We slather on sunscreen, wear sunglasses and hats, keep our tootsies protected by wearing flip-flops on the hot sidewalk, and carry water bottles with us to keep us hydrated. But what about your canine companion? How do you protect your best bud during hot summer months?
The answers are important and worth sharing.
Know the Risk of Heat Stroke
Dogs can’t sweat and must pant to regulate their body temperature. Left to their own devices, a dog will seek out shade to avoid the hottest parts of the day. Even so, heat stroke can happen in minutes, particularly with certain short-snouted breeds (like pugs and bulldogs, due to the structure of their mouths, nasal passages and throat), according to Florida dog breeder and owner of Sandragon Mastiffs Lorie Sandlin. “It’s also an issue with deep-chested dogs like Great Danes,” notes Sandlin.
Overweight dogs are also at risk, notes Veterinarian Kristen Nelson, in her blog. One tell-tale sign of heat stroke: your dog’s tongue darkens, and he breathes quickly, seems lethargic, or gets dark red gums. Stomach upset may also be present.
Most importantly, never leave your dog in a closed car, even if you crack the windows. When veterinarian Ernie Ward sat in a parked car to show just how dangerous it was, he shocked the world with his findings: with four windows cracked, the temperature rose from 94 degrees to almost 100 degrees in minutes. With a breeze blowing outside and windows lowered nearly two inches, temperatures in the car continued to rise well beyond the danger point. After 30 minutes, temperatures inched to almost 120 degrees.
That’s deadly for a human; think about what it does to an animal that can’t sweat to cool itself down. You are literally cooking your pet by leaving them in a parked car, even with the windows cracked.
Even outdoors, however, your pet can suffer from the heat. In the event of heatstroke, follow these tips from the Miami-Dade County Government on pet safety:
- Move your pet to shady or a cool area (indoors or into air-conditioning, if possible)
- Apply cold packs to your dog’s neck or chest, or wet your dog down with cool — but not cold — water; the idea is to gradually lower your pet’s body temperature to safer levels
- Encourage your pet to drink a little bit of cool water or eat small amounts of ice chips
- Take your dog to the vet right away
How to Avoid Sunburn
Sandlin advises using baby-safe sunscreen on furless dogs, those with short hair, or on white and light-color dogs. “Make sure they have plenty of shade,” she says. “Don’t expose them to long periods in the sun.”
Another dog breeder, trainer and handler, Doris Anderson from Honolulu, Hawaii, agrees. She notes that even baby-safe sunscreens might be ingested by pets, however, so your best bet is to clear it with your veterinarian. “I know of chihuahuas that have been known to sit in the sun and soak until they burned,” Anderson says.
In short, give your pets the same consideration you’d give yourself in the sun and during hot weather. Sandlin, as both a breeder and a Florida resident, can’t emphasize these points enough.
“In hot climates, the hot ground is a bigger concern most of the time,” Sandlin notes. “Dogs can very quickly burn the pads of their feet. Try to keep them off concrete, pavement and sand.”
Avoid Burns on Dog’s Paws
The hot ground can be unbearably hot. If you’ve ever suffered with a painful burn on the soles of your feet (I have, and it took minutes to go from “hot” to having blisters for days), it might make you understand why it’s so important to protect your dog’s paws from the sun’s heat.
Stay indoors during the hottest hours, and consider exercising them at night or early in the day. If this isn’t an option, stick to shade and grassy areas. Many areas prohibit the transportation of dogs in the bed of a truck, but if your dog does ride in the bed of your car or truck, be sure you provide a cool barrier between any metal surfaces your dog might touch.
While some dogs will accept dog “socks” made especially with protection in mind, it can be a tough sell with others. If you’re going to be out in the sun during the hottest hours and shade’s an unknown quantity, give them a try.
And, of course, keep your pet hydrated. Enjoy the summer sunshine — but do it safely, for both you and your dog.