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We all know our dogs need daily walks and exercise to stay fit. But we don’t want to hurt our pups while trying to keep them healthy and some especially hot days might make us wonder if it’s better to just keep our dog inside.
So when is it too hot to walk your dog?
The risk of heatstroke increases significantly above 80° F but it’s just as important to watch out for hot surfaces that can burn paws. Before walking, place the back of your hand on the pavement. If it’s too hot to keep your hand there for at least 7 seconds then it’s too hot for paws.
Still, it’s impossible to give a precise temperature for what’s too hot and what’s not. There are just too many variables to consider like the breed of your dog, their overall health, additional weather conditions, their level of acclimation to heat, and the surfaces you’ll be walking on. That’s just to name a few.
Instead, you’ll need to look at the big picture to figure out when it’s too hot for your individual dog.
Let’s learn more about the risks of heatstroke and burnt paws along with what makes more dogs more susceptible than others. You can use the table of content below to find exactly what you’re looking for:
Understanding Heat Exhaustion and Heatstroke In Dogs
Dogs already run a bit warmer than humans and the normal body temperature for dogs is between 101.0 to 102.5° F. Once a pup reaches 103°F and beyond they’ve entered heat exhaustion territory and anything above 105°F is when the first signs of heatstroke start to set in.
While the heatstroke vs heat exhaustion terminology can get a little confusing, the simple fact is that they’re both dangerous and potentially deadly for dogs. One study found the mortality rate for heatstroke was 50% even with early veterinary intervention. The takeaway here is that reacting to the signs of heatstroke doesn’t make as big a difference as you’d hope and the important part is to make sure that dogs never get that hot in the first place.
What Does Heatstroke In Dogs Look Like?
The most commons symptom across just about every single canine is rapid breathing rates as they try to regulate their body temperature with panting. According to VCA Hospitals, you may also see “dry or sticky gums, abnormal gum color, bruising in the gums, may appear lethargic or disoriented and can have seizures.”
Internally, when dogs get too hot vital organs may start to shut down along with a whole host of other life-threatening issues.
For a deeper understanding of what heatstroke looks like, check out this explanation from a veterinarian. It honestly could help you save your dog’s life so it’s worth a quick watch:
How Is Heatstroke Treated?
If you suspect your dog may be overheating it’s important to cool them down immediately and if you’re concerned about heatstroke it’s critical to get your pup to a veterinarian as soon as possible.
Cool water and rags can be used on a dog’s head and torso to bring their body temperature back down to normal ranges.
But again, the best option here is to prevent a dog from overheating in the first place because even with careful treatment the damage may already be done.
So How Hot Is Too Hot For Dogs?
I wish we could just say, “Don’t walk your dog when it’s 85° F and you’ll be fine” but it just isn’t that simple.
The exact temperatures that dogs can handle will vary greatly between individual dogs and what they’re actually doing outside. There’s a big difference between a Pug that can barely handle any heat and a Basenji that was bred to handle extreme heat.
However, a general rule of thumb is that at 80° F and above the risk of overheating is significant while anything over 90° F is a major danger zone.
Why Are Some Dogs At Greater Risk Of Heat Stroke?
Heatstroke occurs when dogs can’t naturally regulate their body temperature enough to keep up with the heat around them. It could be because it’s just too warm outside, they’re playing too vigorously, or a combination of both.
But some dogs are much better at regulating their body temperature than others and this can make a big difference in the type of temperatures and activities they can handle.
Let’s break down some of the major factors so you can understand more about your dog’s individual risk:
Extra weight will keep dogs warmer and make regulating their temperature more difficult. Not only that, but obese dogs are at a higher risk of death if they do overheat.
Obesity is also one of the few risk factors that dog owners can actually control and keeping your dog at a healthy weight will have far more benefits than just a higher tolerance for heat. Unfortunately, it can be hard for many folks to even tell what’s consider overweight and what’s considered healthy. Especially since the internet and other media sources are constantly showing us images of fat dogs that considered cute.
Veterinary professionals use something called a body condition score, also called BCS, to determine healthy body weight and you can check out a BCS chart here. Chats like this can help you get an objective view of your dog’s weight.
If your dog is overweight, then you’ll need to take extra caution during hot weather.
Brachycephalic breeds are dogs that are bred to have short muzzles. The most extreme examples are dogs like Pugs, French Bulldogs, and Shih Tzus.
But what’s so bad about having an extra short muzzle?
Brachycephalic dogs have a very difficult time panting which is one of the most effective ways for a dog to cool themselves down. Panting works by evaporating moisture from tongues, noses, and even a dog’s lungs. The short muzzle of a brachycephalic breed greatly reduces their overall airflow and makes panting much effective.
Not making sense? Well, the folks at Dogtime put it this way, “Imagine trying to breathe while someone is pinching your nose and you have a swollen throat. That’s what it can be like for brachycephalic dogs in the summer.”
Not only does that sound a bit uncomfortable to begin with but when you’re counting on that airflow to keep you cool things get even worse. It also doesn’t help that many short-snouted breeds are a little on a heavy side which means they’ve two of the biggest heatstroke risk factors.
Coat Length & Density
It should be no surprise that dogs with thick double coats are going to have a harder time staying cool in hot weather. While you might immediately think of northern breeds like the Husky one study found that Chow Chows were the most likely to suffer from a heat-related illness.
One look at these fluffy lion-looking dogs and that should be no surprise!
If you’ve got a long-haired or double-coated dog, you’ll need to be extra careful. Even though it’s tempting to shave our pups for the summertime, it’s actually a bad idea for double-coated dogs and the lack of their outer guard hairs could end up making them hotter! Instead, opt to keep them trimmed to minimize extra fur.
Some dogs just can’t calm down and any amount of time outdoors means it’s time to run around full blast! I’m looking at you Terriers and Pointers!
Even though many of these dogs have short, light coats that put them in a lower risk factor, their high energy could make it a moot point.
Unseasonal or Unexpected Temperature Changes
While this isn’t breed-specific, dogs can be more susceptible to heatstroke if they’re suddenly exposed to hotter temperatures. This could be a result of a sudden change in location or even just an unseasonably hot day. That’s because dogs (and people) take time to acclimate to hot weather activity.
Acclimation doesn’t happen overnight and according to the veterinary experts at Purdue, “Partial acclimatization in small animals can require from 10 to 20 days; full acclimatization takes 60 days. Thus, acclimatization time should be planned for when changes in ambient temperature are expected to occur.” But if you suddenly take your dog from Oregon to Florida then there’s no time for your dog to adjust which will increase the risk of heat-related illness.
The same thing can happen if there’s an exceptionally hot day in the middle of a typically cooler season.
What Dogs Are Most Prone To Heatstroke?
We’ve established some of the basic criteria for what makes a dog more prone to heatstroke but how does this play out in the real world?
A 2016 study set out to determine exactly that and figure out which dogs are most prone to heatstroke. They tracked which breeds most commonly showed up in veterinary practices for conditions related to heat across the United Kingdom over a one-year period.
Studies like this will always have some bias based on what dogs are more popular in that area, among other things, but it does give us a good idea of which breeds are most prone to heatstroke and heat-related illnesses. Here are the 7 breeds at the top of the list in order of greatest risk:
- French Bulldog
- Dogue de Bordeaux
- Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
The study also found that the majority of heat-related illnesses occurred in dogs that had brachycephalic skulls- no surprises there.
Again, this is just a snapshot of breeds over one year in the UK. If your dog’s breed is on this list, then you’ll want to be extra careful. But even if your dog isn’t on this list, you’ll still need to be aware of what may increase their risk of heatstroke.
Hot Sidewalk Can Burn a Dog’s Paws
Heatstroke isn’t the only thing you need to worry about and even in relatively cooler temperatures the sidewalk can quickly become too hot for a dog’s paws.
What Happens To A Dog’s Paws On Hot Pavement?
Dogs have a type of sweat gland in their paws that can help cool things down but it’s just not enough for hot pavement!
So if the pavement is hot enough a dog’s feet (and more specifically their paw pads) will burn. But this can happen a lot faster than most people expect!
That’s because surfaces like concrete and asphalt retain heat and are often times dozens of degrees hotter than the surrounding air. In some cases, asphalt could be as much as 40 degrees hotter than the surrounding air!
According to veterinarian Georgina Ushi-Phillips, “Once the pavement is hotter than 125 degrees, a dog’s paws can burn in less than a minute. But even when the asphalt isn’t quite that hot, burns can still happen if the walk is long enough.”
How Do You Know When The Pavement Is Too Hot For A Walk?
Dr. Ush-Phillips recommends placing the back of your hand on the pavement where your dog will be walking. If you can’t comfortably keep your hand there for at least 7 seconds, then it’s too hot for your dog’s paws.
Make sure you do this test in an area that’s getting sun as there can be huge differences between sunny and shady areas of pavement.
But if you’re ever unsure, it’s always a good idea to play it safe and stick to grassy areas or grab your pup’s shoes before heading out.
Dog Shoes Can Help Dogs Deal With Hot Pavement
In some cases, the outside temperature may be within a safe range but the pavement could still be too hot for dogs to walk. This is especially true if your only walking area is black or other dark-colored asphalt which rapidly absorbs heat from the sun.
In these situations, dog shoes can help protect your pup’s feet and allow you to walk in your usual spots. Dog shoes are pretty easy on the budget too and you can check today’s price on Amazon for one of my favorite pairs by clicking here.
They also look pretty darn cute and you see photos and videos from some of the Amazon reviewers here.
Just keep in mind that there will most certainly be a learning curve when it comes to getting your dog used to their new shoes so you shouldn’t expect to hit the road without a hitch. But with some basic positive reinforcement training (AKA give your dog a treat when they wear the shoes) you can quickly get your pup up to speed.
Over time, they’ll begin to associate the shoes with going on walks and they’ll be excited to wear their shoes knowing what’s coming next.
Other Ways To Work Around Hot Weather
Dogs still need exercise, even when the weather is hot.
While dog booties help you stay active, there are other cases where it’s not just the pavement you need to worry about and the overall temperature is so hot that heatstroke to big of a concern.
Let’s look at some options for staying active without putting your pup at risk.
Stick To Grassy, Shady Areas
Most cities have dozens of parks with plenty of grass and some tree coverage. These should be your go-to spots on hot days.
While it can be tempting to walk there, on extra hot days you’ll want to take advantage of the air conditioner and simply drive to the ideal location. This can also be a fun way to explore a new part of your area by hitting Google to find a list of dog-friendly parks.
If you’re lucky enough to have your own grassy backyard, you can create your own shade by putting up a little tent area for your dog. Not only will this give your dog a safe spot to get out of the sun, but it will also let your dog signal to you when they’re warming up and it may be time to head inside.
You don’t need anything too fancy here and Amazon has several budget-friendly options to create a shady spot for dogs like this little pop-up tent.
Go Early, Go Late
Whether it’s to avoid hot weather, hot sidewalks or both, shifting your dog’s exercise schedule to focus on early mornings and late evenings can be a great way to avoid the heat. Even with the most hectic of work schedules, there’s usually a way to squeeze in a night walk or a sunrise stroll.
While you might get some strange looks from your dog on your first “micro walk” you can consider heading out more frequently but for shorter walks. This will decrease the prolonged exposure to heat that can cause problems but still give your dog enough exercise.
You can also consider hiring a dog walker from the neighborhood or use a service like Wag to help get your dog out more often for shorter walks.
Have Fun In The Water
Water can be a great way to keep dogs cool during outdoor activities but it also be an activity all on its own! Even if your dog isn’t a great swimmer, you can incorporate a small wadding pool or even a dog-friendly sprinkler.
One of my favorite options is this foldable dog pool on Amazon that’s got several different depth options depending on how big your dog is. If you put this in the shade then your dog has an awesome area to beat the heat.
But you don’t have to stick to your backyard. With a little searching, you can find dog-friendly lakes, pools, and beaches in most areas.
Consider Indoor Exercises & Games
There’s a lot you can indoors to keep your dog both mentally and physically stimulated all while beating the heat. The possibilities are really endless but here are a few ideas to get you started.
For smaller dogs, indoor fetch can be a great option as they can get plenty of energy just by running the length of the living room. Larger dogs can play fetch indoors, but it won’t tire them out as quickly. You should also ensure any breakable items are put away so a ball doesn’t bounce off your favorite vase!
Hide and Seek
If you’ve never played hide and seek with your dog, then you’re missing out! Ask your dog to sit and stay, then go hide and call for them to find you! Have a treat on hand to reward their search.
My dog is terrible at hide and seek, but it works out in my favor—he ends up running all over the house looking for me, which gives him plenty of exercise!
Instead of hiding yourself, you can also hide treats or toys throughout the house. Your dog will need to be little smarter for this game though as some dogs just won’t understand what they’re supposed to do.
Add Some Toys
There are dog toys for every type of dog out there. From toys for dogs that love to dig to heavy chewers and everything in between, there’s a perfect toy out there for your pup.
Some of my indoor favorites are tug of war toys which can be safely played with in the garage or laundry room and can still totally wear out your dog. Food puzzles are also great options and even though they don’t give your dog much physical stimulation they still work their brain which can go a long way.
So when is it too hot to walk your dog?
Unfortunately, it depends. I really wish it was possible to pin down a specific temperature but there are simply too many variables to consider. Breed, activity and level of heat acclimation are just a few factors but you also need to consider how hot the pavement is too.
But one thing is clear: heatstroke is a serious condition that every dog owner should be well aware of. Make sure you understand your dog’s risk and the early signs of heat-related illnesses to intervene before it becomes heatstroke.