How to Keep Your Dog Safe in Hot Weather

Keep summertime fun by protecting your dog in hot weather.

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA
6-minute read
Episode #69

This week, the Stephen King Summertime After-School Special, with tips on all the hot-weather phenomena that can hurt or kill your dog. First up: antifreeze. Yes, really.

How to Keep Your Dog Safe in Hot Weather

Why is your car’s antifreeze a danger in the summertime? Because it’s also a coolant, so it doesn’t go away in the summer, and because liquids expand when the temperature rises. Top up the reservoir on a coolish evening, and two days later when the thermometer hits 90, the antifreeze may overflow. Ethylene glycol, the chemical that makes antifreeze dangerous, also appears in radiator fluid, by the way. It’s absorbed rapidly and the minimum lethal dose is tiny--a few milliliters per kilogram. Switch to an antifreeze made with propylene glycol, which is much, much safer, and keep your dog away from any colorful puddles that appear near cars. (1)

Hot Cars Kill Dogs

While we’re on the subject of your car, you already know, but I will repeat anyway, that you should never leave your dog (or cat, or gerbil, or iguana, or child) in a hot car. And what’s a hot car? It’s a car that’s standing in the sun with the windows closed at any time of year. In the summer, a hot car is, well, any car at all. Temperatures skyrocket in a closed car even on a cloudy summer day. I think everyone must know this by now, but somehow animals keep getting cooked. Here’s my guess: The well-meaning person brings Dogalini on an errand; she parks in the shade and even cracks the windows; the line in the store moves a little more slowly than one might hope, and the shade moves more quickly. Before you know it, the car interior hits 130 degrees, and so much for Dogalini. Just don’t take chances, okay? (2)

Flat-Faced Dogs Are at Highest Risk for Heat Stroke

Summer heat in general is a danger for dogs, just as it is for us. Older dogs seem to be less heat-tolerant, and so are heavy-coated dogs and northern breeds, like the Husky. But the greatest risk is to short-nosed, flat-faced dogs--among them, Pugs, French Bulldogs, Pekingese, and perhaps most of all English Bulldogs. Since dogs have few sweat glands, they mainly use panting to cool themselves--air moves over the membranes of the upper respiratory tract and cools the tissue by evaporation. Because flat-faced dogs generally have narrowed nostrils and also suffer from other deformities of the upper airway, they pant much less effectively. For them, air conditioning isn’t a luxury, and on very hot days they should remain indoors except for brief toilet breaks.

But use discretion for all dogs--limit outdoor activity in the hottest weather and be sure your dog always has access to cool water. Pet suppliers sell cooling beds and bandannas that you might find useful, and many a dog enjoys a dip in a child’s wading pool.

What Are the Symptoms of Heat Stroke in Dogs?

Don’t waste time wondering whether your dog’s symptoms match those of heat stroke: Go to the vet.

What are the symptoms of heat stroke? My favorite answer to this question is given in a blog post by the veterinarian Louisa Beal: “If it’s hot and your pet isn’t acting right, get to a vet.” In other words, wondering whether your pet’s symptoms match those of heat stroke is a dangerous waste of time.  But in case you’re good at memorizing, here you go:

  • heavy panting;

  • thick saliva;

  • reduced activity / unwillingness to move around;

  • rapid heartbeat;

  • stupor;

  • collapse;

  • coma.

As for first aid: On your way to the vet, in your car with the air conditioner turned up full blast, a human passenger can put cool water--not ice--on the dog’s paws and other hairless body parts.

How to Protect Your Dog from Sunburn and Scorching Pavement

To complete your hot-weather good time, look out for sunburn and hot pavement. Dogs with light-colored skin are most likely to sunburn; protect their noses with a sunscreen formulated for animals. Human sunscreens contain ingredients toxic to dogs. As for the pavement, if you wouldn’t want to walk on it barefoot, then it might not be so much fun for your dog, either. Yes, paw pads are tough, but they’re not oven mitts. And remember that the heat from pavement dissipates as it rises, so a small dog, with torso low to the ground, is getting a more concentrated dose of hot than you are.

More Warm Weather Warnings: Garden Plants Can Be Dangerous to Dogs

As you relax in your backyard, note that a number of common plants are toxic to dogs--azaleas, yews, tulip bulbs, sago palms, and chrysanthemums, to name a few. The ASPCA’s website provides a longer list, including which parts of the plants are poisonous and explaining what damage the toxin does. In most cases the plant, or its poisonous part, has to be eaten to do harm, so if your dog doesn’t have a penchant for gnawing on the shrubbery, he’s probably safe from the rhododendron. On the other hand, just one sago palm seed can make an animal gravely ill. Put a sago palm together with a puppy who’s in the everything-goes-in-the-mouth phase, and it’s easy to see that tragedy can result.

Now, obviously, you and your dog are going to be hanging out in your backyard, and most dogs don’t chew the rhododendrons. Common sense suggests that you should identify any potentially dangerous plants and familiarize yourself with symptoms of poisoning by them. In special cases, like that chew-it-now puppy, physically prevent access to toxic plants.

[[AdMiddle]There was considerable Internet fuss a few years ago about the dangers of cocoa mulch. Cocoa mulch may contain high concentrations of theobromine--some vendors claim theirs doesn’t--and theobromine is indeed toxic to dogs. The question is whether dogs often eat mulch. They probably don’t, but since this risk is 100 percent avoidable by means of choosing a different kind of mulch, you might as well avoid it.

Pesticides and Weed Killers Can Harm Dogs, Too

Your dog and other pets also provide a good reason to garden organically. Basically, if it kills plants, insects, or rats and moles, it’s got good odds of being toxic to your dog, if not immediately then with chronic exposure. Bear in mind that, unlike us, our dogs are always barefoot outdoors in the summertime, they lick themselves in grooming, and they pretty much always lie on the grass or dirt rather than on lounge chairs. Pesticides mixed in with manure-based fertilizer may pose a special danger, since as we all know dogs are attracted to feces and sometimes eat it.

Protect Your Dog from Drowning

While you’re at home, consider the swimming pool. No unsupervised access for dogs, please, any more than you’d give unsupervised access to little kids. Teach your dog where the stairs and the shallow end are, just in case, but don’t bet his life on his ability to orient himself if he falls in or gets tired. If you go boating, your dog should wear a life jacket. No drinking salt water at the beach! And did I remember to wish you a good time? Do have a good time, and keep it a good time by taking appropriate care to keep yourself and your dog safe.

You can follow The Dog Trainer on Twitter, where I’m Dogalini, as well as on Facebook, and write to me at dogtrainer@quickanddirtytips.com. I welcome your comments and suggestions, and I answer as many questions as I can. That’s all for this week. Thank you for reading!


1. In both short-term and long-term studies, (see the discussion on this site), dogs remained healthy despite regular ingestion of propylene glycol. More dangerous were the experimenters, who ultimately killed the dogs.

2. Highway rest areas drive The Dog Trainer crazy. There is never any shade and dogs are never allowed inside the building. If you have a remote starter, you can leave the A/C running while you make your pit stop. The remote starter will be on a timer, which your mechanic may be able to help you reset to a longer period; it goes without saying that you should still return to your car as quickly as possible. Mitchell Zelman, the proprietor of Mitchell’s Auto Repair in Brooklyn, NY, and the author of What the “Experts” May Not Tell You About Car Repair, says that cars from model years 2005 and later are generally efficient enough to be in little danger of overheating when left running this way. I’ll say it one more time, though: Return to your car as quickly as possible.

I have an old car without modern electronic features, and here’s the best solution I’ve been able to come up with: I take my wallet with me and place other valuables on the seat next to my dog. I wet down the dog. I leave all the windows wide open (the dog is wearing a safety harness for travel, so he can’t jump out). And I run like hell to the toilet and back.

For a brachycephalic dog, even that much time in an un-air-conditioned car, even with the windows wide open, would be dangerous on a hot day.


APSCA Poison Control website; 24/7/365; the phone number is 888-426-4435. A consultation is $65; I’m here to tell you that it’s worth every penny. The experts at Poison Control saved my dog Izzy’s life when her former vet did not recognize the symptoms of pseudephedrine toxicity.

National Pesticide Information Center of the Oregon State University, “Pesticide Poisoning in Pets.”  This isn’t the page to turn to in an emergency (call Animal Poison Control or head straight for your vet), but an encyclopedic resource on pesticide toxicity to pets.


About the Author

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA

Jolanta holds professional certifications in both training and behavior counseling and belongs to the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She also volunteered with Pet Help Partners, a program of the Humane Society of the United States that works to prevent pet relinquishment. Her approach is generally behaviorist (Pavlovian, Skinnerian and post-Skinnerian learning theory) with a big helping of ethology (animal behavior as observed in non-experimental settings).