How do heat and humidity affect our dogs?

Walking dogs in these conditions can be very dangerous, and in some cases it can even be fatal.

NEW YORK – During high heat and high humidity situations, many dogs have difficulty being in extreme weather environments. Walking dogs in these conditions can be hazardous, and it can even be fatal in some cases. 

"Dogs dissipate their heat by panting and sweating through the paw pads a little, and that's it," Veterinarian Dr. Stephaine Liff told FOX Weather. "So when it's hot or when it's humid, it's harder to dissipate heat by evaporation. And that can make it very difficult for them to get rid of heat, and then their body temperature will rise, and it happens fairly quickly. So the concerns are anything that impacts evaporation would make them hotter."

Liff, who works at Manhattan's Pure Paws Veterinary Care, went on to say if a dog’s temperature rises to anything above 104 degrees, their proteins denature, eventually leading to the dog's organs to shut down – which can be deadly.

"They can have diarrhea, vomiting, collapse, cardiac disease, liver damage," she said. "So it can be like really diffused organ dysfunction and can be fatal in some cases."

High humidity is also a dangerous factor for dogs. Dr. Liff explained that it could be just as risky as extreme heat when an environment is very humid.

"Once I had a (heat) case with a dog, and it was 72 degrees in New York in May," Liff said. "So it wasn't super hot, but the dog had increased exertion from the day. It had run up a flight of stairs, and then it had heatstroke. And it was pretty severe like the dog was in the hospital for five days. It didn't quite make sense to the owner to be on the lookout for that because of the weather. So I think it was surprising. But with humidity, it can be a lower temperature than you expect and still get that reaction."

Particular dog breeds are more at risk than others

Further, certain dog breeds are more at risk than others, such as the brachycephalic dog breeds like French Bulldogs, Bulldogs, Boxers, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Shih Tzus, Boston Terriers, Mastiffs, and Pugs. 

"[Brachycephalic dogs] have less tissue by which to evaporate," Liff said. "They're less tolerant of heat or extreme temperatures in general, and they're less able to cool their bodies down even in normal weather. So any stress to a dog who's compromised in their ability to dissipate heat, which would be brachycephalic dogs, and young dogs, and old dogs, and dogs with a metabolic disease that makes them less able to dissipate heat. Those dogs are more susceptible to heat sensitivities and can become overheated even faster."

In urban areas, dog owners of every breed should also know how hot the pavement can get. For example, the pavement in New York City can be scorching and cause dogs’ paw pads to burn.

So what can owners do to help their pets?

Dr. Liff suggested that dogs with issues dissipating heat should only go on walks early in the morning or at night when it is cooler and less humid to avoid health risks. Further, owners should use sunblock on dogs with any exposed pink skin. She also said that while it is dangerous to let your pet exercise in the heat or high humidity, they can still get their needed daily exercise in a temperature-controlled environment. A good example would be having them run down your apartment's hallway or playing games with them inside like tug of war.

Dog owners should always be on the lookout for high heat or high humidity situations and avoid exposing their dogs to them as much as possible. Remember: if you are feeling hot or humid, your dog is too.