Sarah Wilson

Dog Expert

Dog Overheating: 5 Signs You Must Know


Dog overheating.Every summer dog overheating claims the lives of beloved companions simply because their people didn’t know the signs.

To understand this,  you have to understand your dog’s cooling system. Think of your dog’s tongue, mouth and nose as his Air Conditioning. He does not sweat as we do but rather runs air over those damp areas, using evaporation to cool down.

It is not an efficient system.

Any dog with a short nose has an even less efficient system. And any dog who has a stocky build. whether by genetics or generosity, has more that needs cooling. Combine the two, as you do in pugs, pekingese, boxers and any bulldog, and you have a dog who can overheat dangerously in minutes.

I don’t want that to happen to you, so here are five signs to watch for in your dog. These are the early signs because catching this early means faster and safer cooling for your friend.

1) Mouth Wide
The wider the mouth, the higher the AC is “turned up” in your dog. When it is wide open there will be wrinkling at the back of the lips and you’ll practically see his tonsils; he’s hot!

2) Tongue Long
The more tongue hangs out of his mouth, the more air is being pulled over it with every breath and more cooling is possible. When your dog’s tongue starts hanging down well past his teeth, chances are he’s hot.

3) Tongue Wide
As your dog heats up, his tongue widens and thins. The wider and thinner it is, the more surface area there is for cooling. In the picture above, you can see the tongue starting to broaden. I call that “bologna tongue” since that’s what it starts to look like.

4) Tongue Dark
The hotter the dog, the more blood is sent to the tongue in an attempt to cool it. That increased blood flow darkens the tongue.

5) Fast Panting
Makes sense, right? Faster panting is another way to up his AC. It’s his best way to try to cool himself.

Dog overheating can be serious. Every dog lover should speak to your dog’s veterinarian about symptoms to watch for and what to do. People with high risk breeds—short nosed and/or heavy set—need to know these symptoms by heart, have the local ER hospital on speed dial, and handle their dog cautiously during the hot months.

If you even think your dog might be overheating: Stop what you are doing, seek shade, a cooling dog bed or air conditioning, provide plenty of cool water (not ice) and call the vet!

Want to know more about Canine First Aid? Try these top-rated dog first-aid books: The First Aid Companion for Dogs & Cats (Prevention Pets), Essential First Aid for Dog Owners, or Field Guide: Dog First Aid Emergency Care for the Hunting, Working, and Outdoor Dog.

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  1. May i have permission to circulate this article to animal shelters and animal lovers in Soth Africa please.

    • Hi Richard – Thank you so much for asking and yes! Please do. All I ask is credit to me and the site.
      I hope people find it helpful. Sarah

  2. I was curious as to why no ice. I remember recently reading something about it being dangerous to put ice in a dog’s water bowl, but we always have, so this came as a surprise to me. Thank you. Great article!!

    • Hi Kate – yes, this one surprised me, too. Here’s the reason, as I understand it: ice on the skin will cause the blood vessels to contract and that can actually slow down the overall cooling. Better cool water doused on any skin you see.

      As for ice in the water bowl that may be because chewing ice *might* harm the dog’s teeth. Not my experience and these guys are supposed to chew on bones but, I believe that is the concern. Hope this is helpful – Sarah

    • Cool water is much better than ice cold water, not just for water bowls but for wetting towels and draping over fur-free areas and head, because ice-cold water shocks the system and shuts down the capillaries. Then the cooling effects cannot help, because the cooler blood is not allowed back to the core.

      This is the body’s natural defense against frostbite. Seems odd, but Mother Nature usually knows what she’s doing.

  3. So to clarify one should never give an over heating dog (pug) a cold shower or bath? Would cold towels be OK in extreme situations? My pug has a cool coat (that you soak in cold water) Thank you for your patience.

    Kind regards.


    • If your pug is in trouble, cool water and lots of it is usually the best bet but check with your vet so you are 100% clear and have a plan in place. Hope you never need it but best to have one if you do.

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