(by Dr. Iuliana Mihai, DVM)
It's so pleasant when the sun's rays warm our face after a harsh winter. And our dogs love it, too! With the arrival of Spring and the first warm rays of sun, dogs start to feel better, fuller of life! But what do we do when the full heat of the summer comes? How do we protect our furry friends and how to keep them healthy in the hottest season?
For us humans, we can imagine beating the summer heat with cool drinks, shaded sunbeds by the pool. Or, we dream of a dip in the lake, the ocean, or anything else that can save us from the unbearable heat! So, what about or dogs?
The first thing that you might consider for your fluffy dog is grooming. Should you shave your dog to help him stay cool? The latest science is actually a real surprise!
According to research shaving your dog in the summer might not be as beneficial as we once thought!
Why? Because dogs and cats are homeothermic animals (they keep their internal temperature constant, regardless of the temperature variations outside). So, their fur helps them to adjust to the cold in the winter, but it also protects the pets from the heat of summer. No matter whether their fur is long or short, their body is able to balance heat accumulations and losses to keep the body temperature at a constant value, around 38-39°C (101.0 to 102.5°F).
In other words, fur helps animals cope with the heat. The fur is a thermal regulator; it helps the body not to take too much heat from outside.
When pets feel hot from the heat, they will start looking for cool surfaces, such as terracotta, kitchen and bathroom ceramics, or concrete floors in apartments and outdoor spaces, and shady places.
Now, as a veterinarian, I would still recommend grooming your dogs when the heat is high, but not close to the skin (especially the following breeds that have a thicker coat: Collie, Romanian Shepherds, Husky, or German shepherd). Short fur ensures better skin ventilation and more comfort for the dog. In addition, it will be easier to detect any external parasites (especially ticks) that swarm during the hot season. But be careful not to shorten the dogs' fur too much. A layer of a few centimeters of hair is useful to protect them from sunburn and insect bites (mosquitoes). Like humans, they can get skin burns, especially since their skin is even more sensitive if it is not protected by their fur. An additional measure of protection against sun burns that you can apply on the dog's skin is a special sunscreen lotion for dogs that is found in pet shops. Do not use sunscreen for human use because it contains zinc, which is toxic to dogs if ingested in high quantities.
Do Dogs Sweat?
Our human body has sweat glands on its surface, which help us regulate our temperature through perspiration. Now, you probably have never seen a dog or a cat sweat. This is because in dogs the sweat glands are found only on the nose and in the paw pads. There are two kinds: merocrine and apocrine glands.
It seems that it is not known exactly what the apocrine glands are used for. Some people claim that these glands are located all over the body emitting pheromones, and others claim that they are just sweat glands. (1)
As for the merocrine sweat glands, they are known to function similarly to human sweat glands. Being located in the paw pads of dogs, these glands are activated when the dog is hot, to cool it.
Tips and Tricks to Protect Your Dog From the Heat
- Never leave your dog in the car with the windows closed and without ventilation.
I know many cases in which the owners left their dog in the car "only for a moment", and when they returned, they found the dog in a serious condition, if not dead.
It is recommended to avoid this scenario : tie the dog outside in the shade until you come, leave him water at its disposal or a wet coat, avoid taking him by car. Do not leave the dog in a parked car, even for a few moments. The temperature in the car can jump over 50 degrees Celsius (122°F) on hot days. Even if you leave the window open, the inside of the car turns into a sauna, and your pet will suffer.
Like us, dogs need more water on hot days. To avoid dehydration, your dog needs to drink more water than usual. On hot days, when you want to drink soft drinks as cold as possible, you may be tempted to give your dog cold water to cool. But in fact, we shouldn’t give dogs cold water, as it can cause him serious health problems. Only give your pets water at room temperature, neither too hot nor too cold.
The simplest method is to leave outside a big bowl of cold water (because it will heat up quickly) and fresh. For apartment dogs, you can put several water bowls around the house. It is recommended for pets to drink water once an hour. If they start panting loudly, take them to a shady place and insist on drinking more water. If the problem persists, take your pet to a veterinarian. Water should be changed at least daily.
- Avoid the midday heat
As much as possible, avoid taking the dog outside for a walk in the heat. On hot days it is recommended to reduce intense physical activity. Walking should be done in the morning and evening when it is cooler, and intense play should be avoided. Due to the heat and effort, your dog's heart may be overworked. Avoid running as much as you can, and don't forget to take water with you.
Also, when you go for a walk, avoid areas with hot asphalt because your dog's paws may suffer. Hot asphalt can cause burns.
- Dogs love water
If you spend a lot of time outdoors with your friends, plan some activities for the dog too; they love to swim. If you have a yard, you can offer a little treat to your favorite pet - an inflatable children's pool full of water to cool off. Before letting your dog dive into the water, make sure it is not too cold. Leave it in the sun for half an hour to reach a suitable temperature. If the water is too cold, the dog may get sick or may even have a cardiac arrest due to a sudden temperature change. It is recommended to take a towel with you to wipe them as soon as they come out of the water.
- Choose shaded places
The shade is indispensable for the dog in summer. The fiery sun is dangerous for you and your pet. Even with all the water available, the dog can go into shock. Heatstroke affects pets too. Dogs that live outside should have a paddock placed in a shaded area throughout the day. If the cage is lined with thermal insulation material, it's even better.
Overheating in dogs. What you need to know.
Regardless of the breed or size of the dog, all dogs are prone to overheat. However, some breeds are more sensitive than others, such as brachycephalic breeds (Boxer, Mops, and Bulldog) and long-haired breeds.
Also, very young and old dogs are more prone to heatstroke than young or middle-aged dogs.
Dogs suffering from medical conditions (especially those with respiratory and heart problems) and are overweight are more sensitive to overheating.
Hunting, working, and highly active dog breeds are at higher risk. For them, it is recommended to take frequent breaks and not work them too much, to be kept in the shade to rest, and to be regularly hydrated.
Also, in addition to high temperatures, humidity must be taken into account, as this also helps to exhaust the animal.
Overheating can lead to heatstroke! If in overheating the clinical signs are mild, such as hypersalivation, blue or light red mucous membranes, vomiting, and sometimes diarrhea, in heatstroke symptoms worsen.
Signs of heatstroke include:
- "glazed" eyes,
- excessive salivation,
- rapid heartbeat,
- dizziness or
- lack of coordination,
- reddened gums,
- mental dullness or loss of consciousness,
Summer can be fun if we know how to protect ourselves and our pets from the hot sun. If you’re uncomfortable, they’re probably uncomfortable too!
Like humans, dogs can suffer a heatstroke if left in the sun or in too much heat.
Do not leave a dog in the car because you risk quick overheating and death in a manner of minutes.
Do not give very cold water and do not let it enter very cold water when the dog is hot because it may get sick.
Follow the tips above and you will have a happy and healthy dog throughout the hot season.
Dr. Iuliana Mihai, DVM, Masters In Small Animals And Equines Pathology
Iuliana graduated from the University of Agronomical Sciences and Veterinary Medicine in 2012, Romania. She has a Master’s degree in Small Animal and Equines Pathology and a strong affinity for Veterinary Parasitology and Laboratory. In 2013 she started her Ph.D. in epithelial cancer in dogs and cats. She volunteered at the faculty’s clinic at her 3rd year of study, and continued her career in small animal pathology and laboratory. She has one cat and eleven rats. Her interests outside of work include traveling, writing, and crafting.