Keeping our dogs safe is a priority year ‘round, but some dangers are seasonal. We rarely have to worry about excess heat in Ireland, but dogs are more vulnerable to warm weather than we humans are. They’re wearing fur all year, after all. And dogs do not sweat as we do to cool off. They pant, which is not as effective. But a bit of awareness can ensure that you and your dog have a fantastic and safe summer, even if we have a real heatwave.
We’ve all seen the warnings about leaving dogs in cars. It simply is not safe, not even if you leave a window open a crack, leave a dish of water in the car and park in the shade. Cars act like greenhouses, drawing and trapping heat so the temperature quickly increases to well above the outside temperature. Numerous organisations have checked and found that running the air conditioner beforehand only delays the temperature spike by about five minutes. In the USA, Fairfax County Police released a public service announcement sharing their own findings that the temperature inside a car they monitored rose by 22 degrees Celsius in just ten minutes. The message is clear. Do not stop to do messages with your dog in the car.
Even walking your dog can pose risks in hot weather. Dogs can develop heat stroke, and some are especially vulnerable. Short-nosed breeds such as Boxers, Pugs, Shih Tzus and bull breeds suffer more in the heat because the structure of their noses means they are less efficient at getting oxygen into their systems. Older dogs and those carrying extra weight are also at increased risk of heat stroke.
Keeping Your Dog Cool
When the temperature rises, it is time to review your dog walking routine. Walking in the morning or evening is safer than in the middle of the day. Remember, your dog isn’t wearing shoes, and pavement can get hot. In the summer, walking on grass, dirt paths or shaded routes is better for your dog. If your dog is more vulnerable to heat (short-nosed, older or overweight), taking two short walks is better than one long one in summer. If your dog is panting on a walk, it’s a sign that she is too hot and needs to slow down and cool down.
Many dogs love to play. They enjoy chasing, fetching, catching and running. But hot days are not the time for those games. Keep the intense activities for earlier in the morning or later in the evening, and only do them if your dog is fit and comfortable.
All dogs should have access to clean water at all times, and this is even more important in summer. Bring water along on your walks, and keep an eye on the water bowl at home. Staying hydrated is important. If your dog is outside, make sure she has a shaded place to rest that also has plenty of fresh air. A doghouse is great shelter most of the year, but can get too hot and stuffy in summer. Many dogs love water, so a child’s paddling pool can be a fun way for them to cool down.
If you notice your dog is panting and uncomfortable, you can help her cool down. You don’t want her body temperature to drop too dramatically too fast, so don’t do anything extreme. Wiping her paws off with a cool damp cloth will help. If she is really uncomfortable, you can wipe her body down too.
Is It Heat Stroke?
While you can make an overheated dog comfortable at home yourself, heat stroke is a medical emergency. It requires urgent veterinary care. Heat stroke can kill, so this is not a situation to watch and wait. It’s important for every dog owner to know the signs of heat stroke.
- Excessive, prolonged panting.
- Increased drooling.
- Restlessness and/ or anxiety.
- Weakness and/ or dizziness.
- Rapid heartbeat.
- Dark or red gums.
Don’t wait for your dog to develop all of these symptoms or for them to get severe. The sooner you get help for your dog, the better. If you are waiting for a house call from your vet, place your dog on a cool, damp towel to reduce her body temperature. If you are transporting her, use the same cool, damp towel as a stretcher. Put a dry towel underneath it on the backseat of your car. If you have air conditioning, use it. Do not transport a dog suspected of having heat stroke in the boot of the car as it will be warmer there and make her even more ill.
Other Summer Dangers
Heat is not the only seasonal danger in summer. While parasites are active all year, they are most active in summer. And when the weather is good, we spend more time outside with our dogs, increasing their exposure to parasites. So it is important to keep up with your preferred flea, tick and work preventions.
Because we’re all out there more with our best friends, our dogs are more likely to encounter other dogs. And some are not so friendly. Never assume a strange dog wants to befriend your pet. Some dogs have a traumatic history and are fearful. Others can be territorial or overly protective of their owner. Keep your dog on a lead in residential areas, and always check with the other owner when you meet another dog.
While most dogs are natural swimmers, some aren’t. Never assume a dog can swim. And even an athletic, capable swimmer can get into difficulty, especially in canals or lakes where dumping is a problem. You might not be able to see hazards such as shopping trolleys below the surface. Let your dog enjoy a swim in familiar water, and keep an eye on her while she does. If you are boating with a dog who is not a good swimmer, you can get a canine life jacket. Bonus – it will look adorable.
Summer is time to have fun and relax. And if you have a good level of awareness of the risk and how to handle them, you and your best friend can make some fantastic memories this summer.