How Hot Is Too Hot For Dogs? Keeping Pets Safe in Heat

by Richard Walther, DVM
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How Hot Is Too Hot For Dogs?
Wondering if it's safe to take your dog out, or if the weather is too hot? Here's everything you need to know about the dangers of pets' exposure to heat and when it's essential to stay indoors.

As the summer months continue to bring warm weather, it’s vital that we keep our pets safe in the heat. Their body temperature is much higher than ours, at about 100.5 to 102.5-degrees Fahrenheit, which makes them more susceptible to heat stroke.

Heat stroke in dogs occurs around 106℉ and the mortality rate is nearly 50%, according to Bellevue Animal Hospital.

Just a four-degree internal temperature change could kill your pet within minutes. It’s therefore imperative for pet parents to take extreme caution to prevent dogs from overheating, especially during the summer.

This post will explain how hot is too hot for dogs to withstand safely, as well as certain risk factors that can intensify health complications in our canine friends. Be sure to read through to the end to learn the best heat stroke prevention methods and essential summer safety tips for pets.

Table of Contents:

How hot is too hot for dogs to walk?

Not only can it be unpleasant to walk your dog on a scorching hot day, but it can also be unsafe — especially in high humidity levels. That’s because, unlike humans who sweat to cool off, dogs primarily cool off by panting.

Their long nose is designed for more than just a keen sense of smell — it allows them to humidify and cool the air they breathe before it hits the lungs. The Humane Society explains that this results in better oxygen transfer, as well as an evaporative cooling effect that enables them to regulate their body temperature.

However, dogs cannot cool themselves down in high humidity because the water content in the air impedes their ability to evaporate moisture from the lungs. This can lead to a potentially hazardous spike in body temperature.

Before going out for a walk, consider both the humidity and temperature; the safe temperature range will go down as humidity levels go up. On these days, try to keep your pet indoors to protect their safety.

Keep in mind, dogs will still require exercise and potty breaks no matter where they live or how hot it is, so try to take them out for a walk early in the morning and later in the evening so they’re not subjected to peak temperature extremes.

Hiking in the summer with pet dog

How hot is too hot for dogs' paws?

Even moderately warm temperatures can be harmful to dogs, considering that on a sunny, 77-degree day, the asphalt could be as hot as 127℉ (you can fry an egg at 131℉!). That ground would be too hot for dogs to walk on without burning their delicate paw pads.

Unfortunately, dogs tend to be very good at concealing their pain until their discomfort is very severe, at which point significant damage will have already occurred. Burnt paw pads are never any fun; they’re painful, require chronic bandaging, and are prone to infection. Therefore, pet parents need to be mindful of both the air temperature and surface temperature before going outside.

But how can you tell how hot the ground is? There are many variables that can affect surface temperature — including the type of material (asphalt, sand, unpaved roads, rocky hiking trails) and the sun's position in the sky — so it can be hard to know what’s safe and what’s not.

Here’s a good rule to go by: if you can’t comfortably rest the back of your hand on the pavement for five seconds, then it’s too hot for a dog to walk on. Schedule your summertime walks around the intensity of the sun and try to take routes across dirt or grass.

How hot is too hot for dogs to wait in a car?

The single most common cause of heat stroke is a dog being confined to the inside of a car, according to the American Kennel Club. Your dog should NEVER be left in the car, even with the windows rolled down.

The American Veterinary Medical Association has demonstrated that cracking your windows open does virtually nothing to keep the temperature within your car cooler. Just a few minutes left in the car is enough time for your dog to overheat and pass away from heat stroke.

It is never worth the risk of leaving your dog in the car, even if the windows are cracked or the temperature is milder. It’s so dangerous, in fact, that many states have passed laws that make it illegal for people to leave dogs alone in the car.

How hot is too hot for dogs to be outside?

In most cases, if you’re uncomfortable outside, it’s likely too hot for your dog to be outside for an extended period of time.

Some say that most dogs will be okay for short periods of time in temperatures up to 90-degrees, so long as they have ample access to plenty of shade and water.

However, certain dogs, such as older, overweight, or brachycephalic dogs, are more affected by heat and should avoid being outside in high temperatures. We’ll dive into these heat risk factors more deeply in the sections below.

Increased risk factors for dogs in high temperatures

There are many factors that affect a dog’s ability to handle the heat, ranging from their age, breed, and weight.

Hot English Bulldog panting out a car window

Breed

Certain dog breeds are less tolerable to heat than others. According to the American Kennel Club, brachycephalic dog breeds are at a higher risk of overheating due to their “pushed in” noses that limit their ability to breathe.

Remember, dogs that pant more efficiently cool off more efficiently. The short snout in brachycephalic breeds (such as Pugs, Boston Terriers, Brussels Griffons, Bulldogs, Shih Tzus, and Boxers) inhibits this process.

If you have a brachycephalic dog, it’s vital that you monitor their outdoor activity closely because they have a very hard time cooling themselves down. “Brachy” breeds frequently pant when they breathe, so you might not know there’s a problem. Be sure to learn the signs of heat stroke in dogs so that you’ll know how to respond during a potentially life-threatening crisis.

Additionally, many dogs within these breeds have excessive weight gain and skin folds that worsen their body’s response to heat. Some also have heavier coats that can act like a warm blanket in the hot sun. These dogs can benefit from having their hair trimmed or thinned out during the summer.

The answer to “how hot is too hot for dogs with a short snout” is different than the ambient air temperature safe for canines of the standard anatomy. Generally speaking, brachy dogs aren’t the best companion for desert camping trips or all-day beach outings. If it’s too hot out, consider leaving your canine companion at home instead.

Weight

Obese and overweight dogs are more likely to overheat in high temperatures, as well as mild weather with moderate activity. Excess body fat impairs their ability to distribute heat normally, increasing the risk of heat stroke.

Unfortunately, their sub-optimal health also decreases the likelihood of recovery; one study found obesity to be a significant factor in a dog’s chances of passing away from heat stroke.

If your pet is overweight, please talk to your veterinarian about a dog diet plan to help improve their heat tolerance and overall well-being — especially if they are brachycephalic.

Age

Older dogs have a higher risk of overheating, as well. If a senior canine has mobility issues, they may be at a disadvantage if they’re left in the sun and start to overheat. Elgin Veterinary Hospital recommends pet parents never leave a dog, especially an older dog, unsupervised outside when it’s very hot, as overheating can occur quickly.

How to keep dogs cool in the heat

Constant access to shade and water are the most important dog care tips to consider during the hot summer months and all year-round. Other ways you can cool down dogs include:

  • Give your dog a cooling mat or cool, wet towels to lay on
  • Keep your air conditioning on indoors
  • Never leave your dog alone in a car
  • Have a dog first aid kit on hand to treat your dog in the case of an emergency
  • Consider having your dog’s coat trimmed, but avoid shaving them as this can lead to your dog getting sunburnt
  • Keep your dog out of the sun and hot temperatures

How to tell if your dog is overheated

No matter how careful you are, it’s always possible for your dog to overheat. Here are the typical signs you should watch out for:

  • Heavy drooling or thicker than usual saliva
  • Excessive thirst
  • Quicker heart rate
  • Rapid or heavy panting
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Bright red tongue or gums
  • Confusion or weakness
  • In severe cases, pale or bluish tongue and gums

Severe heat stroke in dogs may cause seizures, organ failure, and possibly death. If your dog is experiencing any of these symptoms, immediately contact your veterinarian or take them to the nearest pet emergency room for medical assistance.


Key Takeaways

  • Never leave your pet alone unsupervised in the heat. If it's uncomfortable for you, it's unsuitable for dogs.
  • Adjust your walks to provide exercise while avoiding the peak temperature extremes.
  • Some dogs are more sensitive to the heat due to breed, weight, and age.
  • Get peace of mind today with your free pet insurance quote.

Ricky Walther, DVM

About the author

Richard Walther, DVM

Associate Veterinarian - Blue Ravine Animal Hospital

Ricky Walther, DVM, is a small animal general practitioner at Blue Ravine Animal Hospital in the greater Sacramento, California area. Realizing the positive financial and medical impact that pet insurance can provide for pet parents and the profession, he lends support and advice to companies like Pawlicy Advisor that simplify the process of connecting with veterinary financing resources.

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