WARNING: What to know before exercising with dogs this summer

When someone is getting ready to run on a hot summer day with their dog, Dr. Miryam Reems of BluePearl Veterinary Partners has been known to give the stranger a warning.

A puppy drinking water from a bottle

Dogs need plenty of water on hot days, even when they’re just playing.

“I walk up and say ‘I know it’s none of my business, but I’m an emergency veterinarian and I’ve seen dogs die of heat stroke,’ ” she explains.

Reems, of BluePearl Veterinary Partners, said she has gotten a variety of responses. But she said it’s clear many people still don’t realize how dangerous a normal summer day can be for dogs who are running with their owners, going on hikes through the woods, or even just spending hours outside playing.

Because dogs’ physiology is different from that of humans, exercising dogs in the heat is more likely to lead to heat exhaustion. That can harm dogs or even kill them.

“If people knew, they wouldn’t do it,” said Reems, who is board-certified in veterinary emergency and critical care. “If we could just get the word out.”

Reems would like dog owners to know these basic facts before venturing out with Fido in summer months:

  • You’re tougher than your dog, at least when it comes to heat. Your body cools by sweating, but dogs don’t sweat. They cool mostly by panting, which is less efficient. So be aware, your dog is having a tougher time than you while outside.
  • Dogs are eager to please, and will run right up to the point of collapsing. Don’t assume your dogs are fine just because they’re still running.
  • Dogs will over-exert themselves in summer heat just by romping and playing. So give them plenty of water and limit their time outdoors, even if it’s not “exercise.”
  • Dogs with short snouts, such as pugs and English bulldogs, don’t cool down from panting nearly as quickly as others. So they’re even more vulnerable to heat.

All of this leads to a natural question: When is it too hot for my dog?

There is no one answer. But a good starting point would be to consult the National Weather Service heat index, which gives guidelines for when it’s too hot for humans. At a minimum, don’t exercise with your dog in the orange and red areas marked “Danger” and “Extreme Danger.” Limit time outside in the yellowish areas marked “caution” and extreme caution.” No matter what the temperature is, don’t overdo it.

A chart about the dangers of heat

This heat index chart was developed for humans and was prepared by the National Weather Service

Following these guidelines might very well prevent you from running with your dog in Florida at all this summer, and would likely limit you to early mornings and evenings in a state such as Minnesota or Michigan.

Your dog may be overheating if she lies down and won’t get up, is not alert, or can’t stop panting. If you suspect overheating, hose the dog off with water but never ice water, which actually makes the situation worse. The most important thing to do is get the dog to a veterinarian as soon as possible.

Remember, most BluePearl hospitals are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with highly trained veterinarians always standing by for emergencies.  Many BluePearl veterinarians, including Reems, have received years of additional training to become certified as experts within their specialties.