While the Summer period is a fun and exciting time, it could end up in catastrophe for our four-legged family members. It’s important to understand exactly how heat affects your dog’s body and the healthiest ways of keeping them cool.
When is it too hot for my dog?
Exactly how much heat your dog can tolerate will depend on a lot of different factors:
- Breed – dogs with shorter noses, brachycephalic dogs, like pugs, bulldogs, and boxers, find it harder to keep their internal temperature regulated because of their short nasal passage. Dogs with longer noses like collies and German shepherds have a calmer pant and find it easier to keep cooler.
- Size – some dogs have a naturally higher heart rate; the resting heart rate will be higher in smaller dogs and puppies. It’s always a good idea to know exactly what your dog’s natural heart rate is so you can tell if it’s elevated. You can usually find a strong pulse inside your dog’s hind leg at the top, just make sure it’s their pulse you’re measuring and not your own.
- Coat – you might think it’s common sense, the thicker a dog’s coat, the harder that dog finds coping in the heat. Whilst that’s certainly true for the most part, there are some exceptions. Double coated dogs are often bred specifically to copy with fluctuating temperatures like herding dogs. Their double coat allows them keep warm in the cool nights but also to keep cool in the heat of the day. Some breeds have very fine fur and lots of exposed skin. Dogs like the greyhound and Chinese crested are going to be more susceptible to sun burn.
How can I keep my dog cool in the summer heat?
The three most important things you can do to keep your dog cool in the heat are very simple:
- Water 2.Shade 3. Keep Calm
- Make sure your dog gets plenty of water:
- When the weather starts to heat up, you could try introducing a couple of new water bowls around the house. The novelty will encourage some dogs to up their water intake but at the very least, they’ll offer your pet more reminders to keep drinking.
- If you’re worried your dog isn’t getting enough water, try slowly introducing a high-quality wet food to their diet if they’re usually a kibble only dog. You could also try soaking their kibble in water and leaving it a few minutes to soften – hot water left to cool on the kibble usually works best for this.
- Take the water a step further by filling a child paddling pool for them to dip their paws in. Opt for a hard plastic one rather than inflatable as some dogs have a tendency to ‘water dig’ when feeling playful. As the only place a dog can actually sweat is their paws, many will find the sensation of standing in cool water very pleasant.
- Make sure your dog gets plenty of shade and stays calm
- If you’re worried about your dog being in the heat, the most practical thing you can do is keep them in a cool area. Unfortunately, dogs don’t always share our priority on common sense! Dogs who get hot easily will prefer laying on a cold floor; a tiled or concreate floor will be more comfortable so don’t force sofa cuddles on them.
- If your dog prefers spending their time outside, make sure there’s plenty of shade for them. This could be as simple as stringing up some tarpaulin in a corner of the garden. Discourage too much play time when it gets hot, they may enjoy running around in the moment but too much exertion in the heat is bad for dogs.
- Dogs still need their exercise even when it’s warm, you might have to reorganise your schedule especially when it’s hot to accommodate early morning or evening walkies. Remember, if the pavement is too hot for you to hold your hand on it for five seconds, it’s too hot for your dog’s paws. If the worst comes to the worst always remember a dog can’t die from missing a couple of walks but they can die from heatstroke.
- For most dogs, using their brain will tire them out and calm them down as much as exercise. Ten-minute training exercises or brain games are a perfect substitute if they’re having smaller walks in the summer.
How can I tell if my dog has heatstroke?
A dog won’t always know it’s had too much sun until it’s too late. Here are the main symptoms to look out for if you’re worried your dog might have heatstroke:
- Raised temperature. The most accurate way to take a dog’s temperature is with a rectal thermometer. This should only ever be done by a trained medical professional so it’s more efficient to look for other symptoms.
- One of the most obvious visual symptoms of heatstroke in dogs is bright red, dry and sticky gums. As their bodies struggle to maintain temperature, they won’t have moisture for non-essential things like keeping gums moist. The visual clue of sunburn in humans is a red skin, so is the red gums of a dog a clear sign of dehydration and heatstroke.
- A dog suffering from heatstroke will also be panting excessively but it’s important to know if this is from heatstroke or just your dog having a mad five minutes run around. Any excessive panting or heavy breathing shouldn’t be given the benefit of the doubt if you’re remotely worried, heatstroke can be fatal for dogs so always phone your vet if you’re worried.
What do I do if my dog has heatstroke?
Get your dog out of the heat and somewhere cool but DO NOT submerge them in cold water – the shock could kill them. Place cool (not cold) wet towels on your dog, if they’re very hairy, focus under their arms, groin area, and head where fur is often thinner.
Try and get them to drink but don’t force their nose into a water bowl. If they’re lethargic or uncoordinated they won’t be able to drink normally and it’s not natural for a dog to drink from a bowl whilst laying down. They might be more inclined to lick water cupped in your hands or lick an ice cube. Don’t let them gulp down too much water too quickly.
As with all emergencies with dogs, you must remain calm. Dogs are especially astute at picking up human behaviours. If you panic; they’ll panic! Phone your vet immediately and get their advice, they’ll be able to ask questions specific to you and your dog and give tailored advice you won’t get from a Google search.