Ten Tips to Keep Dogs Safe in Hot Weather
This article isn’t about pet behavior as much as it is about human behavior. Despite our best efforts to educate pet parents, heat stroke in dogs continues to occur in record numbers, and far too many burn their paws on asphalt or even die in hot cars.
Sure, the extraordinarily hot summer in some parts of the country can be blamed in a a few rare cases. But overall, heat stroke is entirely avoidable. We can’t control the weather, but we can control our actions. A part of the blame lies with our changing lifestyles and the understandable desire to take dogs everywhere we go–which is great. However, leaving a dog in a hot car or tied outside in the scorching sun–or taking them on long walks when it’s simply too darn hot outside–puts our dogs in grave danger. Ultimately, we must put our pets’ well being above all else–including our desire to spend time with them while running errands or exercising when the temperatures are not conducive to doing so. The following ten tips will keep your dog safe and comfortable this summer.
1. Dogs Don’t Regulate their Body Temperatures Well and Cannot Sweat It Out
Dogs aren’t as efficient at self-regulating their body temperatures as we humans are. Sweating is a far more efficient way to keep cool than panting, which is the only real option dogs have. While dogs can sweat a little from their paw pads–leaving little footprints as they walk–this is a clear sign of distress. WARNING: If you see a dog’s tongue hanging out of the side of the mouth, and it looks swollen, odds are your dog is overheated, and could even begin to go into heat stroke. Stop whatever it is you are doing; ensure the pup is stable the best you can, and then find a cool refuge. If you have any doubt about what to do, find a nearby veterinary clinic and make an emergency visit.
2. Different Strokes for Different Folks
Brachycephalic breeds–i.e. dogs with “pushed in faces”, including the Boston Terrier, Boxer, Bulldog, French Bulldog, Japanese Chin, Pekingese the Pug, some dogs referred to as pit bulls, and others with limited airways–all have a reduced ability to keep cool. For these dogs, even a 75-degree day that feels comfortable for us, may be stifling. Imagine what it feels like to these dogs when it’s over 90 degrees, even more so if the dog happens to be overweight. It may literally be hard for them to breathe in the heat. For these reasons, brachycephalic breeds are prone to heat stroke. Even a two-block walk at 90 degrees of sunshine and high enough humidity can be grueling. It’s not unusual to see these dogs–as well as also very large dogs–just stop in their tracks and lie down. If that happens, the dog is trying to tell you that something is very, very wrong. Please listen, stop, give them some water immediately, and go somewhere cool.
3. Not Getting Any Younger
Age is a factor in dealing with heat in dogs, just as it is in people. Geriatric dogs simply can’t cope like they once did. Be gentle on them.
4. Spoiled and Cool
Just as we are spoiled by air conditioning, so are our dogs. They are not likely to be as acclimated to extreme temperatures as our great granddaddy’s dogs were. It’s unfair to expect dogs to sit in a backyard when it’s 90 degrees if they are not accustomed to those temperatures. And to do so without shade and water is downright inhumane, extremely dangerous, and may even be considered animal abuse which is now unlawful.
5. Time of Day
Of course, for your comfort as well as your dog’s, you should take your walks and definitely only run early in the morning or after sunset. Even during these cooler times of day, please be sure to bring water (for you and for the dog) and stop often to offer them a drink.
6. Jump In (Maybe with a life vest)
Just as swimming pools are appealing to us when it’s really hot, the same is true for dogs. Staying cool in the pool is pawsome for everyone! Please consider that Pugs, Bulldogs, French Bulldogs, Pekingese and other smaller dogs are likely to sink like a rock should they jump (or fall) into a swimming pool. So I recommend you use life vests for dogs and constantly supervise their swimming. Adult supervision is also important even for the Michael Phelps of the dog world, like Labradors or Newfoundlands, since they can’t swim forever. It is important to have an easy route to get out of the pool in case they tire out, and keep a close eye on them as they make a splash.
7. Beware of the Hidden Dangers of Natural Bodies of Water
Water in natural settings can provide a fun way for dogs to cool down, but it can bring other problems, too.
A) Blue green algae: this is not actually algae, but a type of bacteria called cyanobacteria. It grows in lakes, ponds and rivers, especially in hot weather, and is highly poisonous to dogs. Sometimes you can easily see blue green algae in water, but other times it hides. Many communities monitor bodies of water for this toxin since it is potentially lethal to dogs and can also cause serious illness in people (though people aren’t necessarily as likely to swallow water or drink from a pond). So heed all warnings and posted signs around natural bodies of water and be careful about letting your dogs drink from lakes and streams. If you suspect your dog has been poisoned by algae, take them immediately to an emergency veterinarian. Read more about the signs and symptoms of blue green algae poisoning–and how to prevent it–from Laura Playforth at VetsNow.
B) Leptospirosis: this dangerous bacteria affecting the liver and kidneys often lurks in fresh water. It is spread through the urine of infected animals, including rodents, dogs, coyotes, and farm animals, to name a few. The good news is that there is an effective vaccine for dogs that can prevent this. Ask your veterinarian about Nobivac EDGE Lepto4 vaccine. Learn more from our friends at VCA about diagnosing and preventing leptospirosis here.
8. Cool Pool
One totally safe way for dogs to keep cool are kiddie pools filled with about 8-inches of water. No dog can drown in such shallow water, but they can lie down if they want or splash about. Periodically adding some ice will keep the water cool. (However, freezing cold ice water is never a good idea–a little ice goes a long way.)
9. The Asphalt Dance
When it’s 85 degrees and sunny, midday asphalt can exceed 150 degrees. Of course, given a choice, dogs will avoid walking on a surface that hot and are likely to burn their paw pads if forced to do so. If you can’t keep your own hand, palm-down, on the asphalt for around three minutes, it’s too hot. When dogs “dance” on hot asphalt, it’s not to entertain us. Sometimes minor burns can’t be easily seen by non-professionals, but even dogs with minor burns can suffer quite a bit of pain. There are booties and balms you can buy to try to protect their paw pads, but in general, if you need to use these products, it is likely too hot for animals to be out walking in the first place.
10. Dogs Die in Hot Cars–Cracking Windows will Not Help
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals notes that since 2020 through today at least 60 animals have died in a hot car. No doubt that number is likely far higher, as not all occurrences are reported, and this doesn’t account for the number of cases of heat stroke dogs have suffered but survived. Look carefully at the chart below.
On a 75* day, the temperature inside a car quickly rises to 100* creating a potential death sentence for a dog. If it’s 85* outdoors, the car temperature will hit 100* in just 7 minutes. In this video, you can see how I learned what it feels like to be a dog in a hot car. It’s not a myth: dogs die in hot cars, and it continues to happen far too often. Leave your dogs home in the air conditioning when out running errands this summer.
–Steve Dale, CABC