Helping your dog cope with the hot days in the summer!
Worried about your furry friends in the heat this summer? Please don’t worry because after speaking with Veterinary Surgeon and our good friend, Sue Armstrong MA VetMB VetMFHom CertIAVH MRCVS RsHom, we have got it covered! Including the signs to look out for and prevention, Sue’s blog is a great way to cope in the heat this summer!
Some dogs absolutely love the hot summer days and are very happy spending their days sunbathing just as we might do. For a large percentage of dogs however, the heat can cause a lot of discomfort and even serious anxiety and distress.
Dogs regulate heat from the skin by changing the dilation of surface blood vessels and they also have some sweat pads in their feet, but once the conditions get too hot, a dogs ability to regulate its body temperature through changes in surface blood vessels is no longer enough and panting takes over as the main method for cooling down. Dogs will also cool down through conduction when they lie on a cooler surface and they make use of the relatively hairless on their undersides, which allows conduction to be more efficient. This is where allowing access to e.g. a tiled floor or providing non-toxic gel filled cool mats can be a lifesaver for dogs and helps them to self regulate their body temperatures. Dogs may appear more restless in the summer when they are seen moving from place to place, but this is often simply finding another cool spot to help them lose some surface heat.
It is not just heat that causes problems; humidity is very important also, as the more humid the air around your dog is, the less easily evaporation can take place. Providing temperature gradients (e.g. a frozen water bottle placed infront of a fan) and even dehumidifiers for dogs prone to overheating can be essential in helping to keep them comfortable.
Some dogs are far more prone to overheating than others and a simple rule to remember with these dogs is that if you feel warm, your dog (in the same place as you) will be feeling hot and if you are hot it is likely that your dog will be feeling distressed. Dogs that are much more likely to suffer from heat distress are:
- Brachycephalic breeds e.g. Bulldog, French bulldogs, Pekingese, Shih-Tzu and Boxer etc.
- Dogs with laryngeal hemiplegia
- Obese dogs
- Dogs with heart or lung disease
- Black or heavy under-coated dogs
So what are the signs of heat distress? Panting is a normal response to heat and in itself is not a problem, however excessive panting, particularly when the lips are drawn back and the tongue is dark red and thin is one of the first signs of heat distress. Look for thick ropey saliva in the mouth and deep coloured dry gums. The skin around the muzzle, nose, eyes and underbelly can also become hot and red. Dogs in this state can either become very anxious or appear disconnected.
Ensure that any dog showing these signs is moved to the shade, ideally put on a cool surface (in an emergency you can wet a towel or a piece of your clothing for them to lie on), give access to water and stop all exercise. It can take a dog at least 30 minutes to recover from heat stress so if this happens on a walk – WAIT until the panting rate settles if you and your dog are safe and out of the sun and have access to water. Once the panting rate has settled down, walk back to the car slowly and do not allow your dog to carry balls or toys in their mouth, as this will further obstruct their breathing.
Heat stroke is one step further and a very serious life threatening condition where your dogs core temperature has reached the stage where the dog can no longer regulate it (40oC and above). Heat stroke can happen both through exercise (over exercise can cause this even without excessive sun) and if the dogs are left in situations where the temperature gets too hot for too long e.g. parked cars (this does not take long at all in parked cars even with the windows open!). These dogs will show all the signs we have looked at above for heat stress but will then go on to have more severe signs e.g. whining, vomiting, diarrhoea, staggering, seizures, glassy eyes and eventually unconsciousness and death. Water by mouth is no longer enough to save these dogs lives as their body systems can shut down quickly and only intravenous fluids can save a percentage of these dogs if they can be got to an emergency vet fast enough.
During the summer:
- Know your dogs risk e.g. a brachycephalic is at higher risk than a long nosed breed
- Walk early in the morning or later in the evening on hot days
- Always carry water with you on long walks and always carry water in your car
- Have a towel in the car that can be soaked and used to help cool your dog down
- Never leave dogs in hot rooms e.g. conservatories or in parked cars in the summer
- Remember that humidity is also an important factor in how easily your dog can cool down
- Consider buying a cool mat, cool coat, fan, dehumidifier or even an air conditioning unit for dogs who are very susceptible to heat stress
- Clipping is controversial and should only be considered for dogs that are carrying heavy undercoats
This would not be a good Natural Instinct blog without a mention of food! Good routines with defrosting and storing raw food should be year round and not just in the summer but as a reminder please defrost your raw food in the fridge and don’t have raw food sitting out on kitchen surfaces or left uneaten in bowls (as if!) for any length of time as bacteria will multiply rapidly in hot summer temperatures. Like us, many dogs also love frozen treats in the summer and filling rubber toys e.g. Kong’s with raw and freezing them can be a great treat for your dog to have in the garden on a lovely summers day. Do avoid feeding frozen bones or treats immediately after exercise or if your dog is too hot as they can cause vasoconstriction and slow down the normal cooling mechanisms.
Most of all enjoy the summer with your dog!