Yikes, it’s been hot! Soaring temperatures started early this year… and it doesn’t look like it’s getting better any time soon. We’ve got a long hot summer ahead of us. And that means that our pups do too.
At about this time every year, I do a search for information on keeping dogs safe in the heat — I visit some trusted web sites and read articles by experts and vets. And every year I think the same thing: ‘for the most part, this is just common sense’. I usually don’t come across anything new that I didn’t already know. But nonetheless, I find it helpful to remind myself of the safety precautions I should take with my dog Micky. So I thought it might be helpful to share those precautions and suggestions with you. First, though, let me point out a few important things you should know.
Dogs and high temperatures: some basics
What can go wrong? Dogs react to heat in much the same way that people do. Among other things, they are susceptible to dehydration and heatstroke, both of which can be very serious — even life threatening. This article provides information on symptoms of these problems and steps you should take if you suspect your dog is suffering from either.
When is it too hot? There is potential risk of heat-related problems for some dogs when the temperature is as low as 75 degrees, and the risks go up as the temperature does, with severe risks when the temperature reaches 90 degrees. The same article I pointed you to above includes a breakdown of risk levels at various temperatures.
What dogs are most susceptible? In extreme heat, any dog may be at risk of problems. The risks are even greater, however, for brachycephalic dogs (short-muzzled dogs like Boxers, Pugs, Bulldogs, Shih Tzus, etc.), puppies under 6 months old, and senior dogs.
Are there laws governing pet care in extreme weather conditions? Yes, there are. See Sec. 5-20 of the San Antonio Code of Ordinances.
Dog running on the beach
How to keep your dog comfortable, safe, and happy
The extended forecast for the summer here in San Antonio is gruesome. Accuweather.com currently offers an extended forecast through early September. According to it, the high temperature every day will be above 90 degrees, and on most days, it will be in the high nineties. That means the risk of heatstroke and dehydration will be high for our pups EVERY SINGLE DAY. But, there are things you can do to keep your pups safe and comfortable. Here are some suggestions:
Avoid leaving your dog unattended outdoors for any length of time. Short of letting your dog out into the yard to take care of business, don’t leave your dog outdoors. If that can’t be helped, make sure your dog always has access to shaded areas and fresh, cool water.
Be smart about your walks: Take walks with your dog in the mornings and evenings when the temperatures are not at peak and the sun isn’t directly overhead. Find shady routes for your walks and avoid hot pavement. Take frequent breaks. Carry water with you and offer it often. Try to avoid walking when it’s 90+, but if you must, try to keep those walks to 10 to 15 minutes.
DON’T leave your dog in the car, even for a short period of time: The temperature inside a parked car goes up very quickly, and heatstroke can happen in a locked car even on a 70 degree day. Just don’t do it. Ever.
Keep your pup well hydrated. Carry water with you when you walk. Offer water as soon as you get back indoors. It’s a good idea to put ice cubes in water you offer your pup when first coming indoors. This minimizes quick intake of water that can cause bloat.
Give your pup frozen treats. He will love you for it! You can keep it simple and freeze fruit or vegetables. Stuff a Kong with canned pumpkin, peanut butter, or even dog food and freeze it. Buy doggie ice cream (yes, there is such a thing and H-E-B carries a brand that Micky loves). Or you can make your own treats using foods that your dog loves. I regularly make ‘pumpsicles’ for Micky (in a blender or food processor, combine a 32 ounce container of low-fat or non-fat vanilla yogurt, a 14 ounce can of pure pumpkin with no additives, a couple of heaping tablespoons of peanut butter and 3 bananas; pour or spoon mixture into 3 ounce disposable plastic cups and freeze).
Take your dog swimming if you have access to a pool or body of water and your dog enjoys swimming. Not only will it keep your pup cool, but it’s great exercise that may be lacking due to shorter walks.
Find alternative forms of exercise and play. If your dog’s regular form of exercise is long walks, cutting those short could result in a pup with pent-up energy. You should find alternative activities to keep him active and engaged. This is a greet time to learn some new training games that you can do indoors. I found the advice and techniques in Sarah Wilson & Brian Kilcommons My Smart Puppy to be invaluable (and in spite of the name, it’s appropriate for dogs of any age).
Don’t shave your dog and be careful about ‘summer cuts’. According to the ASPCA:
“Your pets’ fur coats are actually providing them with heat relief. Acting like insulation, a dog’s coat keeps him from getting too cold in the winter, but also keeps him from overheating in the summer.
“Our pets’ coats have several layers that are essential to their comfort in the heat. Robbing your dog or cat of this natural cooling system can lead to discomfort, overheating and other serious dangers like sunburn or skin cancer.
“Don’t feel frightened about grooming your pet. It is ok to give your long-haired dog or cat a ‘summer cut’—trimming their long hair may make it more manageable. However, it is best to allow a professional groomer to perform the haircutting, and never shave down to the skin or try to cut the hair yourself with scissors.”
The ASPCA further suggests that you regularly brush and bathe your dog, as clean brushed fur allows for better air circulation.
Consider products designed to keep your dog cool and comfortable. Some of these products may be a good idea for your pup:
Elevated dog bed with canopy (here’s an example)
Dog cooling mat (here’s an example)
Dog cooling bandana (here’s an example)
Collapsible dog bowl (here’s an example)
Dog booties (here’s an example)
I hope these suggestions are helpful. If you’d like to read more on these topics, take a look at these resources, most of which I used for the information provided above.
Jane Gennarelli is co-editor of LNF Weekly. She also edits the Lavaca & Friends weekly arts and entertainment newsletter.