How To Cool Down An Overheated Dog; Or, The Day I Almost Killed Chance

I’m exaggerating, I didn’t almost kill him. But I was freaked out.

FIRST of all–if you think your dog is seriously overheated and they actually might have heat stroke, obviously rush them to the vet. The advice I’m about to give you applies ONLY if you’re thinking, “it’s not that hot out, he can’t possibly be overheated…though he is panting quite a bit…”

Second–if you’re an uptight grammarian who has taken umbrage with my use of “they” instead of “him or her” in that first sentence, this guy (who seems legit) says it’s now ok SO TAKE IT UP WITH HIM. For the rest of you who didn’t care about that at all…let’s move on.

Overheating your dog. Something I thought only reckless or uncaring or completely uneducated people did. I mean, how many infographics about not walking your dog in extreme heat do we really need?

I know to hold the back of my hand against the concrete for five seconds–if it burns, it’s too hot for Chance’s pads. I know that you shouldn’t strenuously exercise your dog in the heat, and that you shouldn’t exercise at all the middle of a hot day.

HOWEVER. The day I almost killed my dog, I was visiting my parents in Pasadena and decided to take Chance for a leisurely walk at around 10am. That’s the time at which I remembered that an extreme heat wave was coming in that day, and if he was going to get ANY walk at all, it better be pronto.

It was surprisingly hot for 10am. Not surprisingly hot FOR ANYTIME, which is why I thought I could get away with it. It was just quite hot for that early–maybe it was 75°F or 80°F in the direct sun? But the pavement was barely warm, so off we went.

And let me be clear–we were gone for 30 minutes, and we strolled. STROLLED, I tell you! There was not even any brisk walking! But by the time we got home, it must have been 85°F already, and Chance immediately flopped over on his side on the floor.

Now, I’ve seen traumatizing videos of dogs suffering from heat stroke after being liberated from hot cars (you should watch that just so you know what it looks like, and also so you’ll never EVER leave your dog in a hot car). Chance wasn’t panting like that. But it was a super-rapid, open-mouth panting with his tongue lolling out. And it just wasn’t slowing down.

I started to get nervous, so I did some Googling. Turns out a normal dog temperature is somewhere between 101°F and 102.5°F. Fortunately, I had a doggy thermometer, so I could quickly check Chance’s temperature.

It was 104°F.

I almost panicked and threw him in the car and rushed to the vet–AND THAT MAY BE THE CORRECT COURSE OF ACTION FOR YOU. But Chance wasn’t staggering around, vomiting, or even really drooling that much, so when my mom started reading to me from PetMD, I decided to do this instead:

Some external cooling techniques include spraying the dog down with cool water, or immersing the dog’s entire body in cool – not cold – water; wrapping the dog in cool, wet towels; convection cooling with fans; and/or evaporative cooling (such as isopropyl alcohol on foot pads, groin, and under the forelegs). Stop cooling procedures when temperature reaches 103° F (using a rectal thermometer) to avoid dropping below normal body temperature.

It is very important to avoid ice or very cold water, as this may cause blood vessels near the surface of the body to constrict and may decrease heat dissipation. A shivering response also is undesirable, as it creates internal heat. Lowering the temperature too quickly can lead to other health problems, a gradual lowering is best. The same guideline applies to drinking water. Allow your dog to drink cool, not cold, water freely. However, do not force your dog to drink.

You may want to do all those things AND THEN GO TO THE VET.

However, we decided the situation was not so dire, so my mom and I encouraged Chance to follow us to the bathroom. We soaked towels in cool-not-cold water and wrapped them around him. We gave him a bowl of cool-not-cold water (which he eagerly lapped up), and just sat with him on the cool bathroom tiles as his panting slowed, monitoring his temperature every couple of minutes.




After about fifteen minutes, the thermometer finally hit 102.9°F (remember, PetMD says to stop cooling procedures when the temperature dips under 103°F). We pulled the towels and dried him off. He happily got up, wandered into the living room, and curled up on the couch for a nap.

So that’s what I did when I overheated my dog. And he survived without any discernible damage! Woohoo! I hope our cautionary tale nestles itself somewhere in the deep dark corners of your brain, and if you’re ever in the same situation, a little voice cries out, “Check Puppy’s temperature!!”


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