By Teresa K Traverse
Summer is here, along with its scorching temps. You’ll probably want to bring your dog outdoors for some fresh air, sunlight and exercise, but warmer temperatures can create certain hazards for your pet, including overheating and dehydration. Here are eight veterinarian-approved tips that will show you how to keep a dog cool in summer while enjoying some fun exercises.
Beat the heat by limiting your dog exercising activities to the early morning or late evening hours. This is when it’s most likely to be cooler outside, says Dr. Brenda Stephens, DVM, clinical associate professor at the College of Veterinary Medicine in the Department of Clinical Sciences at NC State University in Raleigh. If you’re exercising outdoors with your dog, you also can try to walk him in shady areas to keep him cooler.
Besides the temperature, be mindful of the humidity, says Dr. Stephens. It will feel hotter to the dog if the humidity is higher due to the added moisture in the air. Dr. Stephens explains that dogs cool themselves by panting. When dogs pant, they breathe out moist air and inhale dry air, and evaporation helps keep them cooler. Air that’s dense with humidity is already moist and doesn’t help the dog cool down.
Another way to keep your dog cooler is to take breaks between dog exercising sessions. Be sure to find a shady area for your dog to rest and recuperate. You also can try exercising in short spurts—like 10 minutes three times per day—versus one long period of exercising.
During the summertime, outdoor surfaces can get extremely hot. Asphalt can heat up fast and can even burn your pet’s paw pads. Sand also gets very hot.
It is important to test if the surface you’re walking on is too hot for your dog’s paws. Dr. Stephens advises that you take your hand and place it on the sand, concrete or walkway. If you can’t hold your hand to the surface for more than five seconds, it’s probably too hot for your dog to walk on. You can also try using protective dog boots made for hot weather, but if you do, Dr. Stephens says to take it slow when getting your pup used to his new shoes.
“There are very few dogs that will acclimatize to things being on their feet right off the bat,” says Dr. Stephens. Gradually get your dog used to these booties before heading out on a long walk.
If it’s just too hot or your dog doesn’t want to exercise outdoors in the heat, you can always try some air-conditioned, indoor dog activities to help get your dog exercising. Dr. Stephens suggests using a hallway to play fetch.
“Indoor exercises can be a great alternative to overheating outside,” says Dr. Deborah Linder, DVM, DACVN, head of the Tufts Obesity Clinic for Animals at the Cummings Veterinary Medical Center at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts. “For smaller dogs, supervised swimming in the bathtub may be all they need.” Dog pools are becoming more common, and, while not indoors, many dog parks include swimming ponds.
“Agility courses, behavioral training or dispensing toys that require some mental or physical energy are great ways to keep your pet moving and satisfied,” adds Dr. Linder.
If you have a brachycephalic dog (dogs with shortened nose/faces like Pugs, Boston Terriers and bulldogs), you’ll want to take extra precautions when it comes to working out in the heat. These dogs can’t pant and cool themselves as efficiently as other breeds because their short noses give them a shorter airway, says Dr. Stephens.
It is important to know the signs of heatstroke in dogs so that you can make sure your pet is enjoying their outdoor time. Many dogs will stop walking, seek shady spots to rest, or walk closer to their owners if they’re overexerted. “Look for signs of stress, such as excessive yawning or blinking; panting or [signs of] dehydration, such as dry gums; or changes in your pet’s behavior, such as walking in front of you or tugging on the leash. If your dog will allow it, you can gently work up to taking your pet’s temperature with an ear thermometer yourself. The normal temperature range for dogs is 101 to 102.5,” says Dr. Linder.
Other signs to watch out for include vomiting and diarrhea or bright red gums or tongue, which can be a sign of a circulation problem. Dr. Linder notes that obese dogs are prone to overheating and should also be monitored carefully. If you observe these signs, it’s best to get your dog to the vet. Call ahead to let the staff know that you believe your dog is overheating so they can prepare.
If you sense that your dog is overheating, get your dog into an air-conditioned or cool building as soon as possible. Offer your dog a bowl of ice water to drink or cold treats like frozen peanut butter or dog popsicles, but don’t force them to eat or drink if they’re not interested. Putting a dog in a cool (not cold) shower may also help, but only if they seem to enjoy the experience. You can also try spritzing your pup with water or wrapping them in a cold towel, says Dr. Stephens. If their condition doesn’t return to normal quickly, call your veterinarian.