Any dog owner knows how important it is to give their canine friend a regular opportunity to stretch their legs and enjoy some fresh air. While daily walks are generally extremely beneficial to a dog’s mental and physical health though, in extreme weather conditions they can do more harm than good. This particularly relates to warm conditions, as dogs are quite poorly equipped to deal with extreme heat.
Think of how warm you feel on a hot summer’s day with the sun shining down on you. Imagine how much worse it would be if rather than a thin, loose t-shirt, you had to wear a full-body fur coat. That is the very last item of clothing you would wear on such a day but it is something dogs are generally stuck with.
To make matters worse, our furry friends have a higher standard body temperature than us humans and lack sweat glands over their bodies (making it harder to expel their heat). This combination means that dogs are much more sensitive to heat and have a far greater danger of overheating.
Dangers & Symptoms
Heat-related illnesses are a genuine risk in dogs and some well-meaning owners can cause their dogs serious harm by not realising the dangers of hot and humid conditions. A dog suffering from heatstroke may display various worrying symptoms such as vomiting, seizures, lethargy, signs of confusion or even collapsing. The full list is much longer than this and the longer the exposure to the heat continues, the more damaging it is.
Approximately one in seven dogs with heat stroke end up dying as a result of their illness, which shows just how serious an issue this is. While some people think this only really occurs to dogs left in cars on a hot day, outside exercise in hot, humid weather can be just as dangerous.
What Temperature Can My Dog Safely Tolerate?
When asking the question how hot is too hot for a dog, there is no fixed answer. Ultimately, it depends on several factors as dogs have substantially different tolerance levels. The main five factors include:
Some breeds are simply more heat-tolerant than others. Those with flat faces (brachycephalic), such as bulldogs, chow chows and pugs, are most at risk due to their impaired breathing.
As you would expect, dogs with thicker, dense coats tend to struggle to release heat quickly. This puts them at an elevated risk of overheating. In contrast, dogs with thinner, shorter coats, tend to handle the increasingly hot weather we have a little better.
Old dogs are more suspectable to suffering in hot and humid temperatures, sometimes due to other conditions they may have. Research also shows that young pups are also in the danger category.
Many underlying health conditions can impact a dog’s ability to keep its internal temperature at a safe level while in the heat. If your dog has hypothyroidism, cardiac disease, or laryngeal paralysis, for example, these all increase the heatstroke risk.
Regardless of breed, being larger than average (whether due to muscle or fat) for the breed in general puts a dog at an increased risk of heat stroke.
By taking into account the factors above, you can get a better sense of how tolerant your dog is to heat. If your dog is ticking most of these risk factors, then you should definitely consider them to be high-risk and play it cautiously. If they are not ticking any, on the other hand, it is less of a concern.
What might be a dangerous temperature for a 30-minute walk for one dog, might not be for another. That said, general guidelines have proved useful as they manage to give you an idea of the safe temperature ranges, depending on how ‘high-risk’ your dog is.
15 Degrees or Lower
No real danger of heatstroke regardless of dog type or characteristics. All dogs should be able to run around and play in such temperatures for as long as they want.
16 to 19 Degrees
Largely safe but you will want to keep an eye on your dog if they fall within the high-risk category. Problems are unlikely but dogs with an especially elevated risk, e.g. obese or flat-faced, could potentially run into some difficulties without regular checks.
20 to 23 Degrees
At this temperature, regardless of the type of dog you have, you will want to limit its exercise. Even a fit and healthy dog can suffer some signs of heat stroke should they end up exercising rigorously for a long time. Light to medium exercise should not be an issue, however, unless you have a high-risk furry friend. Should this be the case, taking them outside for a short walk should be fine but keep it light.
24 to 27 Degrees
Most dogs will feel uncomfortable within this temperature range, if not very uncomfortable. It is at this point where you need to approach the situation with real caution and be extremely mindful of the conditions. Even low-risk dogs can run into difficulty in such temperatures. Taking most dogs outside for a brief stroll is still okay but you should prevent them from running and try and stick to shaded areas as much as possible.
28 to 31 Degrees
Extremely dangerous for all and potentially fatal for high-risk dogs. It is best to scrap the walk entirely and instead just focus on keeping your dog cool and hydrated. Making them exercise, even quite lightly in such conditions is an unsafe idea.
32 Degrees & Above
Virtually all dogs are at extreme risk of heat-stroke at these scorching temperatures. Do whatever you can to keep them cool and well hydrated, regardless of their risk level.
The temperature ranges provided above act as a useful general guide but what you also need to consider is the humidity. For us humans, an extremely humid day at 25 degrees can feel much more uncomfortable than a ‘dry’ day at 28 degrees. Dogs also feel the impacts of humidity in the same way. With humidity levels lower than 35%, they can operate as normal but higher than this they cannot evaporate moisture as effectively.
Once you reach 80%, they may be unable to cool themselves even slightly. Although dogs have some sweat glands in their paws, their main method of cooling themselves down is panting. When the air around them is so moist, panting becomes very ineffective.
The other key weather condition you will need to pay attention to during warmer days is the amount of sunlight exposure there is. Temperatures are always measured in the shade but, of course, a 24-degree day with pure sunshine feels a lot warmer than 24 degrees when completely overcast. This is because being hit directly by the sun’s radiation warms up you even further. More importantly though, from a dog’s perspective, is that direct sunlight can heat the ground very considerably.
While wearing shoes you probably rarely notice that the likes of asphalt and concrete can become incredibly hot when exposed to sunlight. During a 29-degree day, cement exposed to direct sunlight will feel around 40 degrees and black asphalt can exceed 50 degrees. Unsurprisingly, this can be very damaging to a dog’s paws and cause them serious discomfort. To test if a floor surface is too hot, see if you can place the back of your hand on it for seven seconds. If you can’t, then the ground is too warm to be completely safe for a dog.
How to Deal with the Heat
Not walking your dog for a day is unlikely to cause any issues at all, provided you still give them regular toilet opportunities. How about if there is a particularly hot and humid period of several days, a week, or even more though? Such events are not uncommon and are certainly becoming far more normal as the planet heats up. You cannot really keep your dog cooped up in the house for a full seven days, so what is the best option?
During such heat waves, it should still keep cool enough in the morning or late evening to take your dog out. Not only will the sun feel a lot weaker (if it is visible) but temperatures should be at a far more comfortable level. In addition, where possible, taking your dog out for multiple short walks is a good idea, allowing them to cool down in between.
Be Aware the Car Danger
Although the focus on this piece has been walking your dog, it is worth mentioning the dangers of keeping your dog locked in the car, even for a short while. We stated before that an outside temperature of 23 degrees is tolerable for most dogs and even suitable for light or moderate exercise. Stick a dog in a car at this temperature though and it can quickly become fatal if the sun is out.
In just 20 minutes, an internal car temperature can exceed 45 degrees, this being unbelievably dangerous for even the fittest dog. Leaving the window open a little is always advised but this is not sufficient should your dog be left for any real length of time, nor when the sun is out, or if it is at all warm.