Updated: Oct 7, 2019
It's August, and that means we are nearing what we call down South "The Dog Days of Summer." These are those miserable, slow 3-4 weeks of final summer temps - the really hot ones. In some areas of the world, these days don't happen at all. But, for much of the USA, we experience these days, and they can be dangerous; not only for us, but our pets, too.
In the extreme heat regions, heat related injury is a major contributor to emergency vet visits and canine death. This doesn't specifically happen to heavily coated breeds, but also the smaller, short-coat breeds. The weather can be dangerous this time of year, so here are some tips to keep your furry companion safe:
If an afternoon walk, or even an evening walk, is on your schedule, please be sure to walk your dog on grassy or otherwise natural terrain. While the sun may have lost much of its blaze by evening, concrete and pavement heat up all day long...and your dog is a lot closer to it, with a lot more of his or her body exposed to it, than you.
Think of the percentage of body mass close to the ground for a dog (large or small breed); paws, belly, chest, and neck are highly exposed here. These areas are those that should be kept cooler, not hotter. So even a 10 minute walk in the evening, along a paved road, can heat your dog up far more than you might first consider. Walk on the grass! If you can't, then please be sure to wet your dog down before and after the walk on the chest, belly, and legs. This will help. I know in the city, it's not always possible to find lots of natural terrain to exercise on, so be conscious of this and take precaution.
Hydrate. Please hydrate your dog heavily. A dog's body has a higher water-to-mass ratio than a human's does. This means they can dehydrate faster. While evolution tried to help out and allowed a dog to sweat only from the paws - limiting water loss - dehydration is still a serious concern. Dogs need more water than we do per pound, so be sure to keep your pup well-hydrated in all seasons; especially the summer.
Sun screen. Believe it or not, dogs with thin, pale coats can get sun-burned! The tips of the ears (if standing) and the nose are most often hurt by the sun. You can use a safe, baby/child sunscreen for your pet. But, please be sure to put this on the skin only, and not over the nostrils for inhalation.
Provide a cool-off method. A kiddie pool is a great way to help your dog stay cool! Refill the water as often as is needed to keep the water fresh and mostly cool. It doesn't have to be ice-cold. When a dog gets wet, the coat naturally allows air to move differently over the skin and cools upon a passing breeze -- much like our sweat glands allow us to cool skin temperature.
Don't have a yard or room for a kiddie pool? That's ok. Sprinklers, water guns, etc, can all be used. Just please don't use these if your dog is afraid of being sprayed (yep, I've seen those more than you may think).
Always, always be sure to provide your dog with a cooler area to retreat to in the heat of the day. If you have an outdoor dog, he or she must have access to shade and water at all times.
You may notice he or she will dig a few inches of soil out to lay in; if you're not providing other means of cooling, this is a reasonable and safe behavior. Deeper soil is usually moist, and will be cooler.
If your dog is kenneled outside while you're away from home, consider providing misters (find patio misters at your local Lowe's or other housing material store). These can cool an area up to 20 degrees below outdoor temps, and dogs love it. We used misters for the Board and Train facility in MS during the summer months, and sometimes the trainers would take a break inside the kennels with the dogs because it was so much cooler with the shade and misters combined!
Please do not try to feed your dog within 1.5 hours before or 2 hours after heat exposure and exercise. This is particularly important for dogs who have a big chest and a small waist (think of the Golden Retriever, German Shepherd, Great Dane, etc). This causes a serious risk of bloat, and that is deadly more times than not. Lastly, please do not shave your dog if you have a Northern breed (like the Husky or Malamute). This is not good for them! If you feel shaving your dog's thick coat may be a good idea, please do your research first. In most cases, it is not healthy and can damage the skin.
IF YOU FEAR YOUR DOG MAY BE SUFFERING FROM A HEAT-RELATED INJURY (HEAT EXHAUSTION OR HEAT STROKE), GET TO THE VET IMMEDIATELY. IN TRANSIT, OR IF YOU PERSONALLY CHOOSE NOT TO TAKE YOUR DOG TO THE VET, APPLY A LIBERAL AMOUNT OF RUBBING ALCOHOL TO THE PAW PADS. THIS BEGINS THE COOLING PROCESS VERY QUICKLY FOR A DOG IN DANGER OF OVER-HEATING. APPLY COOL PACKS, WET CLOTHS, OR SOMETHING SIMILAR TO EXPOSED SKIN AREAS (BELLY, EARS) AND STAY CALM. DO NOT PANIC. IF YOUR DOG IS IN DANGER, YOU NEED TO BE THINKING CLEARLY AND OBSERVING HIS OR HER BEHAVIORS SO THAT YOU CAN REPORT TO YOUR VET.
Heat related injuries may cause lethargy, upset stomach, lack of appetite, and the appearance of "being drunk." If you see these behaviors, you have good reason to be concerned and I recommend you seek veterinary attention for your pet.
If you have questions, please feel free to write us! Always refer to your vet for medical advice if you're seeing concerning behaviors in your dog. Please do not "wait and see" before calling a professional if your dog is presenting uncharacteristic behaviors after heat exposure and exercise.