I have to admit I was caught off guard at having to write this blog post so early in the summer, but when a new high temperature record is set (95 degrees on May 24!), I guess you have to re-shuffle a few things and get it done. So here goes…
If it feels hot to you, it feels hotter to your dog. Remember, he has a fur coat that he can’t remove! His primary mechanism to cool off is panting. In fact, his tongue can extend and expand to great lengths and sizes to accomplish this. The important number to keep in mind is the heat index, this is humidity + temperature, and it gives us a more accurate picture of how it really FEELS outside. Humidity is especially dangerous because the moisture in the air doesn’t allow your body to cool itself off as quickly as does drier air. Check out this heat index graph.
Here are some tips to beat the heat with your dog this summer:
- Adhere to local warnings and advisories that are issued and take them seriously. Below are the definitions of two commonly issued NWS alerts.
Excessive Heat Warning: Extreme heat index making it feel very hot, typically above 105 °F (41 °C) for 3 hours or more during the day for two consecutive days or above 115 °F at any time. Specific criteria varies over different county warning areas.
Heat Advisory: Extreme heat index making it feel hot, typically between 105 °F to 115 °F (41 °C to 43 °C) for up to 3 hours during the day and at or above 80 °F (24 °C) at night for two consecutive nights. Specific criteria varies over different county warning areas.
- Any time the heat index climbs into the 80s it’s important to be extra vigilant when exercising or doing any physical activity outdoors with your dog. This includes limiting your exercise to the early morning hours, shortening your normal exercise session and/or slowing the pace. One good strategy is to do a shorter loop from your home, stop in for a drink and to cool off for a few minutes, then decide if you want to go out for another loop. Just don’t let your dog gulp a LOT of water during or immediately following strenuous exercise.
- Closely monitor outdoor play and intervene and enforce breaks to cool off and hydrate. Often when dogs are engaged in play, they don’t monitor their temperatures and respond accordingly, so you have to slow them down or stop them for a period of time so they can recover. Stay indoors during peak heat hours, usually between noon and 4PM.
- Monitor your dog carefully for heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Symptoms include collapse, body temperature of 104 F degrees or higher (temps higher than 109 degrees can cause major organ failure), bloody diarrhea or vomit, fast capillary refill time, seizure or coma, glazed over or stupor-like appearance, excessive panting or difficulty breathing, increased heart rate, increased respiratory rate, mucous membrane is redder than normal, and excessive salivation. If you suspect your dog is suffering a heat-induced illness, get him out of the heat, take the dog’s temperature, Spray your dog with cool water for a minute or two to cool him off and recheck temperature (goal is to decrease his body temperature to 103 degrees in the first 10-15 minutes. Once 103 is reached, stop the cooling process.), place water-soaked towels on his head, neck, feet, chest, and abdomen, point a fan at him, and get your dog to the nearest vet.
- Know your dog’s baseline statistics, including his normal temperature (for most dogs, it’s between 99.5 and 102.5 F), capillary refill time, heart rate, and breathing rate. Knowing what his normal rates are will help you know if he’s symptomatic for a heat-induced illness.
- I hope no one leaves their dog outdoors all the time—dogs are meant to be members of the family and that means they have to come indoors to be with us. But if your dog normally spends a lot of his free time outdoors, bring him in during very warm days. When the heat index is in the high 80s, shaded concrete and a full water dish aren’t enough to keep him comfortable.
- Beware the hot asphalt. Keep your dog off black top, or if it’s unavoidable, provide paw protection in the form of dog boots.
- Dogs at a higher risk for heat-induced illnesses include Brachycephalics (short-nosed breeds such as pugs, boxers, Shi Tzus, etc.), puppies up to six months of age, senior dogs, overweight dogs, dogs with an underlying illness or disease such as heart disease or a history of seizures, dogs that are receiving medication, and those with extremely thick coats and undercoats (Huskies, German Shepherd Dogs, etc.), dogs that are healthy but otherwise not acclimated to a tropical climate—this includes dogs that have recently been relocated to a tropical climate or dogs that are experiencing the first warm spell of the summer season (like us here in Minnesota!). Be extra careful if you have a “high risk dog.”
- If you have a dog with long fur or hair that can sport a short “do,” go with a shorter shear for the summer months, just don’t go down to the skin. For hairless and light-skinned dogs, use sun screen to protect sensitive skin.
- Temperatures can easily exceed 120 F degrees in parked cars, even with the windows cracked. Do not leave your dog locked in a car on a warm day. Leaving a dog in a car during warm weather is the number one cause of heat stroke. Check out this interesting site which tracks how hot it can get in the car.
- Go for a swim to exercise and keep cool. Check out the Minneapolis Parks & Rec Board website to find out if your favorite Minneapolis lake is safe for you and your furry friend and, of course, check with any local authorities to make sure it’s okay for your dog to swim there. Always supervise and practice safe swimming practices. It’s always a good idea to give your dog a good scrub afterwards to get rid of anything he may pick up from the water.
- Do you have a DQ, Culvers, Cold Stone Creamery, or a local ice cream parlor nearby? Stop in for a scoop of vanilla for your dog (maybe something a little more exotic for yourself). Just stay away from the chocolate and the fancy toppings.
- There are some cool (pun intended) products out there for your dog. For example, the Cool Bed III, Ruff Wear Swamp Cooler, and the Kool Collar.
A good cause, donating gear, including cooling vests, to military working dogs (MWDs), The Military Working Dogs Cooling Vests Project
Another product site for cooling vests and pads.