How Do Dogs Cool Themselves?

How humans keep cool

You might remember a concept that is taught in high school science class: evaporation causes cooling. This is the process used by the human body to keep itself cool.

When you work out, your body temperature rises. Your body needs to react in order to protect your brain and vital organs from overheating. It does this by dilating the blood vessels, and releasing sweat from glands that cover the entire body (except the lips). The dilation of the blood vessels redirects blood to the surface of the skin, where it can be cooled more easily. Once the sweat on your body starts to dry (evaporate), it has a cooling effect, which keeps your body from overheating.

Humans and horses are among the only animals that use the concept of generalized sweating to cool off. Since your dog is wearing a fur coat, he must use a different technique to keep himself from getting too hot.


How dogs cool themselves

Like humans, dogs need to keep themselves cool to protect their bodies. They do sweat, but not in the same way. They only have sweat glands only on the paw pads and nose leather. Since they are covered with fur, it is more challenging to keep their bodies cool.

After your dog runs around, you will notice that he begins to pant heavily. Dogs rely on panting to keep their bodies cool. Panting causes the evaporation of water from the nasal cavity, tongue, throat and lungs, which helps lower their body temperature.

They also experience the same dilation in blood vessels as humans, which brings blood to the surface of the skin, allowing the air in the environment to cool them.


Some dogs have a harder time keeping cool

Dogs with squished faces, otherwise known as brachycephalic breeds, have a face that only a mother could love! Pugs, Boston terriers, English bulldogs, French bulldogs, and Shih Tzus are examples of brachycephalic breeds. We have bred these dogs to have a unique appearance, but we have also made them unable to cool themselves properly.

They are all affected by something called brachycephalic syndrome; a variety of issues that make it harder for them to get air into and out of the lungs. This is what causes their characteristic snorting and snoring. They have a shortened nose, and airways that are shortened or flattened. They often have an elongated soft palate, which interferes with the movement of air into and out of the lungs. Stenotic nares – small, narrow nostrils – make it hard for them to breathe through the nose. They can also have a narrow windpipe, and can have issues with the larynx (the tissue that opens and closes the upper airway).

These dogs are already at a disadvantage during normal weather, so warm, humid conditions are very difficult for them. They are not able to pant as efficiently as a German shepherd or Collie, so it is harder for them to cool off. They are more prone to the dangerous condition known as heat stroke.


Heat exhaustion and heat stroke

Any dog is at risk for heat-related problems, especially in warm, humid weather. Our brachycephalic friends are at a much greater risk than their long-nosed counterparts. Large breeds with thick coats, such as Bernese mountain dogs or Pyrenees are also more prone. Dogs with pre-existing heart conditions or respiratory issues are also more likely to be overcome by the heat.

When these dogs pant to try and cool themselves, they have to work harder to do so. This only raises their body temperature even higher, making it worse instead of better.

Signs of heat exhaustion:

  • Bright red gums
  • Staggering or collapse
  • Loud, raspy breathing; struggling for air

If not recognized and treated, heat exhaustion will progress to heat stroke.

Signs of heat stroke:

  • Vomiting
  • Severe lethargy
  • Explosive diarrhea
  • Seizures
  • Coma

If you suspect your dog is suffering from heat exhaustion or heat stroke, time is of the essence. Wet his fur as best you can. If you are unable to get him in the tub, soak towels in water and cover his body with them to get his fur wet. It is important to use lukewarm or cool water; never use cold water or ice water as this will cool the body too rapidly. If the temperature of the skin is lowered too quickly, the inner organs will not cool properly. The body temperature must be lowered at a steady rate.

Immediately get him to a veterinarian. Room temperature intravenous fluids are often needed to help cool the pet from the inside. His body temperature needs to be monitored closely for several hours.

Heat stroke can cause brain damage and other organ failure if not treated. The blood can actually begin to clot inside the veins, which is a serious problem. Heat stroke can be deadly, even with the proper emergency medical treatment. With all the advancements we have in technology, there is no guarantee that treatment will save your dog’s life.


Heat stroke prevention

Since heat stroke can be difficult to treat, the best practice is to prevent it from happening in the first place. When warm weather comes, there are things you can do to minimize your dog’s risk.

If your dog can’t go without his daily stroll, be sure to walk him at dawn or dusk when the temperatures tend to be lower. During the hottest parts of the day, keep “potty time” and other outdoor activities short; less than 10 minutes total. You may need to shorten outdoor time even more for dogs that are more at risk for heat stroke. Exercise or play indoors in an air-conditioned room or basement, instead of outside.

If you do need to spend time outside, bring water and a collapsible bowl for your pet to drink. Make sure he has a shady area out of the sun. If your dog is running errands with you, NEVER leave him in your car, even with the windows cracked. Temperatures in cars can increase rapidly and therefore be deadly.


Here’s how I sometimes lightly trot/jog the Dogs in warmer temperatures on my WooFDriver Website:

Here’s info about a Misting System I built/customized on my WooFTEK  Website:

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