Dogs have some sweat glands but not as many as humans. In people, the primary method of preventing overheating is through the sweat glands. Conversely, dogs do not keep cool by perspiring and their bodies have other ways of regulating temperature.
How Do Dogs Stay Cool?
Their sweat glands are in their hair follicles, paw pads, and other areas without fur. These glands don’t aid in reducing body temperature; they most likely keep the areas lubricated or produce pheromones. None of these glands produce large quantities of moisture. Panting, with the mouth open and the tongue hanging out, is the dog’s fundamental way of lowering the body temperature. Each intake of air cools the blood passing through the pulmonary vessels.
The perspiration of humans has a similar effect – as the perspiration reaches the skin, the evaporation causes the circulating blood to cool off as well. However, humans sweat over a much larger surface area – thereby making perspiration a very effective tool against overheating.
Panting has a limited efficacy against heat stroke as it cools down a small amount of circulating blood. Consequently, their blood vessels dilate in a process called vasodilation to circulate the heated blood to the cooler surface.
If you’ve ever noticed your dog wants to lay on a hard floor, it’s because he uses it to aid in lowering his body temperature. Additionally, dogs will want to lounge in hot weather. Increasing and decreasing metabolic activity is a way that many animals regulate their core temperature in summer and winter.
Do Dogs Overheat Easily?
Even with panting and vasodilation, dogs are still are more prone to overheating than humans are. A dog’s normal temperature is higher – ranging from about 101 to 102 degrees Fahrenheit. Some breeds of dogs are more at risk – especially medium and large breeds and those with shortened snouts.
English bulldogs, pugs, boxers, and pit bulls are examples of dogs with shortened snouts and they also have respiratory problems. Taking these breeds on strenuous hikes is not appropriate in warm weather; the onset of heat stroke is often unnoticed and death can come quickly. Cooler weather may be suitable for a high level of activity but monitor your dog’s progress and give him frequent breaks to drink water. Panting enlarges the airway so take a breather for several minutes before continuing if you should notice this.
Hot, dry weather is bad enough but humid weather is dangerous. Humidity prevents cooler air from circulating. Increased water molecules in the air hold on to heat rendering panting almost ineffective. In high humidity, humans and dogs alike should avoid high levels of activity especially if they aren’t in peak fitness.
What Can I Do to Prevent Overheating?
Be cognizant of your dog’s fitness level and the weather conditions. If you are worried about your dog not getting enough exercise, use the early morning or after sunset to take him on a walk. Avoid hills and steep grades and stick to flat, even surfaces. A good way to tell if it is too hot is to check the pavement or sidewalk cement. Test it with your bare feet or your palm. If it’s too hot for you, it is too hot for your dog. You’ll have to wait until the ground is cool enough to take your dog out.
If your dog has a long coat, trim it to about an inch length. Any shorter is not recommended because the hair blocks out UV rays. Carry a spritzer bottle of water and spray your dog with it regularly. Even though your dog cannot perspire in large amounts, you can mimic the effects of sweating by providing him the moisture.
There are collapsible dog bowls that you can easily stick in a fanny pack. Carry enough water for the both of you and make sure you give him frequent breaks to rest and drink.
When you are out walking, monitor your dog carefully. Watch out for symptoms such as rapid, shallow breaths, vomiting, thick saliva, and pale gums. Dogs often won’t let us know when they are uncomfortable or sick; it is up to us as their guardians to be aware.
By Gabrielle Allemeier
About the Author
Gabrielle Allemeier volunteers her free time as an animal rescuer and foster pet parent. As an animal lover, she enjoys sharing the knowledge she has gained from her experience with a variety of animals. Along with being an animal lover, Gabrielle is a globetrotter. She lives in Los Angeles, California with her terrier, Thisbe.