If you try to keep your dog cool like this, it can become a heat hazard

Szénási Szimonetta

2024. June 9 - Photos: Getty Images Hungary

Heat stroke is one of the most common summer health problems that can often cost a dog their life. However, with appropriate and timely treatment, the patient can still be saved in many cases. This has been brought to the attention of pet owners by doctors, summarising the first things to do in the event of overheating.


According to a study by The VetCompass, a group of the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) dogs suffering heat stroke may be suffering even more than they should because of outdated first aid practices. For this reason, a call to owners has been launched, detailing the latest recommendations. This is the state-of-the-art practice in heat stroke care.

Only a fraction of owners know what to do

Veterinarians and scientists from the RVC, Rural College Scotland and Vets Now, an emergency veterinary care organisation, examined data from 886 UK veterinary practices between 2016 and 2018, specifically focusing on heatstroke cases. A total of 856 dogs were taken to the doctor with symptoms of heatstroke.

As it turned out, in less than a quarter of cases (21.7%) the owner started to cool the animal. Only a quarter of these dog owners were aware of the modern method, while the rest were using largely outdated techniques to reduce their pet’s body heat.

But what do we mean by modern and obsolete methods? When should you even start cooling a dog with heat stroke? We have the answer to that too!

Even if heatstroke is suspected, the animal should be cooled immediately!

Cool immediately and as efficiently as possible

Let’s start by answering the last question. If your pet has a heat stroke, or you even suspect it, the first and most important thing to do is to start cooling down their body temperature. Only then should you take the animal to a doctor. Heatstroke can cause death in minutes, so there is no time to delay!

Now let’s take a look at the latest recommendations for cooling techniques! As the experts write, the previously recommended wet towel wrapping is now outdated as it is less effective. Instead, immersion in water and evaporative cooling are the two recommended methods, based on the recommended guidelines published by the American College of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care’s Veterinary Committee on Trauma in 2016.

So, the recommended cooling method for young, healthy dogs is immersion in cold water. For older dogs or those with an underlying medical condition, the recommended cooling method is to douse the dog in water cooler than the dog’s temperature, combined with a fan, air conditioning or possibly the power of the wind (this is known as evaporative cooling.)

As they point out, although the use of cold water has not been recommended in the past, preferring lukewarm water instead, studies have shown no risk in either dogs or human medicine.

In human medicine, similar myths about the use of lukewarm water have been dispelled by extensive research, which has shown that cold immersion and evaporative cooling are the most effective treatments for heat stroke.

A wet towel can trap the heat of your pet if you do it wrong

On recommended cooling techniques we asked Dr. Lilla Balatonyi, veterinarian who suggested further useful practices. She stressed that when immersing in water, it is important that the dog’s head is never underwater!

On the other hand, she pointed out that a wet towel can be effective, but only if you change it frequently on the animal. Otherwise, they can heat up very quickly, creating a real “heat hazard” underneath. So if you have no other means at hand, you can use a wet cloth to cool your pet, but change it often for a freshly wet one to really reduce the heat and stop it heating up the patient’s body.

Don’t let your pet be in the sun too long, and don’t let the walk last too long either!

In addition, the doctor advised moistening and cooling the paws and ears as a very effective method, which can be wet or hosed down at home. Wrapped in a thin textile or towel, an ice pack or ice jelly is also effective. This should be placed on the belly, the paws or the inner thigh.

“Cool first, transport later” principle

We repeat, and the authors of the study stress this several times, that the animal should be cooled first and only then taken to a doctor!

The key message for dog owners is to cool the dog quickly, using whatever water you have available provided the water is cooler than the dog. The longer a dog’s body temperature remains elevated, the more damage can occur so the sooner you can stop the temperature rise and start cooling the better

– pointed out Emily Hall, lecturer in veterinary education at the RVC and lead author of the study.

Dan O’Neill, associate professor of companion animal epidemiology at the RVC and co-author of the study, following previous research showed that 97% of dogs treated for mild temperature-related health problems survived, while only 43% of those treated for severe heat stroke survived. As he says, the data is very clear: immediate cooling at the slightest sign of overheating can save lives.

It is very important to note that the median daily temperature during the heat stroke cases in the study was 16.9°C. So, heatstroke is not only dangerous during the summer heatwave; it can also happen in spring and autumn!

He adds that if you are doing any kind of activity in the heat or if you, the owner notice that your pet is panting more, breathing harder, lying down, moving slower or moving strangely, you should immediately stop the activity. If this happens, move the dog to shade or a cool place, then give them a drink and start to cool them down. Then call the vet for further action.

The following symptoms may occur (individually or in combination) in heatstroke:

If you experience these, act immediately as described!

cooling cooling your dog heatstroke overheating summer summer hazards veterinarian

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