It looks like Summer has well and truly made an appearance this year despite us being told it was going to be a wet one, so I felt it was right to write about how to keep our dogs cool, how to protect their feet, their eyes and what to do when things go wrong!
So to begin with, let’s look at our dogs’ cooling system and how they function when it comes to hot weather.
As many of you know, dogs don’t sweat like humans do. Dogs pant to cool down and they do this by inhaling air that is cooler than their inner core temperature. Dogs generally sit on 38.5 degrees celsius so as long as the outside air is cooler, they will not overheat. They begin to struggle when we get the days over 30 degrees.
When a dog pants, with the combination of a long snout, a decent surface area of the lolling tongue, cooler outside air and saliva, a dog will start to cool down. This can be far more challenging when you have a brachycephalic breed such as a Pug, Boxer, Bulldog or the likes because their snout length and tongue size is compromised.
Either way, when the outside air temperature begins to creep closer to the dog’s core inside temperature, we can run into trouble! As a general rule, I often recommend that if it is 30 degrees or over in the shade, your dog should not be going for a walk and should stay home in a cooler environment. If you own a brachycephalic breed, then the cut off temperature should be around 27 degrees. And if you really feel your dog needs a walk and it is forecast to be a hot one, then take it out early morning or late evening.
So how do we help keep our dogs cool during hot weather?
Let’s start with cold water!
Drinking cold water is one sure way to cool your dog down, but if the water bowl has been left outside, that water will be quite warm.
- Bring your water bowls inside so the water remains cooler.
- If you have to leave water bowls outside, place them in the shadiest part of your yard
- Consider ice blocks in the water bowl to really bring that temperature down
- If you are leaving your dog for the day and worried about the water getting warm, you can also pop a huge ice block, such as a frozen ice cream container or bucket, into a clam shell!
- And if you want to make that even more exciting, add treats, dried food and fresh fruit into the water mix so it becomes one giant icy pole!
- Always leave more than one water source for your dog, just in case it knocks one over
Dogs are clever and they know the benefits of AC. I can tell you that when I turn my little portable unit on, my four legged friend puts himself right at the front it and goes to sleep!
- If you do have AC at home, be prepared to share it
- Ensure cables and plugs are well out of the way if you have young dogs or pups at home as they like to chew on cords
- Ensure your AC cannot be knocked over. This happens easily with units that are on pedestals
- For those with longer haired dogs, if you have a fan, watch they don’t get too close as their hair can easily get caught up and tangled in the blades
- On any day where the weather has been forecast to be extreme heat and in my opinion, when it comes to dogs, extreme heat for me is anything over 32 degrees, I highly recommend dogs are inside under an air conditioned unit
- This includes humid days as dogs don’t cope well on muggy days
What about their paws?
We know when our dog is hot because it pants, but we often overlook their paws, and we have to remember, dogs do not wear shoes!
- Before going out on a walk, step outside and head to the road or a concrete surface. Place your bare hand, palm down and leave it there for at least 30 seconds. If it feels hot, then it is too hot for your dog to walk on
- Another way to test this out is to cross the road barefoot. If you feel you need to rush because it stings a little, then it is too hot for your dog to walk on
- Remember that the beach is also hot to walk on. Whilst the water’s edge is cool and comforting on the feet, the journey from the car park to the wet sand is awfully hot. So again, before considering taking your dog to the beach, test out the sand by walking across barefoot first. If the sand feels too hot, your only option is to carry your dog across to the water
- Another option for walking on hot surfaces is dog boots and there are many companies that make these. They can be tricky to size and fit but are well worth the effort as they prevent the feet from blistering up when walking on hot concrete. Most companies that sell dog boots have excellent sizing guides and here is a tip, front paws and back paws are often a different size so always do your research before buying them!
Eyes are another organ we need to take care of when we are outside with our dogs during the Summer. The sun sits much higher so we need to be aware of the position of the sun and where your dog faces when you ask for eye contact or LOOK.
- Whether you are working on training skills, out on a walk or just outside with your dog, try to ensure the sun is behind the dog and not behind you. Looking up at you can be blinding and over a couple repetitions, the dog will refuse to look up because it is no longer reinforced but instead punished
- For those of you with merle coloured dogs and dog with blue eyes or marbled eye, watch the sun as these dogs are more sensitive to the way light reflects than brown eyed dogs. I often notice they squint a lot more and appears more sensitive so on those very bright days, either stay home or trial dog sun glasses
Yep, it is rather sad that we still have to hear adverts on TV, the news and radio to remind people not to leave their dogs in cars on hot days. Despite these reminders, people still do it and so many dogs, as well as children, succumb to extreme injury or death from one careless mistake.
- On a warmish day, even just 25 degrees, within minutes, a car parked in the shade will climb to well above 50 degrees inside and this has devastating effects on dogs. I still have vivid memories back in the day when I was a veterinary nurse where I rolled up to my shift only to see the vet nurse on duty in a state of despair and my boss, the vet, frantically trying to save a dog. The client had popped her two beautiful dogs in the car to take them out. She got sidetracked momentarily by a phone call and one minute turned into 30 minutes. When she returned to her car, one dog was deceased and the second severely brain damaged. It was a traumatic experience for everyone, the client, her poor dogs, the vet on duty and the nurses on duty and something we will never forget
- If you are taking your dogs somewhere throughout the Summer, and you have put them in the car, and for some reason you need to go back into your house or need to take a call or even need to go to the toilet, please take your dogs back out of the car and into the house with you. When you are ready to go, you simply put the dogs back in!
- Leaving windows open or even the motor running with the AC on is just not enough, dogs simply cannot stay in a car on a hot day
- One last tip, again from hearing stories from others, if you have come home from an outing, be it shopping, a visit to see a friend, an appointment at the doctors, etc., before you close your car door or garage, ensure your dog has not jumped in without you noticing. Check the boot, check the back seat and check the foot wells and sight your dog so you know it is not locked in your car or garage
- Garages too get really hot so keep that in mind.
Swimming for most dogs is a super fun experience but we still have to ensure we do it safely.
- If your dog has never swum before, look for shallow water such as a calm beach when the tide is out or a trickling creek
- Please don’t force your dog to swim. It has to decide on its own whether it likes it or not and if it decides swimming is not fun, then simply accept it!
- You can also consider swimming lessons for dogs that seem to enjoy it but are not so great at it There are private facilities that have indoor and outdoor pools with swimming instructors that can help you
- Dogs can drown and yes, they have a natural instinct to paddle and swim but they can still panic, just like some humans panic, and rather than paddle, they just sink. Please don’t assume all dogs can swim well
- Certain breeds such as barrel chested breeds (Bulldogs, Staffordshires) and short legged breeds (Dachshunds, Bassets) find it much harder to swim. Consider life jackets for these dogs to help them stay afloat. Barrel chested dogs often end up swimming vertically because they have a chest full of air at the front. And short legged breeds paddle for dear life but get nowhere, their legs are simply not long enough to get them moving well. Life jackets just make things easier for them
- Just like with children, always ensure your pool is behind a locked fence and if you allow your dog to swim in your pool, always supervise it. Dogs tire easily and can forget where the step is to get out. Show them where the step is and keep reminding them.
- Please do not allow your dog to step on the pool cover as they think it is a solid surface and often slip off the side and fall underneath it. Sadly they go unnoticed and can drown silently
- If you are at the beach, avoid rough surf as the waves can push your dog under and the currents or rips can pull them out
- Tossing your dog off the pier is not how we teach dogs to swim!
- If your dog is a keen swimmer, give surfing a try as dogs can balance really well on surf boards and boogey boards. Start in shallow water, encouraging them to step on and to balance as it moves and over time you can catch small waves!
- If you take your dog to the beach, try to deter it from drinking the saltwater. Always bring fresh water with you to quench that thirst. If dogs drink salty water, it will have a nasty side effect in that they will get the most horrendous diarrhoea and if often makes it way out in the car whilst on your way home! If they have drunk beach water, give them at least 30 minutes of running around before putting them in your car, just in case they need to purge
- If you are taking your dog for a swim at the local river or lake, watch out for undercurrents, snags from fallen branches sitting underneath the surface of the water and watch for snakes!
- And if you are planning on a trip up north, watch out for Crocodiles!
- If you plan to go swimming with your dog, be prepared to get scratched as your dog climbs aboard for a rest! It is not uncommon for a dog to tire whilst swimming, only to climb up onto your shoulders for a breather. Claws, water and bare skin don’t go well together and you often end up with welts and scratches so watch out for this
In Summer, Veterinary Clinics are often dealing with this issue and it does not have to be super hot to induce heat stroke in a dog. Exertion can also do it such as chasing a ball for a length of time or playing non stop with other dog friends. Below are some signs to watch out for and how to help them.
- The earliest sign of heat stroke in a dog is really excessive panting, despite the dog not running around, and you often notice the dog seems to be struggling to go back to a resting breathing rate
- Red flushed gums, vomiting, diarrhoea, lack of coordination, lethargy and collapse often follow soon after
- If your dog is only at the panting heavily stage or appears uncomfortable and hot, place it in front of a fan with a towel dampened in cold water as this can help it cool down
- Wet your dog down but rather than hosing the head and back, aim for the groin and armpits as this is where the main arteries and blood vessels are. This is the quickest way to cool your dog down at home
- If you feel your dog has heatstroke and it seems distressed or the above mentioned just does not help, then do not hesitate to just take it to your local vet or emergency vet clinic as they will be able to quickly establish the severity and act on it promptly
Hopefully this has given you some idea on how to keep your dogs cool over these next few months and the hazards that come with hot weather.
Stay cool everyone!