Two Chihuahuas chilling in the sand wearing red sunglasses.

Dogs are fully equipped with many incredible skills and adaptations that keep domestic life fun and interesting. Despite this, they are lacking in one important area. Their individual cooling systems are woefully ineffective when battling high heat and exertion. In contrast with their human owners and other mammalian species, dogs don’t perspire as a function of numerous glands throughout the body. Instead, dogs sweat primarily through their paw pads. Fortunately, this isn’t the only mechanism they can rely on to cool down.

A Look at Anatomy

The merocrine glands in canine paw pads are responsible for producing sweat in order to cool down the body’s internal temperature. Apocrine glands are located throughout the body but instead of perspiration, they produce essential hormones necessary for identification. 

Taking Notice

Dog owners may notice a slightly clammy feel to their dog’s paw pads on warm days, or see paw prints on the floor or sidewalk. Typically, dogs do not produce enough sweat from their feet to properly control their temperature. That’s not to say that the paw pads don’t help with cooling, it’s just not a complete mechanism to result in a safe and comfortable temperature. 

The Primary Mechanism

Panting is your dog’s primary mechanism for cooling down. The evaporation of moisture on their tongue and the lining of the lungs reduces internal body heat similar to the effect of human perspiration. 

Vasodilation is the process in which the blood vessels enlarge. By bringing the blood closer to the surface of the skin, it cools down. It is then pumped back to the heart, effectively reducing internal temperature.

Heat Exhaustion

You may see an increase in panting during the summer months, especially if your dog spends a good amount of time outdoors. Please observe your dog’s appearance and behavior and intervene immediately if you ever notice the following signs of heat exhaustion:

  • Excessive or uncontrollable panting
  • Bright red gums
  • Warm or hot to the touch
  • Thick, ropey saliva
  • Red or inflamed-looking skin on the belly, muzzle and ears

Bring your dog into an air conditioned space as soon as possible. Apply lukewarm compresses to their skin. You want to bring their temperature down slowly to avoid shock. A rectal thermometer should read betwene 99.5 degrees F and 102.5 degrees F. Anything above 103 degrees F requires emergency veterinary care. 

Dogs Sweat, but They Need Help

We encourage dog owners to take these steps to reducing the risk of heat exhaustion:

  • Exercise outside only during the early morning and evening hours.
  • Fill and refill your dog’s water bowls throughout the day. Remind them to drink often. 
  • Offer rest in the shade anytime they appear uncomfortable or restless when outside.
  • Never leave your dog in a parked car, or outside alone during the day.

If you have additional questions about summer dog safety, feel free to call us at (404) 633-6163. When your dog needs us, our team at Clairmont Animal Hospital is always here.