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Staying Safe and Cool with Your Dog During the Heat Dome

Staying Safe and Cool with Your Dog During the Heat Dome

As the heat dome ripples across the US, even Montana is bracing for 100+ degree days. My long-haired black Border Collie (and grey short-haired Border Collie puppy) and I live in a Sprinter van with no A/C, so staying cool is our number one priority for safety and comfort in the coming days.

Getting exercise for your dog during the heat dome isn’t going to be easy. Pavement can quickly soar to scorching temperatures, making it downright dangerous to walk your dog in urban areas. While you may be able to sneak in some early-morning or late-evening walks, it might be best to plan on other forms of exercise until things cool off.

Equipment can help keep your dog cool, but only to a point. If your dog is comfortable wearing booties, they can help protect paw pads from pavement burns. We also utilize cooling jackets (which must constantly be kept wet) for walks, hikes, and jogs in hot temperatures. Walking the dogs on grass or in the shade can also help.

Many dogs self-regulate well and will stop exercise to lay down and cool off. But some of our most enthusiastic adventure pals (like my Border Collies) are not good at self-regulation. Knowing the signs of heat stress and heat exhaustion can save your dog’s life.

Your dog is at increased risk of heat stress if they’re not acclimated to the heat (like my Montana-native dogs), are overweight, are brachycephalic (short-nosed breeds like boxers, pugs, bulldogs), or have dense coats. Preexisting health conditions can also increase risk.

Signs of heat stress in dogs include:

  • A spoon-shaped, lolling tongue
  • Wide open-mouthed pant
  • Scratching at the ground to get at cooler dirt
  • Sprawling out
  • Wide eyes
  • Restlessness
  • Different colored gums: they could be greyish, bright red, or even purple/blue. Get to know your dog’s normal gum color to help identify this symptom.
  • Lethargy
  • Vomiting or diarrhea


If you see signs of heat stress in your dog, stop activity and cool them off ASAP. Use cool water to run over their ears, paw pads, armpits, belly, and groin area.

If your dog is showing changes in mental status (like confusion, lethargy, or disorientation) or is vomiting or having diarrhea, cool them down right away and head to the vet. While veterinary care is extremely important in these emergency cases, many experts actually say that cooling your dog off right away is the most important thing. For example, it may be best to spend 5 minutes cooling your dog off with water while you cool down your car rather than to load your overheated dog into a scorching vehicle.

While staying hydrated can help keep your dog healthy in the heat, even a well-hydrated dog can become heat stressed. Reducing activity and seeking cool temperatures is more effective than just hydrating.

Remember that dogs don’t really sweat much; they cool off by panting and some sweat in their paw pads. Cooling off for them is challenging while they’re still moving.

Luckily for me, both of my dogs are keen swimmers and we have good water safety practices. We plan on going to one of Missoula’s many dog-friendly swimming spots for a dip every day.

If your dog isn’t much of a swimmer, you may want to switch to some indoor training games to work your dog’s brain and body in the heat. We may work on basic commands with the “Can You Listen When” game in the A/C or scatter some kibble in the grass for the dogs to snuffle out.

Frozen treats like yogurt in a Kong, beef bouillon and water frozen in an ice cube tray, or pumpkin and tuna mashed popsicles can also help keep your pup happy and cool. We often use rubberized toys like Licki Mats and Kongs to dispense these frozen treats. With high-energy dogs who are feeling cooped up, these treats can really keep the dogs happy while we await cooler temperatures.


Written by Kayla Fratt