breaks to prevent overheating. It will be best to avoid the hottest parts of the day, so owners may want to take walks early in the morning and in the evening once it has cooled down. Owners should also consider walking their dogs on grass to avoid sore, burnt paws. Dog owners should always carry plenty of fresh, cool water to keep their pup hydrated.
On days when it is too hot to walk outside, owners can walk their dog around the house, play with them inside, and provide mental stimulation in the form of puzzle toys. For high-energy dogs, owners can consider enrolling them in an indoor doggie daycare to burn off some energy. Nevertheless, keeping them safe and healthy in the summer is the number one priority!
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Dr. Diana Hasler graduated with distinction from the University of Edinburgh Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies in 2018. She has experience working as a small animal veterinarian in general practice, where she has treated many dogs, cats, rabbits, and rodents. She has also recently branched out into the field of medical communications, doing freelance work as a medical editor and writer. Dr. Hasler currently lives in Edinburgh where she enjoys spending time with her husband Gavin and playing with their feisty tabby cat Poppy.