Summer is in full swing—that means we’re spending lots of time playing and relaxing in the sun. While we can slather on the sunscreen, don airy and light outfits, or dive head first into the cold pool to beat the heat, our dogs don’t have the ability to cope with hot weather like we do.
We talked to holistic veterinarian Dr. Katie Kangas, who dishes out pet health advice on her site The Pet Wellness Academy, for tips to help our furry friends avoid heat-related dangers.
Scary Reality of Heat Exhaustion in Dogs
Did you know your dog can die inside a car even when it’s a comfortable 70 degrees outside? On a mild day with the windows cracked, temperatures inside a car can soar to a potentially deadly level in a matter of minutes—so you can imagine how oppressive it can be on an especially hot day.
“The temperature inside the car is much higher than the ambient temperature outside because when the sun is coming through the glass with no ventilation, it just cooks,” Dr. Kangas explains. “It’s very dangerous.”
Dr. Ernie Ward demonstrated just how quickly the temperature soars inside a car, even with all the windows cracked. You can see him profusely sweating in this video after a few minutes:
Petplan pet insurance started a campaign called “Driven to Bark” to encourage lawmakers to make it illegal to leave your dog in a parked car. That’s because your dog can’t take off his winter clothing in the extreme heat—he can’t even sweat!
A dog’s main method of cooling is through panting. As you can imagine, that won’t work nearly fast enough to compensate for the rising temperatures, especially inside a car.
“That’s when they get into trouble because they can’t make that compensation for themselves,” Dr. Kangas adds.
Be especially careful with breeds with short airways, such as pugs and boxers.
“Those guys are heat intolerant to begin with,” Dr. Kangas explains. “When they breathe, they can’t cool down as well as other dogs because of their shortened airway.”
The same principle applies to leaving your dog outside in the direct sun. You don’t always have to keep your dog inside the house—in fact, your dog might prefer being outside if you leave him in the shade with access to water.
“I don’t think because it’s summer you can make a blanket statement like ‘never leave your dog outside,'” Dr. Kangas explains. “When you think about being shut in the house with no air conditioning or being outside with a breeze, shade, and water, some dogs would prefer to be outside.”
If your dog is spending time outdoors, recognize the signs of distress, such as:
- Heavy panting
- Vomiting and/or diarrhea
- Unsteadiness or stumbling
If your dog is exhibiting any of the above symptoms, it’s an emergency situation—take him to the vet immediately.
Delicate Paw Pads
We’ve said it before—paw pads aren’t shoes! Protect your dog’s delicate feet by avoiding surfaces that heat up in a hurry, like asphalt and sand.
“We forget how hot those surfaces can get,” Dr. Kangas says. “They absorb the heat from the sun very well, and it can be really uncomfortable or even burn their paws.”
The texture of the ground is an issue, too. Rugged terrain can tear up your dog’s feet.
“Pebbles and rocks can shred their paws, especially if people are jogging or running with them,” Dr. Kangas explains. “It’s more traumatic than if the dog were walking.”
You can protect your dog’s feet with hiking boots or another type of shoe, but as we mentioned in our guide to hiking, give your dog time to get adjusted to wearing them.
“A lot of dogs might find it strange to not have the feeling of their paw pads on the ground,” San Francisco trainer and founder of The Pooch Coach Beverly Ulbrich explains. “They will feel like they don’t actually have good footing. They have to learn to trust the shoe and trust the traction of it.”
Tip: A good test—walk barefoot on the surface yourself! If it’s too hot for you, it’s too hot for your dog.
Even if your dog isn’t showing signs his paws hurt—like veering off to the grass or pulling back on the leash to stop moving—don’t take that as a sign he’s okay to press on.
“Be conscientious of it, in case your dog isn’t giving you cues,” Dr. Kangas suggests.
SPF for Dogs
It might sound silly to put sunscreen on your furry friend, but if he’s a light-haired dog or his hair is on the thinner side, it’s actually a good idea.
“When they don’t have pigment in their skin, or even areas of their body that don’t have pigment, those dogs are more susceptible to sun damage,” Dr. Kangas explains.
We’ve already shown dogs can go bald just like humans, or for medical reasons, so make sure to cover those bald spots with some SPF. Dr. Kangas recommends using children’s or baby sunscreen, but just like anything, check the ingredients.
“A lot of sunscreens have carcinogens in them,” Dr. Kangas says. “Be mindful of that when choosing a sunscreen.”
When Dogs Eat Grass
We’ve all seen our dogs do it, and we’re not really sure why: eating grass.
The common theory is a dog eats grass to purge because he’s feeling ill. But that’s not always the case.
“There are a lot of theories on grass eating,” Dr. Kangas says. “If a dog is voraciously eating grass, that’s usually indicating a problem. But sometimes if they are nibbling here and there, that may be normal behavior.”
So don’t be too worried if you see your dog taking a small bite of grass. But if he is eating too much or vomiting after eating grass, go see your vet.
Prime Flea Season for Dogs
Summertime is typically when fleas are at their peak. The cold, dry winters have come to an end and we warm up all over the country—perfect weather for fleas to live and thrive.
Some pet parents make the mistake of thinking fleas are simply a summer phenomenon, but fleas are continuously present and problematic in warmer zones like the Southwest and Southeast, where temperatures are mild year-round.
We told you how dangerous fleas can be and outlined six treatment options, so make sure your dog is protected with either a topical or an oral flea preventative. Giving a regular dose is important to keeping your pet protected, even year-round in some locations.
These medicines aren’t the only options, though.
“Essential oils can be used to control fleas, too,” Dr. Kangas adds.
You’ll have to find a holistic veterinarian in your area to help you choose which are best for your dog.
The Bottom Line
Summer is supposed to a time for fun in the sun and spending time with those you love—your furry friend included! Just make sure you’re taking all the right steps to keep him safe and cool in the heat.
The information provided in this article is not a substitute for professional veterinary help.
Top image via Flickr