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  • Writer's picturemichael raff

Dealing With the Heat of Summer 


As we go through the Dog Days of Summer, it is a good time to refresh ourselves on how to help our dogs deal with the heat of summer. Unlike us, they don their fur coats year ‘round and have different mechanisms to deal with the heat. We wanted to share some thoughts about keeping your dog not only safe, but also happy, during the hotter summer temperatures. 


How dogs shed heat 

Dogs use the same evaporative cooling process as us to lower their body temperature. However, while we sweat through our pores all over our body, they can only shed excess heat naturally by panting (moving air over their wet tongues) and sweating through their paws.


Something interesting to keep in mind whenever you take your dog out for some summer fun (hiking, biking, running, playing) is that research has shown that a dog’s internal temperature continues to rise (above their already increased, exercise induced temperature) for 6-10 minutes after exercise and before their body naturally starts to be able to cool down with a slowing of the metabolic processes. 


What’s the Weather? 

Of course, the weather has a huge impact on how well a dog can regulate their temperature. Cool, cloudy, and even rainy conditions make a big difference for dogs. Though we might be miserable when it is raining and 40, so long as a dog has plenty of calories, they could play and run forever in these conditions. Something we don’t think about often, especially in the Sierra Nevada mountains is humidity.  However, when it goes above 40%, this can drastically affect how well a dog can shed heat. We typically see clouds and thunderhead development if the humidity rises during the day. Most weather apps on your phone will report the current (or forecasted) humidity so it’s easy to keep track of and further limit your activity with your dog if it is up above 40% when it is above 70°F.  


What Time Is It? 

Besides potty breaks, we typically take our dogs out when it is convenient for us. But it is no secret that cooler morning temperatures (before the day starts to really heat up by 9 or 10 am) are the best time during the summer to have our dogs out running around. Once the sun goes down or there is no longer direct sun, and when humidity is low, temperatures cool relatively quickly giving us about an hour before it gets dark to get our dogs out. This said, it is not impossible to get your dog out during the day if you pay attention to a few things and keep an eye out for potential issues. 


Helping Your Dog Deal With the Heat 

One thing you can do that will help your dog, not just when it’s warm, but for their overall health, is to keep your dog lean. Excess fat insulates internal heat and makes it harder for a dog to cool their body temperature. If you have a double-coated dog (think Husky types), their fur actually can insulate them from external temperatures and intense sun, so shaving them is not the best option. Dogs with hair (think Doodles) will do well with a close-cut groom. 

A few other suggestions that we offer are the following: 

  • Plan to carry water and/or have access to water and small dish for drinking for your dog. 

  • Steer clear of exposed sunny areas, bare rock and hot pavement when the temperature is over 75°F. As a point of reference, when the air temperature is 86°F, sun-exposed asphalt temperature can register up to 135°F! 

  • Use the back of your hand or bare foot to feel the temperature of the surface you are taking your dog on- if it’s too hot to hold your hand there for 10 seconds, it is too hot for your dog. Also note that because small and short-legged dogs are closer to hot ground, their bodies absorb that radiant heat even more readily. 

  • Find shady places and water (lakes, creeks, etc.) to take your dog. 

  • Take frequent breaks. 

  • If you plan continuous strenuous exercise (running, biking, fetch, etc. with your dog for more than 15-20 minutes), do so only when the temperature is well below 80 F, and even cooler temperatures, with thick coated dogs. 

  • Give your dog appropriate time to cool down (walk) after exercise before letting them get back in the car. 

  • Use a sun-shade to keep your car cooler when parked, and/or be sure to ventilate your car to cool it down before letting your dog in. 

  • Never leave your dog unattended in a closed car (unless it has automatic climate control for dogs). 


How to Recognize and Alleviate Overheating 

When it is hot out, keep an eye on your dog and pay close attention to their behavior. This can give you important information to see if the heat is too much and they are experiencing the beginning signs of heat stress. 

  • Are they seeking shade and stopping? 

  • Do they seem lethargic and are limiting their movement? 

  • Are they choosing to sit or lie down? 


Moderate heat stress signs involve heavy panting, nausea, vomiting, reddening skin, and excessive saliva.  


If they are open mouth panting uncontrollably with their tongue distended and hanging out to the side, and they struggle to swallow between panting, they are in severe heat stress or heat exhaustion.  


If you notice any of these, or a combination of these symptoms, treat them immediately before they go into heat stroke.  


How to Handle an Overheating Dog 

Regardless of the severity, the goal is to cool your dog down.  

  • Stop any vigorous exercise. 

  • Get to shade and/or water to cool off in. IF they are in severe heat stress, you can immerse their body (not head) in cold water if needed. 

  • Give them water to drink if they can/will. 

  • If a body of water is not readily available, pour cool water over their head and body, and under their belly or if available, apply ice packs under their front legs on their chest. 

  • If you can, find air conditioning indoors, or in a cooled-off car, and if you have one, give your dog a cooling mat to stand or lie on. 

  • If your dog is acting confused, excessively drooling with thickening saliva, their gums are bright red, blue or purple, they are dizzy, have rectal bleeding, refuse to drink water, have lethargy, lose consciousness or have a seizure, get them to an emergency vet immediately. 


Though it may sound stressful to get your dog out when it is hot out, with some pre-planning and really paying attention to signs of heat stress, you can still give your dog the exercise they want and need during the peak of the summer months. 


Resources: 

 

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