How to Tell if Your Dog is Overheating

I have two hot dogs panting around my desk. They’ve both been outside with me for the last hour trotting beside me while I mulched the lawn. Well, that’s what Kiera was doing. Graidy was mostly chasing birds. I took a look at their tongues, decided it was time to quit, and had them jump in their wading pool. We’ll cool it for the rest of the afternoon. It’s too hot out for prolonged non-stop exercise for them.

Dogs only have a few ways to release heat from their bodies: they can sweat through their ears and the pads of their feet, and they cool themselves down by hanging out their tongues and panting. Since their tongues are always easy to see, that’s what I use to gauge how they’re doing.

The three things I look for are how much of a spade the bottom of their tongue is making, how far it’s hanging out, and how fast they’re panting.

Here you can see that Graidy’s tongue is flared at the bottom and shaped like a spade. But it’s not hanging out real long. So he’s hot, but he’s compensating.

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I couldn’t get a great shot of Kiera because she was being a little camera shy. What you can’t see completely is that her tongue is actually hanging out further than Graidy’s but is a little less flared.

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So who’s hotter? They’re both about the same. The idea is that the more surface of the tongue they can expose, the faster they can release heat from their bodies.

Within a few minutes they were both back to normal.

So if you like to exercise with your dogs, just remember to check occasionally for how far their tongues are hanging down and how flared they are. If they’re really long in the tongue or panting really fast, consider cooling them down with some cool water and/or taking a break to let them catch their breath. And don’t forget to carry water with you for them too.

As to whether you should shave your dog or not to help them cool down — the answer is don’t do it. Better to leave the dog’s coat on and get a wading pool (kiddie pool) and let them cool off that way.

And, hopefully, everyone knows not to ever leave their dogs in the car on a hot day. Even if the car is in the shade and the windows are cracked. The interior of a car can quickly reach temperatures that could cause heatstroke and death.

Heatstroke is indicated by some or more of the following symptoms:

* rapid or heavy breathing

* bright red tongue

* thick saliva

* vomiting

* bloody diarrhea

* unsteadiness

* hot, dry nose

* legs, ears hot to touch

* extreme: glassy-eyed, gray lips

Wet your dog down gradually using cool, not cold water. Get it out of direct sunlight. Give it a little cool water to drink at a time. Cold compresses to the belly and groin helps. Get the dog to the vet. A dog that has had heatstroke before can be prone to getting it again.

Bottom line: Remember to check how your dog is doing in the heat. Always have plenty of water for drinking and dipping nearby, provide shade, and don’t forget to give breaks.

9 thoughts on “How to Tell if Your Dog is Overheating”

  1. We have a tiled hearth that is always very cool in summer. So when my choc-Lab Strider overdoes it playing fetch out back, he goes to the door, I let him into the A/C of the house where he can get a drink, then he hops up on the hearth to lie down & cool off. But I think I’m gonna get him one of those plastic kiddie pools too; he loves the one at the dog park! Lab owners beware, though: damp skin under that wetsuit coat can lead to hot-spot skin infections, especially if the water source is less than swimming-pool clean…

  2. Nice tips, Karen.

    I own two dogs and sometimes it’s quite hot in summer. Now I know how to determine overheating.

    John.

  3. Those are some GREAT “tongue” shots! :) We have a small wading pool that really helps. I hose my two Labs off sometimes from the tummy/chest/paws up. They don’t mind it on the “shower” setting. If we can’t get to water for a swim, I turn on a swamp cooler (evaporative fan) in the garage. Also–I carry a small squirt gun with me when we walk for spritzing. :)

  4. “hopefully, everyone knows not to ever leave their dogs in the car on a hot day. Even if the car is in the shade and the windows are cracked.”

    This irritates the heck out of me and unfortunately I see it too often…and I’m in Texas! I’ll never understand why people think this is OK. How can anyone drive around in an air conditioned car and then think it’s OK to leave a pet in the car with no A/C?

    I go around and leave notes on people’s cars when I see that.

  5. So many house dogs (the only kind I would ever have), especially young ones get so excited to be outside after the long winter, that they do need to be watched for symptoms of overheating.

    You are right, shaving is not good, but my Poodles have a different clip for each season.

    Jan, I always wondered if Poodles handle heat differently because they have hair rather than fur.

  6. Pappy's Fella

    I think a pretty common first association for humans is that a panting dog is a thirsty dog rather than a hot dog. I’m always suprised when my dog isn’t interested in a drink while he’s panting like a freight train.

    This is such a good point! Yes, a panting dog is a hot dog. 

  7. It’s so incredibly sad to think of dogs (and humans!) with heat stroke. My dogs think they are ducks or fish or something and immediately knock over any water we leave outside with them. Any ideas how to remedy that? They love to be outside, but I can’t leave them out without water.

    I have a wooden bucket that I screw to the deck. Then I place their bowl of water inside that. They can step in it, but they can’t knock it over. 

  8. I’ve taught my dogs the command “go swimming”! When we’re working cattle they get so focused that I need to “make” them go cool off.

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