You may know of a few risks that dogs can encounter during the summer, such as dehydration and sunburn – but there are many to watch out for, and they may surprise you.
Dogs have a different set of needs to humans, and it’s easy to forget this. Although we want them to enjoy the warm weather like we do, they have different biological needs, and have different ways to cope with increased temperatures. Read on to find out what your dog may be experiencing, and how you can help keep them cool and healthy.
If your dog is indoors, leave the air conditioning on, if you have it, or open windows/ use a fan if not. It may be worth keeping curtains closed too. There are cooling mats available in various sizes and styles, and you could also provide wet towels for them to lie on. Above all, make sure your dog has plenty of water available to drink. There may be a chew toy that you could fill and put in the freezer, and you can freeze treats inside ice cubes.
Outside, there are things you can do/provide to help keep your pet cool:
- Provide a shaded area – trees are better than a kennel, as they allow movement of air
- Ensure a plentiful supply of drinking water – and leave it in the shade
- Have a paddling pool available – make sure you freshen the water regularly
- Prevent access to buildings like greenhouses/sheds
- Put a garden sprinkler on
At the beach:
- Visit at cooler times such as early morning/early evening
- Use a beach umbrella/sun shade to provide shade
- Have plenty of fresh water available – maybe use an insulated flask to keep it cool
- Encourage your dog to drink regularly
- Avoid lots of exercise
- Let them go in the sea (check Water section for info)
We may be tempted to think that water is the ideal way for our dogs to keep cool. Your dog may enjoy a paddling pool, or a sprinkler in the garden – but there are things to watch out for around many water sources:
- poor swimmers
- chlorine/salt on coat from swimming pool/sea
- bacteria/algae in ponds, lakes and puddles
- swimming pools with steep sides
- bacterial growth in water bowls (when left out to get warm)
Shallow water is safest for dogs, but if they are keen to swim in deeper water, there are flotation devices available that are specially designed for them. Of course, if your dog is scared/wary around deep water, don’t force them in.
Make sure you rinse off your dog after they have a swim, to remove salt, chlorine, bacteria, and algae from their coats – these can be harmful if ingested. Also, have a ready source of fresh water available to drink, to reduce the likelihood of your dog drinking swimming pool water/salt water.
In warmer weather, dogs are more likely to be out of doors, and this can increase the risk of being hit by vehicles if they are not secured/in secure and safe areas.
Never leave your dog unattended in a vehicle in warm weather. Even with windows rolled down, and parked in the shade, the temperature can increase rapidly, resulting in your dog being unable to regulate their own temperature, and developing heatstroke. Although it is not illegal in the UK to leave a dog in a hot car, as an owner you are responsible for their health and welfare, and could be charged with the offence of animal cruelty (Animal Welfare Act 2006) if they were to become ill, or die as a result.
If you are travelling with your dog, ensure that they have a cool/shaded spot available, and:
- take cool water in a flask
- organise your travelling to avoid the hottest parts of the day
- have the air conditioning on, or keep windows open
- use sunshades on the windows
- regular stops for dog checks/drink stops
- avoid travel on public transport on hot days, unless air conditioning present
- check that venues/destinations are dog-friendly
If we were to step on a very hot surface in bare feet, we would be at risk of burns. The pads on dogs’ paws are just as susceptible, as they do not have protection from fur. Consider walking your dog at a cooler part of the day, e.g. early morning/evening, and maybe change your route so it includes grass or shady areas for them to walk on instead. Before heading off for a walk, at any time, however, touch the walking surface with the back of your hand. If it’s too hot for you, then it’s too hot for your dog.
Some dog breeds have thick coats/double coats, which can adversely affect them on hot days. You can remove loose/excess fur by brushing regularly – and this can have the benefit of cooling your pet down by stimulating blood flow, and bring it closer to the surface/skin. This also helps to remove tangles/mats, which can cause issues with temperature regulation. Talk to your vet/groomer before clipping or shaving your dog’s coat, as in some dogs, it may have the effect of keeping them cool in summer, as well as warm in winter. Many breeds shed their undercoats in the summer, leaving the topcoat to protect them from the sun.
Even with a protective heavy coat, many breeds have sensitive areas that are susceptible to sunburn, e.g. ears, nose. Short-coated breeds and light-coloured dogs are especially at risk – consider using an appropriate sunscreen.
This is one of the most obvious worries/concerns when temperatures increase.
Make sure your dog always has a supply of fresh water available, and provide more than usual, e.g. multiple bowls/drinking fountains. The water temperature needs to be suitable for drinking – don’t leave it out all day in the sun. Give your dog appropriate juicy fruits, e.g. prepared apples and watermelon as treats can help them stay hydrated. Wet dog food is also useful for providing extra hydration. If you’re taking them for a walk, take a collapsible bowl/bottle of water with you.
- excessive panting
- dry nose
- thick saliva
- appetite loss
- visible lethargy/tiredness
- sunken eyes.
Dogs don’t have sweat glands like humans, so they primarily lose heat by panting. There are some sweat glands on their foot pads, and in their ears, but these play a minor role. Their normal temperature range is between 38.3 and 39.2 C (101 and 102.5 F).
Dogs are more sensitive to heat than us humans, and some dogs are even more at risk, e.g. very young/old, those not used to exercise, those with heart/respiratory conditions, short-muzzled/brachycephalic breeds (more difficult to pant).
Heat exhaustion, or hyperthermia, occurs when your dog is unable to regulate its own body temperature, due to it rising above a healthy/normal range. It can range from a mild heat exhaustion through to severe heatstroke. Heatstroke is a life-threatening emergency, and you must contact your vet urgently. Even if it seems to be a mild case of heat exhaustion, contact your vet as a precaution.
They can’t tell you if they’re feeling unwell, so it’s important to keep an eye out for symptoms, which include:
- fever (a temperature higher than 39.4 C/103 F)
- heavy panting
- problems breathing
- heavy drooling
- unsteady/wobbly on their feet
- bright red gums
- shaking/muscle tremors
- vomiting & diarrhoea
- rapid heartbeat
Keep your dog calm, and get them into a cool area, usually indoors, which is well-ventilated/has a fan. Have them lie down on a wet towel. Wet them with cool water (not cold), or lukewarm water if they are very small/ a puppy. Apply cool water to their paws and ears too. If possible, check their temperature regularly/every few minutes – once their temperature drops below 39.4 C/103 F, stop applying water, and move the fan away. Do not use cold/ice water, as this can induce shock.