When the weather warms and the heat arrives, it seems everyone has a reason to smile. Whether you prefer to cool off with a dip in the pool or with a tall cool drink in the shade, we all have ways to beat the heat. But what about your dog? Pets can suffer from heat just like people.
There are steps you can take to help ensure your dog doesn’t overheat in hot weather. Dawn Bolka is a registered veterinary technologist (RVT) and full time veterinary technology instructor at Brown Mackie College – Michigan City. She offers insight into keeping your dog safe during the hot months.
“A dog’s normal body temperature is 101 degrees, and sometimes up to 102.5 degrees,” Bolka says. “Match this base with rising temperatures, and a pet can get hot quickly.” Fortunately, your pet has two ways of cooling down. “Panting through the mouth is a form of sweating. Dogs also sweat through the bottoms of their feet,” she continues.
One of the first things Bolka recommends doing for your pet is take time to brush out the undercoat during the spring shed. Dogs shed twice a year – once in the spring to get rid of the winter coat, and once in the fall to lose the summer coat. “Most dogs like the brush. Removing the thicker winter coat helps to keep your dog cooler,” says Bolka.
Two of the most important things you can give your dog in the summer are water and shade. “Never leave a dog out in the sun – even in the backyard – without an ample supply of drinking water,” Bolka continues. “A shady area should be within easy reach, providing the dog with a place to get out of the heat. When given the options of both sun and shade, dogs know when to take them.”
Another way to protect your dog from summer heat is to be aware of the ground temperature. “Pavement can get hot enough to fry an egg,” says Bolka. “Taking a dog out for a mid-day walk is a common mistake dog owners make, and it can result in burnt pads. It’s best not to walk or run your animal in the heat of the day.” Much like pavement, sand at the beach gets hot. Bolka advises giving your dog access to a grassy area, or protecting the dog’s feet with booties. Pool decks are another culprit to consider. Bolka’s rule of thumb is: If it burns your feet, it will burn your dog’s feet.
It is not a good idea to shave a dog during hot weather. “A dog’s summer coat actually insulates the skin, offering protection from harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays,” says Bolka. However, it is possible for a dog to experience sunburn. “If your dog has a black nose, the nose is protected from sunburn,” she continues. “A pink nose is more susceptible to UV rays. You will sometimes see a dog bury his nose in dirt, caking mud on it for protection. As long as dogs have shade and water, they tend to do well.”
Another bad idea is to leave your dog in a car on a hot day, even with the windows cracked. The American Veterinary Medical Association, reports that temperatures in a car can rise 20 degrees in just 10 minutes, and 30 degrees in half an hour. “Heat builds up fast inside a sitting car,” Bolka says. “A dog can suffer heat exhaustion in just 20 minutes.”
Heat exhaustion is defined by DogChannel.com as a life-threatening condition that “occurs when a dog’s respiratory tract cannot evacuate heat quickly enough.” Signs that a dog is in heat distress include excessive panting, thick saliva, dark red gums, and non-responsiveness. “A dog experiencing any of these symptoms should be taken to a veterinarian immediately,” Bolka says. “You can offer water, and place wet washcloths on the dog, especially around the head and paw pads.” The Indiana Veterinary Medical Association cautions dog owners not to use ice or extremely cold water on a dog with symptoms of heat exhaustion. A veterinarian can run tests to find out if any internal damage has occurred.
With a little knowledge and a lot of common sense, you can help ensure your dog safely enjoys outdoor summer activities and sunny weather.