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This last winter, I got an all-black dog. It’s been great, but as it’s getting hotter, I’m a little worried about making sure that he stays cool while we’re having fun outside.
We were at the park and someone mentioned how glad that they were that they had a light-colored dog because they stayed cooler in the summer.
I’d heard this was true of cars but was it also true of dogs? And if so, why?
So do black dogs get hotter?
Black dogs get hotter faster than dogs with lighter coats when they are in the sunlight. Inside your house or in the shade, when light is not a factor, a dog’s coat color does not make a difference in how hot they get.
A black dog and a white dog at night, inside, or in the shade, all other factors being equal, will heat up and cool down at the exact same rate.
Sunlight is the key factor that makes black dogs hotter than other colored dogs.
Why Do Black Dogs Get Hotter Than Other Dogs In The Sunlight?
A black dog’s coat absorbs more light than dogs with lighter coats. The energy from that light is converted into heat, which is then absorbed by the dog’s body and radiates off of their coats, heating them up at a faster rate than dogs with lighter coats.
Black dogs only get hotter than other dogs when they are in the sunlight or other extremely bright situations.
Why Black Gets Hotter Than White
Most articles on this subject simply let you know “black absorbs more light and therefore black dogs are hotter” and that’s that.
While that’s technically true, it doesn’t much explain why black dogs get hotter.
I realized after digging into it that that’s likely because it’s a super complicated rabbit hole of understanding color theory and physics.
I couldn’t help myself and stumbled down that rabbit hole.
When it comes to color, there are basically two main categories: light and pigment, and both play a part in heating up black dogs faster than lighter dogs.
Light refers to particular wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation that are visible to the human eye. Some electromagnetic wavelengths are invisible and power microwaves, some power Xrays, and a very small amount of them make up the “light color spectrum,” which we see as light.
A great way to understand it is to think about a rainbow.
Normally, what we see from the sun during the day is “white light.” White light contains all of the colors on the spectrum.
When you see a rainbow, white light enters suspended air droplets. Those light rays bend and separate as they exit the droplet, resulting in what we see as a rainbow – all of the colors that normally are combined to create “white light.”
Notably, black is not in a rainbow. That’s because black, when referring to light, is not a “color.” It is the absence of color. This is why outer space, where there is nothing, appears black.
This is also why manufacturers of high-end televisions, which function by emitting light in combinations to create images, jump through hoops to create “Perfect Black” and “the richest blacks.” It takes a lot of tricks to get your TV to look like it is “creating” black.
All that to say, sunlight emits “white” light that contains all of the colors in the spectrum.
Pigment, on the other hand, is what makes the things that we see have certain colors.
Colors have various degrees of pigments that determine the color we perceive it to be.
An object appears red because it contains molecular pigments that absorb the “white light” that we just discussed, except for red which reflects the red light, and, thus, appears red to us.
The “primary” colors (remember this from Kindergarten?) are Red, Blue, and Yellow. You mix these colors together to get all the other colors. Mix all 3 of them together in equal amounts and you’ll get black.
You can’t mix any colors together to get “white” pigment. “White” objects must contain none of the color-reflecting pigments in order to appear white.
Therefore, “black,” as a pigment, “contains,” all of the other colors, while “white,” as a pigment, does not contain any other colors.
Thus, when daylight shines on a black dog, the black pigment absorbs all of the light and reflects back nothing, or next to nothing, and appears black.
When daylight shines on a white dog, the white pigment reflects all of the light and absorbs nothing, or next to nothing, and appears white.
The light that is absorbed is converted to heat. Thus, because black dogs absorb more light than white dogs, they get hotter faster in the sun or other extremely bright lights.
Is it bad?
The fact that black dogs heat up faster when outside than lighter dogs can be good if they are in very cold climates, where staying warm is a necessity. Often, though, black dogs outside in the sunshine without shade will experience symptoms of overheating more quickly than lighter dogs.
How To Keep Your Black Dog Cool
This is the most important factor when it comes to keeping your black dog cool. They are particularly prone to overheating when they are in the sunshine, so making sure that they have access to shade is the best way to keep your black dog cool.
Making sure that your dog has water, especially cool water if you can, is essential. Your dog should always have access to water so they can stay hydrated and drink whenever they want to, but this is particularly important on hotter days.
If your dog is engaging in a lot of play, you may need to get their attention and bring them to the water bowl to get them to drink. Never force your dog to drink water, but you should make sure that you encourage them to do so frequently.
Besides encouraging them to drink, encourage your dog to get wet. If you can coax them into a body of water, great! Spraying them down with a hose or simply wetting them down with a bottle of water can help too.
On the hottest days, it is best for your dog to stay inside in an air-conditioned house. This gets them out of the sun’s rays and eliminates any possibility that they will get overheated. Generally speaking, if you are comfortable, so is your dog.
But just because your dog is inside doesn’t mean they have to be bored and even dogs that don’t love toys can be kept happy inside.
Dogs are likely to heat up more quickly if they are engaging in heart-pumping play like running, hunting, jumping, or even swimming.
If your dog is engaging in a lot of activity, especially a black dog in the sunshine, it may be necessary for you to limit the amount of activity that they do.
Keep in mind that your dog likely has no idea that getting too hot is potentially dangerous, so it’s up to you to call it a day when you think your dog is getting too hot, even if they want to keep playing.
Avoid Hottest Areas
Some areas are better off avoided if you are worried about your dog getting too hot.
Parking lots, particularly ones made of black asphalt, are often way too hot for a dog to even be around.
Walking on hot asphalt is a very common injury during the summer, mostly because well-meaning pet parents do not realize how hot the concrete they are walking on is for their poor dog’s pads.
Similarly, wide-open fields without shade or closed-in areas that do not get a breeze should be avoided during the summer months.
Also, I would like for it to go without saying but it does need to be said: never leave your dog in a parked car. Not even with the windows down. A dog simply does not have the ability to cool themself off faster than the car will heat up, making it a perfect scenario for heatstroke to set in.
Avoid Hottest Times
Making sure that you limit your time outside to the cooler times of day is a great way to beat the heat, especially if you have a black dog who can easily overheat even on a 15-minute walk on a hot, sunny afternoon.
This may mean you’ll need to reorganize your schedule to get your dog out for a walk early in the morning before the day has had enough time to heat up. Or waiting until late afternoon or early evening to take your dog for their daily walk.
Generally, the hottest parts of the day are between 2 and 5 pm, when the sun is at its highest point and has been up long enough to heat up the environment.
If you have a dog with a thick coat, it may be a good option to shave them down during the hottest months of the year.
Removing their extra fur can help to strip extra insulation from them, allowing cooling air to reach their skin and blow away the heat radiating off of them.
Be warned though, that many dogs who have very thick fur will also have extremely sensitive, pale skin if you shave them down.
If you go too close, exposing too much of their skin, you risk getting your dog a sunburn.
It is best to bring your dog to a professional groomer so they can ensure that they do not cut down too low.
You’ll also want to be careful to avoid shaving dogs with double coats like German Shepherds or Rottweilers since shaving double coats can actually make the problem worse.
How To Tell If Your Black Dog Is Too Hot
Most dogs will start to feel warm when people do, around 75-80 degrees F. For black dogs, you will need to consider their exposure to sunshine more than for lighter dogs.
When they are inside or on very cloudy days, black dogs will get hot at the same rate as other colored dogs of a similar size who are engaging in the same level of activity.
If you’re hot, your dog is likely hot too. Especially if they are running around in the sun.
Your black dog will likely show the following symptoms if they are overheating:
- Drinking excessively
- Feeling hot to the touch
- Rapid breathing
- Confusion or disorientation
- Vomiting or diarrhea
- Darkening or lightening in the color of their gums or eyes
Black dogs will experience the same symptoms of overheating as other dogs, but they are likely to experience them sooner if they are in the sun.
What To Do If Your Dog Is Too Hot
If your dog is overheating, you have to act quickly in order to prevent serious, long-term, life-threatening injuries from setting in.
And because the effects can set in in a matter of minutes, you need to do first-response steps yourself before taking your dog to the vet.
This is absolutely the first thing that you will need to do if you believe your dog is overheating. If you are outside, get them inside to an air-conditioned environment.
If you are outside and cannot get them indoors, take them to an air-conditioned car or at the very least into the shade.
Do not be afraid to reach out for help from strangers. This is a life-threatening situation, so it may be that you need to ask to bring your overheating dog into someone’s air-conditioned car if you are out on a walk or otherwise without your normal resource.
Making sure your dog is hydrated is the next most important step. If your dog will drink, give them some cool water. Room temperature water will work too but do not give them ice or ice water.
If your dog is overheating, cooling them down too quickly can shock their systems and cause even more damage, so avoid using ice. You need to cool your dog down quickly, but gradually.
If your dog will not drink water or if they drink it and throw it up, do not force them to drink. Forcing a dog to drink may end up putting water in their lungs.
If they will not drink, wet their tongue and their mouth with cool or room temperature water.
If you are able to submerge them in a tub, kiddie pool, or nearby body of water, dip your dog in the water and then bring them out again after a few seconds, just long enough to thoroughly wet them.
Again, do not use ice water or water that is too cold that may shock your dog.
If you are unable to submerge your dog, wet some towels or napkins and apply them to your dog. You want to wet your dog all over, but pay the closest attention to their ears, armpits, belly, and back of legs, as this is where the blood runs closest to the surface and is, therefore, the easiest and fastest way to cool down their overall body temperature.
Once they are thoroughly wet, place a fan in front of them so that they will experience the cooling effects of evaporation.
This is a great way to continue to cool them down without overloading their system.
It is always best to bring your dog to the vet after they have experienced a traumatic event like heat stress.
If your dog does not show some improvement within 10 minutes of applying the above steps, you need to bring them to the vet immediately.
Heatstroke is a life-threatening condition and it needs to be treated with absolute urgency.
Here is a helpful video summarizing the first-response steps:
What Other Traits Make Dogs Get Hotter?
Besides coat color, there are a number of other traits and characteristics that your dog may have that will make them get hotter faster. If you have a black dog that also has any of the following traits, you will need to show extra caution on hot days.
A dog’s coat is probably the most important factor when it comes to determining their body temperature. That is, after all, what most dogs have their particular coats for.
Huskies, dogs bred to sleep outside in below zero temperatures, will of course get much hotter on a hot day in Florida than, say, a Mexican Chihuahua.
Dogs, as you probably know, do not sweat as people do. Instead, they pant, bringing in large gulps of cool air into their lungs and mouth and quickly expelling the hot air inside of them. This process allows them to quickly regulate their body temperature.
Dogs with short brachycephalic noses have small mouths that make it difficult for them to effectively pant like larger-mouthed dogs do. This limitation means that these dogs are less able to efficiently cool themselves down on hot days and make them more prone to overheating.
Dogs that are overweight have to work harder to move those extra pounds around than slimmer dogs.
This extra effort, often combined with other debilitating issues related to their obesity, makes overweight dogs likely to get heat exhaustion more quickly when they are playing outside on a hot day.
Activity actually goes both ways here.
On the one hand, dogs who go running around the park on a regular basis are more likely to keep running around even on extremely hot days. This makes dogs who are extremely active more likely to get heatstroke.
However, those same dogs are likely better conditioned for exertion and heat than inactive dogs.
An inactive dog is less physically ready to regulate their body temperature. Put a very lazy dog in an extremely hot environment and, even if they do very little activity, they may be more likely to get heatstroke than an active dog.
Puppies and senior dogs are also more likely to overheat faster than healthy adult dogs.
Dogs in these extreme age brackets are not as physically prepared to regulate their body temperatures on hot days.
Puppies do not yet know how to find shade, pant heavily, or dig a cool spot in the dirt to take care of themselves. And senior dogs are likely to have other debilitating issues that would prevent them from being able to take care of themselves in the heat like they used to be able to.
All of your dog’s biological responses to extreme heat rely on their cardiovascular and respiratory systems.
Any dog with issues that affect their heart or their lungs is going to struggle to appropriately maintain their body temperature, at least compared to healthy dogs.
If your dog is taking any prescription drugs, you should double-check with your vet to make sure that those drugs do not have any side effects that you are not aware of.
Certain prescription drugs are known to make your dog more susceptible to heat and sunstroke.
History Of Heat Stress
Finally, any dog who has previously suffered heat stress or stroke is going to be more likely to experience heat-related symptoms again.
This is why it is incredibly important to understand the situations that make your black dog hotter than other dogs and what to look for when they could be overheating.
Pet parents have to consider a wide variety of factors when managing their dog’s heat levels, but owners of black dogs in particular need to pay attention to their dog’s exposure to the sun.
Black dogs get hotter in the sun and, because the effects of overheating can very quickly become life-threatening, you need to be prepared to act quickly if they overheat.