Pet Care Blog

How to Cool Down Dogs: 7 Vet-Approved Tips

Dr. Ricky Walther
Dog cooling off with hose

Looking for quick advice on how to cool your dog down? Many pet parents are unaware of how quickly and how commonly heat stroke in dogs occurs, a potentially fatal condition with a mortality rate of about 50%.

Too often, animals walk inside our veterinary office displaying signs of severe heat exhaustion, without their owner even knowing that something was wrong. Other times, concerned pet parents call the office for advice on how to cool down a dog quickly because their pet collapsed out on a hike, or is found unresponsive after being left in a car. (Never, under any circumstances, leave your dog in a car unattended.)

While your veterinarian will always know what’s best for your dog’s needs based on their unique medical history, these are the same general instructions I’d give my own veterinary clients to help them safely cool down a dog overheating.

Understanding The Risk of Heat Stroke in Dogs

Dogs often have a rough time during hot, summer months — especially breeds that are prone to overheating. While some canines have coats that can withstand temperature extremes better than others, most dogs are simply not designed for the heat. They have heavy fur coats that feel like warm blankets beneath the sun.

Unlike humans, dogs do not have sweat glands; rather, they primarily release heat through their paw pads, which is hard to do when the surface of the ground is in the triple-digits. Also, dogs can cool down by a biological process that creates an evaporative cooling effect from the moisture in the air they inhale.

How to Cool Down a Dog Overheating

While the best response will depend on a number of variables — including the dog’s age, breed, medical history, and location — here are seven tips on how to cool down a dog to prevent heat stroke.

Remove Them From Heat

If you notice that your dog is overheating, your first step is to get them out of the sun immediately.

If you can, take them indoors immediately and provide them with water and a cool place to lie down. Begin following some of the other tips in this piece, such as draping wet towels or soaking their coat, to further cool them down.

If you and your dog are out and about, carry them back to your car and crank up the air conditioning to start cooling them down. If possible, offer them water out of a collapsible water bowl.

Find a Cool Surface

Guide or carry your pup to an area that has a cool surface they can lay on. Anytime a dog lays down on a cold surface, their body heat transfers to that surface, allowing them to regulate their body temperature better. In fact, many dogs actually dig holes on hot days to unearth the cold soil buried below the surface so they can lay in it.

If you’re outdoors, look for a plot of grass beneath a canopy of trees, or a concrete slab sheltered from the sun. If you’re cooling down a dog inside your home, tile flooring is ideal but anything out of direct sunlight is better than nothing at all.

Provide Plenty of Water

Keeping your dog hydrated is one of the most important things you can do to keep your dog from overheating. Make sure your dog always has access to fresh, cool water by placing bowls strategically around your home.

Some dogs aren’t big fans of drinking water, so it helps to place at least one bowl outside and indoors. If possible, put a few around your house in places that your dog commonly hangs out, such as your office, the kitchen, or living room.

Create a Soft Breeze

Once you’ve taken your dog indoors or inside a car, immediately turn on the fan and/or air conditioning. If you don’t have access to either, try to create a cool breeze by fanning your dog or lightly blowing on them to help lower their temperature.

Drape Wet Towels

Another great way to cool your dog down quickly is draping wet towels across their neck, groin, and armpit area. While some may keep instant ice packs on hand during hikes in hot weather, the American Kennel Club recommends that you do not apply an ice-cold compress, as this can shrink your dog’s blood vessels and generate more internal heat.

Beagle dog panting near outdoor pool

Let Them Swim

Offer your dog access to a shallow, padded pool — AKA a “kiddy” pool — outdoors that they can stand or lay in to regulate their body temperature (and have some fun splashing around). Please keep in mind that you should never leave your dog alone in the pool, even if the kiddy pool is only filled up part of the way.

Likewise, if you have a pool or body of water nearby, taking your dog swimming can be an excellent way for you and your dog to exercise together while staying cool in the summer heat.

Soak Their Coat

Hose your pup off outside, or gently pour water over their coat in a tub, to reduce their body temperature. Remember to use lukewarm to cool water to avoid the risk of shock.

Rub Alcohol on Paws

Unlike humans who sweat to cool down, dogs release heat through their paw pads. If you need to cool your dog down quickly, try wiping a small amount of rubbing alcohol on the pads of your dog’s paws. This can help to draw some heat out.

In general, make sure that your pup’s paws are uncovered and exposed to cool air so that your dog can continue releasing heat effectively.

Tips to Prevent Heat Stroke in Dogs

One of the best things you can do to prevent your dog from having a heat stroke is to keep them indoors and provide access to plenty of cold water. Here are a few more tips on how to help dogs stay cool during a heatwave:

Invest in a Cooling Mat or Pad

Your dog can benefit significantly from a cooling mat or pad during hot times of the year.

Cooling mats are designed to stay cold so that your dog has a cool place to lie down. Having a cool place to lie allows dogs to transfer their body heat to the pad, resulting in better body temperature regulation.

If you don’t have one, you can DIY cooling mat by providing your dog with a cool, damp towel to lay on. Make sure to refresh it regularly with cold water as the mat will begin to warm up again.

Frozen Dog Toys

Frozen dog toys are great for the dog who always has their toy in their mouth. There are many toys on the market that are made specifically to be freezable. Not only is this soothing to many teething puppies, but it can help your dog stay cool during the hot dog days of summer.

Many frozen dog toys just need to be wet, placed inside a plastic bag, and given time to set in the freezer, making them a super simple and effective way to keep your dog cool.

Frozen Dog Treats

There are many frozen dog treats on the market that can help your dog beat the heat. There are also a vast variety of DIY frozen dog treats that are simple to make and even nutritious for our pups!

Outdoor Misters

If your dog spends a lot of time outdoors, it’s vital that they have access to shade and cool water. Outdoor misters are also an excellent option for keeping your pup cool and comfortable during warmer weather. However, they may not be practical for everyone.

If you’re unable to install outdoor misters, fill a spray bottle with cool water and mist your dog with it regularly to help them regulate their body temperature. Pay special attention to the bottom of their feet, inside of their mouth, and groin area.

Always Watch for Signs of Heat Stroke

Heat stroke can happen to our pups faster than we’d expect.

Always check your dog for signs of heat stroke, including:

  • Excessive thirst
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Vomiting
  • Lack of coordination or dizziness
  • Fever
  • Lethargy

According to the Humane Society, more severe symptoms of heat stroke include seizures, collapse, and unconsciousness.

Call Your Vet

If you notice any of the above symptoms in your dog, we recommend immediately contacting your veterinarian or taking your dog to the nearest pet emergency room.

Even if a dog’s symptoms appear to “go away,” your dog may experience long-term side effects from having heat stroke.

Your vet can perform a full assessment of your dog to determine if they will need further treatment and examine them for any long-term side effects.

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Ricky Walther, DVM

Dr. Ricky Walther

Ricky Walther, DVM, is a small animal general practitioner 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 "The Pet Insurance Marketplace") that simplify the process of connecting with veterinary financing resources.

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