- Not a substitute for professional veterinary help.
I enjoy exercising with my beagle-corgi mix, Quentin, but find myself hesitant when the weather is too warm. Since they can’t talk, our pets can’t easily let us know when they’re overheating. I just don’t want to risk overdoing it.
But as a veterinarian, I know there are ways to get your dog out and about in a healthy way even when the temps climb. Here’s the advice I use to exercise my dog in hot weather, and what I tell pet owners.
1. Decrease the Intensity and Distance
How much exercise to do on a hot day is all dependent on your dog’s age and average activity level. If this is the first time in a long time that your dog is exercising, try something less strenuous, like short-range fetch or a quick leash walk. Shortening runs by a mile or shaving off 10 minutes from your walk will enable them to pant, and thus, cool off easier. You can even replace the usual run with a walk, just to be extra safe in the heat.
2. Utilize Clean Water Sources
While on hikes or walks, you can carry a portable and collapsible water container to maintain your dog’s hydration. Pools, lakes, ponds, and the ocean can be associated with some risk, so it’s a good idea to take safety precautions if using them as sources to stay cool with your pet. Refreshing ways to play fetch include running through a sprinkler or having a kiddie pool with dog toys that can be used for splashing.
3. Choose a Shaded Grassy Area
If you have access to a grassy outdoor spot with shade, such as a park with trees, your backyard, or a safe forested area, this will offer a cooler alternative than direct sunlit areas like open fields or the sidewalk. Activities you can do in these areas include walking, retrieval games, running with the kids, or a flat hike in the woods.
4. Try Doggy Daycare
Many doggy daycare services, whether in-home or not, offer air-conditioned indoor play opportunities. Not only will your dog have playmates to keep her company, but she will also have supervised play time in a comfortable environment.
5. Or Keep Activities at Home
If your home is sufficiently cooled for activity, this can be a great alternative for exercising your dog outside in the heat since there is access to water at all times and your dog will be at a higher comfort level to take a rest when needed.
A cute activity is to have a dance party—throw on some tunes, make eye contact with your furry friend, and have her get up and follow you throughout your home while you dance and interact. Many dogs find this intriguing and it gets them moving and interacting with you. Other activities around the home are playing tag, hide and seek (where they try to find you in a different room after you call their name), retrieval games, or tug-o-war with a favorite toy.
Signs of Overheating in Dogs
A good rule of thumb is if it feels uncomfortably warm for you, then it is even more uncomfortable for your dog. The following three signs are indicators you need to stop exercising your dog.
1. Increased Panting and Dehydration
In dogs, panting is a normal mechanism to relieve the body of excess heat by cooling the saliva from the oral cavity. While not as efficient as sweating, panting works well if your dog has the chance to breathe relatively normally.
If you start to hear harsher sounding noises (louder breathing, wheezing, coughing, etc), gasps for breath, and an increase in the pant frequency, these are all signs that your dog may not be getting enough oxygen or is overheating to the point where she or he cannot compensate.
2. Mucous Membrane Color Changes
Your dog’s gums, eye membranes (conjunctiva), and nose (nares) are areas where there is usually less pigmentation. Looking at these areas, you often notice they are quite pink which indicates your pet has good oxygenation in their blood. This is a handy observation especially when you are running with your pet and want to know if they are getting enough oxygen to their body tissues.
Signs of lack of oxygenation include a change in the color of your dog’s mucous membranes. Pale pink will be your first indicator that you should stop and provide water and a cool area to rest.
If you see red mucous membranes this is indicative of heat stroke. This means it is time to stop right away and take your dog to an emergency hospital. Other colors also indicative of an emergency are blue, grey, and white. Hopefully, you’ll never have to see this but if you do, seek treatment immediately.
3. Exercise Intolerance
If you exercise your dog normally on a regular basis, then you probably have a good idea of his or her limits. But your dog is going to want to please you so he might not slow down or stop when he’s feeling too warm.
During your activity, look down often to notice if there’s a change in his or her gait in any way. Is he or she slowing their pace, even a little bit? Is she or he looking for water at any chance they get? If so, then it’s time to go back home and slow down the pace to give your pet a chance to catch their breath.
If your dog does not normally exercise and you decide maybe the warm day is a good day to do so, give it more consideration. Your dog has to be acclimated to both weather and exercise over a period of time (weeks to months) in order to do it safely.
Exercising your dog doesn’t have to be delayed due to weather. With these options and new tools under your belt, you can safely have fun with your pet while it’s warm outside.