Is your dog feeling the heat this summer? Tim Falk investigates how to beat the heat and help your pet stay cool.
Is there any better feeling than knowing there are three long months of summer stretching out in front of you, every day of which can be enjoyed with your dog by your side? From the beach to the bush, Australia’s great outdoors holds a host of great summer experiences for dog owners all over the country.
Unfortunately, summertime also brings with it a range of unique health and behaviour risks that can cause some potentially serious problems for our furry friends. But with a little bit of knowledge about those risks and how to minimise them, it’s easy to help your pooch stay safe and cool all summer long.
Dogs need an ample supply of fresh, clean water all year long, but this is especially important in summer. Dr Andrew Herron from VetMed, an independently owned group of veterinary practices conveniently located in Sydney’s eastern suburbs, says it’s important to provide more water than usual during the summer months.
“Dogs have a limited ability to sweat, so must lose extra body heat by panting,” he says. “This causes extra water loss through evaporation, so they need to keep hydrated with water.
“During summer, dogs should have several bowls of water available to them in case one gets knocked over or dirty. Using cold water is also a great way to help them cool down on those hot summer days.”
It’s impossible to provide your dog with too much water but it’s entirely possible to not have enough. PETstock vet Dr Mel Kuehn adds that you shouldn’t wait until the height of summer to start upping your dog’s water supply.
“As soon as the weather starts to get warmer, I would start by leaving double what you would normally,” she says. “See how much your dog drinks and go from there.
“Don’t leave the water bowls in the sun; that way you’re not losing any to evaporation and everyone likes a cool drink on hot days.”
Not only do water dishes need to be kept out of the sun; your pooch also needs somewhere he can escape the heat. If your dog is mainly outdoors during the day, it’s very important to leave them with access to well-shaded, cool areas. These might include under the house or deck or under a large tree or a pergola.
Dr Andrew also points out that, while dog kennels are great for winter, providing insulation against cold weather and protecting against freezing winds, on hot days kennels may potentially be warmer than the outside air temperature and therefore will not provide a cool place for your dog to relax.
“For those really hot days, you could provide them with a small paddling pool filled with cool water in their favourite shaded area to help keep them cool,” he says.
Of course, the best place for your dog to see out those long, hot summer days is indoors with you.
Staying Safe in the Sun
The slip-slop-slap message is one all Australians are aware of when it comes to looking after ourselves. But did you know that there’s also plenty you can do to protect your furry friend from the sun’s harsh rays?
In fact, just like people, dogs can get sunburnt, says Dr Mel. “The areas most susceptible are those where the fur is thinnest: the ears, nose and tummies. Remember that the sun can also reflect upwards from the ground and off water.”
Short-coated dogs and dogs with pale colouring or pink skin are most at risk. You can use pet-friendly sunscreen to protect your pooch but only the brands that do not contain zinc oxide, which is toxic to dogs.
“You will also need to find a sunscreen that does not have para-aminobenzoic acid [also known as PABA] as an ingredient as it may be toxic if eaten by your dog,” Dr Mel says.
“Ideally, you should use a dog-specific sunscreen from your local vet or pet- supply store. I would also try a little bit on your dog’s skin just to check that there is no reaction.
“If in any doubt, remember that shade is the best protection of all. To be clear, though, if the sun is really beating down your dog simply shouldn’t be outside.”
Delicate canine paws are also very much at risk of burning from direct contact with hot pavements and asphalt. While dogs do have a thick protective layer of coarse skin on their foot pads, there are limits to the amount of heat they can take. Check your dog’s feet after each walk to ensure they remain burn and injury free but make sure to avoid exercising during the hottest part of the day and consider taking your dog to the park so they can play on the cool grass rather than the hot concrete.
Summer’s here and the days are long and lazy, so is it OK to let your dog take a break from exercising and put his paws up for a while? The answer is no, as dogs still need exercise all year round.
However, it’s essential to make sure your pet doesn’t overheat. “Sometimes dogs just don’t know when to stop and rest,” Dr Andrew says, explaining that you should exercise your pooch at dawn or dusk, well outside the hottest time of the day.
“This is especially true for those dogs with thick coats, such as Huskies, Samoyeds and Alaskan Malamutes, as they have even less ability to lose excess heat. We shouldn’t forget about brachycephalic (or short-nosed) breeds such as French Bulldogs and Pugs, who have a decreased ability to lose heat through panting due to their short noses,” he says.
The Dangers of Heat Stroke
Why is there such a big focus on keeping your dog cool in summer? Compared to people, dogs are not very good at getting rid of heat.
“Humans sweat and lower their body temperature through evaporation,” Dr Mel explains. “Dogs don’t sweat (except for their paws) and they reduce their body temperature through panting, which unfortunately is much less efficient. Dogs are therefore much more at risk of heat stress than people.”
Heat stroke occurs when your dog’s body temperature is increasing faster than they can effectively lower it. Left untreated, this condition can quickly become fatal.
Signs that your dog is overheating are:
• Heavy or rapid panting
• Increased drooling and/or a wet chin and neck
• Bright red gums, tongue and conjunctiva
• Reluctance to move
• Stumbling and dizziness
• Vomiting and diarrhoea
If you think your dog is suffering from heat stroke, cooling him down immediately is crucial. “This can be done by bathing them in cool water and then placing them in a cool area in front of a fan with access to water, while you organise for you dog to be seen by your veterinarian,” Dr Andrew says.
“If you are unable to bath your dog completely, you can focus on placing cool water on their neck, paws and stomach.”
Reducing a dog’s body temperature quickly can prevent damage to their organs, most importantly the brain and kidneys. It’s also important to remember to use cool water rather than iced water, as iced water may make the dog’s skin feel overly cold and cause them to shiver, which will actually raise their body temperature higher.
Fleas, ticks and worms can be present all year round but conditions are more favourable in spring and summer to allow eggs to hatch and grow into adults.
“The major tick of concern, the paralysis tick, will be around as long as the weather is warm and humid, so depending on the weather they might be around for a little longer than just the summer months,” Dr Andrew says.
“Fleas, ticks and worms also seem to be more of an issue in the warmer months as more dogs are getting out and about, allowing them to come into contact with bushes, wildlife and other dogs which spread these parasites around.”
There are many products available on the market today, including tablets, chews, pastes and top spots, that will allow you to keep your pets safe and free from parasites.
It’s important to read the label on the package to determine which parasites the product will work against and how frequently it should be used in order to be effective. For advice on the best way to protect your pet against parasites this summer, speak to your vet.
Christmas and New Year’s Eve Safety
The Christmas/New Year period is a wonderful time of year, providing the perfect opportunity to spend some quality time with our nearest and dearest — of course, this includes our four-legged friends. Unfortunately, it’s also a time of year when a large percentage of dogs end up at the vet or even go missing.
“Dogs love Christmas, mostly because there’s more people around to play with and a possible increased chance of scoring yummy foods,” Dr Mel says.
“It’s important to be careful with your dog’s diet at any time of the year but it’s even more important at Christmas and other holiday seasons when there’s an abundance of rich, sugary and fatty foods.
“If you want to give your dog treats at Christmas, the best treats are those made for dogs. One of the most common problems we see in dogs around the holiday season is vomiting and diarrhoea — often from eating inappropriate foods. The consequences can be quite severe, with some dogs needing hospitalisation to help them recover.
“There’s also a number of foods which are toxic to dogs that are also commonly found at Christmas, like chocolate, alcohol, macadamia nuts, grapes and raisins,” she explains.
It’s also important to ensure that your dog doesn’t swallow anything else he shouldn’t this Christmas. If you’re giving your dog some new toys for Christmas, make sure they’re large, sturdy and don’t have anything that can be broken off and swallowed.
Monitoring your pet around other toys and Christmas items is similarly essential, as small objects, electric lights, tree ornaments and tinsel can all be chewed and swallowed and cause harm to your dog. Finally, summer is also a time when thunderstorms and fireworks displays can cause big problems for frightened dogs. You might be amazed at the lengths a scared pooch is willing to go to when they want to escape the terrifying noise and bright flashes of New Year’s Eve fireworks.
Dr Andrew says that making sure your dog has a quiet, comfortable area where she feels safe is a great way to help her feel at ease when all the commotion is going on outside.
“For those dogs who are kept outside, it is so important to make sure all gates are closed and locked and that there are no holes in the fence to escape from,” he says. “Scared dogs can become so frantic that even a small gap which your dog may never try and escape from can be big enough for them to squeeze through.”
Bringing your dog inside and keeping her in a quiet, secluded room — a laundry, garage or even a closet may be best — can make a big difference. Having background noise from a TV or radio can also be a way to avoid them focusing on the loud fireworks.
“One of the best ways to help your dog with thunderstorms or fireworks is to be aware of it before it happens,” Dr Mel says. “Fireworks displays are generally very predictable and thunderstorms may be anticipated by following the weather reports. Arrange to be home with them to provide them with the reassurance and care that they need.”
Stay calm, give pats and reassurance to let your dog know there’s nothing to be worried about and never get angry or frustrated. If you plan ahead and give your dog a safe, secure spot to retreat to, you can help make the stress of fireworks and thunderstorms much easier to deal with.
Along with avoiding the heat and protecting your pet against the sun, this can help your pet stay safe and happy all summer long.Make sure your furry friend is always looked after at our DOGSLife Directory