Like many humans, dogs love nothing more than having some fun in the sun during the summer months. But our canine friends don’t have the same physiological defenses against hot weather that we have, and they don’t cool themselves off as efficiently as we do. Because of this, it’s our job as pet parents to ensure they keep safe and secure when the temperature rises, either outside or inside the house.
Not surprisingly, one reason why dogs are especially susceptible to the ill effects of higher temperatures is because they are covered in varying amounts of fur, which can be an advantage when the air is cold but a disadvantage when the opposite is true. In addition, they don’t sweat, except a little bit through the pads on their paws. As a result, they can get sick and even die if they aren’t properly hydrated and cooled off when they get too hot.
The threat of heatstroke
One of the most common and dangerous effects on dogs (and people) of excessive heat exposure is hyperthermia, which is more commonly known as heatstroke. Prolonged exposure to such conditions can cause a dog’s body temperature to rise from a normal range of between 100 and 102.5 degrees to around 104 to 106 degrees, when hyperthermia sets in. Most dogs can recover from this condition if proper steps are taken to address the situation in a timely manner. However, if left untreated, it can prove fatal.
To reduce the risk, it is important to be familiar with the signs of heatstroke in a dog. As with most ailments, whether in pets or humans, recognizing when things are outside the norm, which we covered in great detail in The 5 Key Basics of Pet First Aid, is an important first step in trying to resolve a potentially perilous state of affairs. In the case of dogs, the telltale signs of heatstroke include:
- Excessive panting
- Very red or very pale gums
- Excessive salivation
If your dog displays one or more of these symptoms, it is imperative that you bring him to a veterinarian right away to get the situation under control. But even before you head off, you’ll want to take certain steps to mitigate the immediate threat. You should drape a cool – not cold – wet towel over your little one, bring him inside, and offer him cool water to drink. If possible, you should also try to check his temperature every few minutes to gauge whether it rising, stabilizing or falling.
Assuming you can get your dog to the vet quickly, he or she should be able to diagnose and treat some of the more dangerous symptoms of heatstroke, including shock, respiratory distress, and kidney failure. Your pet’s healthcare provider may offer him oxygen, electrolyte fluids, and possibly even intravenous support to keep your baby’s body from sliding into a full-scale shutdown.
Of course, it’s much better for your pet if you can stop him from getting into this state to begin with. Thankfully, there are plenty of ways to keep him safe and cool when the weather is distressingly hot and humid, including:
- Hydrating him. Dogs should always be given access to plenty of fresh, cool water during the summer months (and year round, for that matter, especially if they like to keep active).
- Keeping him in the shade.
- Giving him the chance to cool off whenever possible. In fact, kiddie pools represent a great summertime treat for kids and dogs alike, and both take to them like, well, fish to water.
- Ensuring he remains calm. Dogs running around in the sun will heat up faster than those who are simply lolling around.
- Keeping him off the pavement. If your feet hurt when you walk barefoot, it’s a good bet that your dog’s paws will also feel the burn.
- Offering him a cold, wet towel to lie on.
- Giving him cool treats to chew on and eat. Doggy ice cream, which can be purchased at many pet stores and supermarkets, is something special you can give your pet during the summer months. It comes in various flavors, from peanut butter to vanilla, and is specially crafted for a discerning canine palate. If you’re savvy in the kitchen, you can even make your own (there are plenty of recipes online, many of which contain ingredients like banana and yogurt.)
- Bringing him inside if it seems too hot – it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Some types of dogs, including Pugs, Bulldogs, and French Bulldogs, should never be exposed to hot weather. That is because dogs cool themselves off by panting and circulating cool air throughout their bodies. Since short-nosed – or brachycephalic – breeds don’t do so as efficiently as their longer-snouted counterparts, even moderately warm temperatures can prove deadly.
For this particular group, it’s generally best to keep them inside with the air conditioning on during warm summer months. One good rule of thumb is to walk them only in the early morning and in the evening, when temperatures are more bearable. Because short-nosed breeds can succumb to heat-related illnesses and death at a more rapid pace than other canines, it’s important to be extra diligent, especially if you live in a southerly climate.
In sum, by carefully monitoring your pet’s condition and offering him plenty of shade, cool water, and the opportunity to stay inside should conditions get too hot, you can keep him safe during the dog days of summer. That said, summertime doesn’t have to be seem as all doom and gloom for your little one. With a little planning, extra hydration on hand, and an eye toward how he is coping, you can make the most of a season that many of us look forward to all year long.