Over the summer months, we are likely to be out and about more with our pets. However, playing in the sunshine can also pose serious dangers to your pet. Dogs, like people, can suffer in the hot weather. Understanding how your dog cools down and planning ahead can help stop dangerous situations from escalating and avoid potential disasters. Every year dogs tragically die in hot vehicles or end up in the vets with sunburn or heat stroke. Enjoy the hot weather and have a great time, but please don’t let your dog down this summer.
How dogs regulate their body temperature
When your dog’s body temperature increases, heat is lost from increased blood flowing at the skin surface. As a dog breathes in, air travels through the nasal passage and is cooled before it reaches the lungs (less so in short nosed dogs).
As the environment becomes warmer and more humid, a dog will regulate body temperature and cool down using the respiratory system, mainly by panting. Unlike humans, dogs do not use sweating through their skin to cool down.
When your dog becomes hot, the brain will send signals to different parts of the dog’s body. Your dog’s heart and lungs will work harder as your dog breathes in and out quicker and pants to reduce body temperature.
Short nosed dogs, such as Bulldogs, Pugs and Staffordshire Bull Terriers, have to work a lot harder to cool down, as less air is passed in due to the shorter muzzle length. When these dogs become too hot, a foamy phlegm can be produced in the throat making it harder to breath.
Reducing the summer risks
1. Shed the long fur
It is easy for us to shed unwanted clothes in summer, but not so easy for long-haired dogs. Having your pet clipped at the start of summer is a good idea. Be careful not to clip too short or else sunburn may become a real concern.
Most pets shed their coats at the beginning of summer, so daily grooming will help to remove the unwanted hair and will make your pet more comfortable. Grooming aids, such as Zoom Grooms, are designed to strip loose hair from your pet’s coat.
2. Watch out for the sun
Like us, dogs can also suffer from sunburn. White dogs in particular are prone to sunburn due to the lack of pigmentation in their skin. The tips of the ears, bridge of the nose, around the eyes and abdomen, are all areas which can become burnt easily due to the thin skin and little hair. High factor waterproof sunscreen specifically designed for animals should be applied if your dog is likely to be out in the sun for any length of time.
3. Walking on the pavement
Pavements get really hot, and can cause burns to the pads of a dogs feet. Press the back of your hand against the asphalt or concrete for 7 seconds to verify it will be comfortable for your dog. If it isn’t, avoid these surfaces during the day, or put booties on your dog’s feet.
4. A place to cool off
It is essential that your pet has adequate shade to rest in during the day. The afternoon sun is a killer, so you should ensure that a shady spot is provided on the eastern side of your house so that the house provides the shade. Kennels on the western side are nothing but hot boxes. Your pet’s water bowl should also be situated near the kennel so that it remains cool.
5. Playing with ice
To help your pet keep cool, provide some frozen treats. Freeze some water and place them in your dog’s water bowl in the morning to keep the water cool, or alternatively fill a Kong Toy with some canned dog food and then freeze it to provide a cool treat.
6. Splashing around
A clam shell sand pit in a shady spot is a great summer treat for a hot dog. Fill one half with sand and wet the sand in the morning to provide a cool bed to snooze on. Fill the other half with water and your dog can drink it, or sit/play in it to stay cool.
Be careful of water hoses however, as they pose a hidden danger. The water in a hose left out in the sun can reach over 50oC, which is hot enough to scald a dog getting a bath. Due to differences in dog skin compared to ours, thermal damage doesn’t usually show up until days later.
7. Travelling on hot days
The rules are simple. Your dog should not travel with you if you are going to stop anywhere other than your final destination. The highest temperatures are reached in cars of dark colour with large glass areas. Hatchback cars are the worst, with temperatures quickly exceeding 70oC. This is lethal for any living being, including children.
Heat stroke is a very real problem, especially in short-snouted breeds such as Bulldogs, Pugs and Staffordshire Bull Terriers. Obese dogs and cats are at risk too, as are dogs or cats with poor circulation and dogs with any respiratory disease.
Heat stroke causes incredible damage. Affected animals will first show excitation, followed by loss of balance and seizures, as the blood vessels in the brain engorge. A coma will follow. Heart failure is common and many other changes in body organs occur. The animal is at grave risk.
For more information about Heat Stroke, click here.
Adapted from Dr Cam Day BVSc BSc MACVSc, and Endangered Dogs Hot Weather Guide