Summer is a glorious time for outdoor adventures, especially for those of us with dogs. But our canine companions are not equipped to handle the heat as well as we are, putting the onus on us to ensure they stay cool and safe whilst accompanying us along the way.
Winter weary inhabitants of northern climes look forward to spending as much time as possible outdoors with our dogs in summer. Warm temperatures and extended daylight hours provide endless opportunity for exploration and fun. But bringing a dog along on summer jaunts can be tricky, especially during a heat wave.
Unlike you, your dog can’t take off layers of clothing to stay cool; he’s stuck with his fur coat, even if some days it seems like he’s shedding most of it. And if your dog is like most, his stoicism will belie the fact that he’s suffering from the heat, unless you’re paying close attention and notice warning signs. If you don’t know what they are, following is a brief tutorial on your dog’s physiology in the heat.
Dangers of Overheating in Dogs
A dog’s body temperature regulation works a bit differently than ours. When our bodies reach a certain temperature, we perspire all over, which cools us down fairly efficiently; dogs also perspire—but only through their paws and nose. Of course, they have an additional distinctive cooling mechanism familiar to most of us—panting, which serves to expel hot air and draw in cooler air.
These cooling mechanisms can become overwhelmed quickly and fail, leading to dehydration and ultimately heat stroke if the dog’s body temperature continues to rise unabated. Most tragically and avoidably, this can happen when a dog is left in a parked car or some other enclosed hot space. However, it can also happen in the course of normal human-dog activities during the heat of summer if you’re not careful.
Signs of general heat stress include the following (note that some dogs, such as seniors and brachycephalic breeds, are at increased risk and should be monitored especially carefully in the heat):
● More frenetic panting than usual and/or laboured breathing
● Moving more slowly than usual and stopping frequently to rest
● Searching for water—from any source, no matter how dubious
● Desperately seeking shade
● Anxiousness (restlessness, wild eyes, whining, etc.)
● Thick, stringy saliva
● And upon closer examination: rapid pulse and dry, dark red gums and tongue
If allowed to progress, which can happen within minutes without intervention, these symptoms will lead to more alarming ones such as drooling, glazed eyes, vomiting, staggering, and collapse, which signal the need for urgent veterinary care.
Ways to Keep your Dog Cool
Obviously, the best course of action would be to avoid the risks associated with overheating. There are a number of strategies you can employ to keep your dog cool and hydrated this summer:
● Water, water, water. Your dog needs constant access to fresh, cool water, all year long, but especially when it’s hot outside. Bring some along with a travel cup wherever you go; adding ice cubes to the water bottle will help keep the water palatably cool longer.
● If it’s really hot, don’t take him outside in the heat of the day; go out in early morning or late in the day when it’s cooler. Be aware that hot pavement will increase his body temperature and can burn his paws. (To test it, put your palm on the pavement and hold it for five seconds—if you can’t keep it there comfortably for that long, that means it’s too hot.) If you do have to bring him outside mid-day, make it brief and consider procuring booties to protect his feet if he must walk on a hot surface.
● When you leave him at home, ensure he has a cool spot in the house and plenty of water. He will benefit from a cooling fan, same as you do.
● If he’s allowed outside in the garden on his own, there should be a shady spot where he can hang out, with access to water. Try not to get upset if he resorts to digging himself a shallow hole in the ground to lie in—it’s his clever way to keep cool.
● Take him swimming. Or, if that’s not always an option and you have the room, set up a paddling pool in the garden and incorporate it into a game such as fetch—throwing a ball or stick into the pool, compelling him to jump in and retrieve it. The cool water on his paws will help lower his body temperature. Similarly, you can play games with a hose or portable sprayer or dog shower . It’s a great idea to start these kinds of summer games when your dog is young, increasing the likelihood that he will associate water with fun.
● Tie a scarf soaked with cold water around his neck (and keep it wet).
● Keep your dog groomed, particularly if he has long hair.
● Though the dangers of leaving your dog in a hot car have been widely publicised, it bears repeating: NEVER, EVER leave your dog in a parked car, even if it doesn’t seem that hot.
Enjoy the Dog Days of Summer
For outdoors aficionados with dogs who live far from the equator, summer is an all-too-brief season full of delights, even when it rains. Engaging in a favourite outdoor activity with a devoted canine at your side is a singular pleasure (most of the time, that is). But we must remember they can’t tell us when they’re too hot. Rather, we must take the initiative to keep them hydrated and provide opportunities for them to cool off wherever our adventures take us.