Summer Safety: Signs of Dog Dehydration & Overheating

A dog running in a dog park and needs to be watched for dog dehydration and dog overheating

Summer is in full swing! Your canine best friend is most likely eager to participate in summer hikes, swims, and lazy days in the park. As always, it is important to ensure that your pup is ‘summer-proofed’, especially during the dog days of summer (i.e. the hottest days of the year).

Whilst doing summer activities with Fido, dog dehydration is one of the things pet parents need to watch out for. Dog dehydration symptoms can creep up slowly — and in some cases, this condition goes hand-in-hand with overheating, which can be dangerous for pups. 

In this guide, we talk about everything you need to know about dog dehydration symptoms, preventive measures, and more.

What’s in This Guide? 

What is Dog Dehydration?

Dog dehydration is a medical condition that occurs when a dog's body loses more fluids and electrolytes than it takes in. 

There are various ways a dog can lose fluids and electrolytes — such as through sweating (through their paw pads), urination, defecation, panting, and even normal respiration. 

Because water and electrolytes are essential for all bodily functions and tissue health, dehydration can lead to serious consequences. It is important to note that dog dehydration is progressive, (moving from mild to moderate to severe stages) — unless treatment is given on time. In addition, dog dehydration amidst hot weather can lead to heat exhaustion and heat stroke, which are dangerous for all pups.

Causes of Dog Dehydration

Dehydration can be caused by various factors, including: 

  • Insufficient water intake;
  • Excessive heat;
  • Strenuous exercise;
  • Vomiting; and
  • Diarrhea.

Dog Dehydration Symptoms

  • Lethargy (lack of energy)
  • Excessive panting, with or without activity or exercise
  • Sunken, dry-looking eyes
  • Dry gums
  • Sticky or thick saliva
  • Loss of skin elasticity - you can test by gently pulling up on the skin at the back of your dog’s neck. If the skin doesn’t immediately spring back to its normal position, your dog may be dehydrated.
  • A slow capillary refill time - capillary refill time (CRT) in dogs is the amount of time it takes for blood to flow back into the capillaries of the gums after being pressed. When a dog is dehydrated, their capillary refill time is slower. You can perform a simple capillary refill test at home. Press your finger against your dog's gums until they turn white, then remove your finger. If the gums don’t regain color in 2 seconds, that is considered a slow capillary refill time.
A dog doing excessive panting, one of the dog dehydration symptoms to watch out for

What is Overheating in Dogs?

Many might see dogs as strong animals, capable of weathering the elements. However, this is simply not true when it comes to tolerating heat. Generally, dogs are more sensitive to heat than people because they can’t sweat over a large area of skin the way that humans can. 

Note: In addition, some types of dogs are more sensitive to heat than others. As further explained by Sploot’s veterinarian, Dr. Allison Kihn, “All brachiocephalic [flat-faced] breeds (French bulldogs, English bulldogs, Pugs, Boston Terriers, Shih Tzus, etc.) are EXTREMELY sensitive to heat. Their shorter snouts mean that there is minimal area for heat to be released.  These dogs quickly get into trouble even at temperatures lower than other dogs. In addition, overweight dogs tend to have more trouble with heat than fit dogs.” 

To cool down, dogs pant, pulling cool air into their system and exhaling heat. As mentioned above, dogs will also sweat through their paw pads to help cool themselves down. These mechanisms work gradually — and not as fast as the human body’s cooling mechanism. 

Overheated dogs can suffer heat exhaustion, heat stroke, or, in some cases, sudden death due to clotting issues, cardiac issues, brain damage, and other types of organ damage..Be sure to be on the lookout for the following signs of overheating:

Causes of Overheating in Dogs:

Overheating can be caused by various factors, such as 

  • Severe dehydration;
  • Overexposure to direct sunlight (and lack of shade);
  • A hot environment - whether indoor or outdoor, hot environments in general increase the risk of overheating
  • Being inside an enclosed structure without inadequate ventilation - enclosed spaces like parked cars can heat up quickly. This is why leaving a dog inside a parked car is prohibited in numerous states and municipalities. Parked cars can heat up to dangerous levels in as little as 5 minutes, even with the windows cracked. As an added example, poor ventilation inside and enclosed dog house can also be dangerous.
  • Strenuous exercise - the risks are higher when the exercise is done on hot surfaces (e.g. unshaded hiking trails, hot pavements) — but swimming in cool water does NOT rule out the possibility of overheating in dogs. 

Note: What’s considered ‘strenuous exercise’ in warm weather varies for each dog. As mentioned above, certain types of dogs have more sensitivity to heat — and this needs to be taken into account. An illustrative example given by Dr. Kihn is as follows: “A 5-minute walk in 90°F weather for an overweight pet or a Bulldog [a brachycephalic breed] is much more strenuous and dangerous than for a thinner dog or a dog with a longer nose.”

Signs of Overheating in Dogs:

  • Lethargy (lack of energy)
  • Disorientation (stumbling or bumping into things)
  • Excessive panting and/or fast, noisy breathing 
  • Excessive Drooling
  • Bright red or blue gums
  • Vomiting/Diarrhea

Note: Mild overheating can progress into a heat stroke if left untreated. 

How to Prevent Dog Dehydration & Overheating

When it comes to dog dehydration and overheating, prevention is always better than cure. Here are some helpful tips:

  1. Provide access to fresh water at all times - This applies whether your dog is just at home or partaking in outdoor activities.
  2. Provide proper hydration during illness - Hydration requirements may be different when a dog is sick. As always, Fido needs free access to fresh water. However, if a dog is experiencing vomiting or diarrhea (which can cause dehydration), a veterinarian may recommend ways to control these symptoms so that a pet can drink normally. In some cases, the veterinarian may recommend supplemental fluid administration like subcutaneous fluids — or, if a pet is very sick, hospitalization for IV fluids may be the best course of action.
  3. Take your pups out in the early mornings or later in the evenings - this limits their exposure to high temperatures. Going after dark can also eliminates extra heat from the sun. 
  4. Take water breaks while doing strenuous activities (e.g. running, hiking, swimming, etc.)
  5. Give cold, hydrating treats - It’s no secret that dogs love ice. During hot days, try giving dogs a hydrating, cool treat — whether it’s plain ice cubes, a frozen lick bowl, or frozen fruits. (Make sure to only give fruits that are safe for dogs!)
  6. NEVER leave your dog in a parked car - Even in the shade and with cracked windows, temperatures can spike incredibly quickly. Parked cars can  Furthermore, in Denver, leaving a dog in a parked car is illegal. This is also prohibited in states like Illinois, Arizona, California, and more

Treating Mild Dog Dehydration & Overheating

If left untreated, dog dehydration can progress to overheating and heat stroke, which is a life-threatening condition associated with organ and brain damage, blood clotting issues, and death. 

Before symptoms become severe, here are ways to treat mild dehydration and overheating.

  1. Get the dog indoors in a cool place, like an air-conditioned room or in front of a fan.
  2. Use room temperature waterto wet certain areas of the dog’s body: the neck, armpits, the back of the hind legs, ears, and paws. (Make sure to AVOID using cold water, as it this can cause dangerous blood pressure changes.)
  3. Offer them small amounts of cold water at a time, but try not to allow them to gulp too much, as they may vomit, which will make matters worse. It may help to give ice cubes to lick! 
  4. Observe how your dog responds, and be prepared to call an urgent care veterinarian.

When to Seek Veterinary Care for Dog Dehydration & Overheating

While mild cases of dehydration and overheating can be managed by pet parents, there are instances where the aforementioned treatment only serves to stabilize the dog — and veterinary care must take over promptly. 

Here are situations wherein a dog would need urgent veterinary care:

  1. Severe overheating & dog dehydration symptoms - If your dog exhibits severe signs of dehydration or overheating (e.g. extreme lethargy, rapid breathing, stumbling, collapse, or seizures) it is a medical emergency. 
  2. Lack of improvement - Prolonged dehydration and/or overheating can lead to serious health complications. If your dog's condition does not improve despite your best efforts to rehydrate them or cool them down, it's crucial to consult a veterinarian
  3. A puppy or senior dog - Puppies and senior dogs are more susceptible to dehydration. Considering that a puppy’s system is just developing, and a senior dog’s is more fragile, it is often advisable to contact a veterinarian if these age groups are affected.

In addition to the above scenarios, it is advisable to seek veterinary help if you feel that your dog's condition requires it. It’s always better to err on the side of caution. 

A dog exhibiting lethargy which is one of the many symptoms of overheating in dogs

Final Thoughts on Dog Dehydration & Overheating

With the preventive measures and treatment tips we talked about, you will be able to protect your pup from dehydration and overheating.

In addition to protection from the heat, make sure that your furry friend is also protected from transmissible diseases through updated canine vaccinations. Worms in dogs are also particularly prevalent during the warmer months — and this includes the potentially-fatal heartworm. If you haven’t gotten heartworm and parasite preventives for your pup yet, now is a great time to start!

If you have questions about overheating, dog dehydration symptoms, vaccinations, or worm preventives, we’re here to help!

Sploot Veterinary Care is a primary & urgent care clinic with multiple convenient vet clinics. We are open 365 days a year, with extended clinic hours. You can always count on us for reliable care. For urgent concerns and urgent intakes, feel free to reach out to our team! You can also book your pup’s appointment easily online or through the Sploot Vets app.

Till next time, we’re with you every pounce of the way!