The summertime in Meaford is the perfect time of year to enjoy the great outdoors with your best four-legged furry friend. Whether it’s swimming in beautiful Georgian Bay, camping underneath a starlit sky, or hiking our many picturesque trails, there are plenty of opportunities to create memorable bonding experiences with your pooch. However, the more active we are throughout the summer – especially on the hottest days – the more attention we need to pay to how our pets deal with high heat and humidity.
Unlike humans, dogs are rather inefficient at cooling themselves down. Dogs don’t sweat in the same way as humans; rather, they have sweat glands in their feet. Unfortunately, this does little to regulate body temperature as sweating is not their main cooling process. A dog’s primary cooling mechanism is panting, using evaporation of water from the body to cool blood. While this does help to regulate body temperature, some dogs may have difficulty staying cool enough on really hot days, or at times with higher levels of activity.
Depending on your dog’s breed, age, and overall health, several factors make some dogs at much higher risk for overheating, leading to heat exhaustion, or even heat stroke. For starters, flat-faced dogs, or brachycephalic dogs, are the most susceptible to heat-related issues. This includes Chow Chows, English Bulldogs, French Bulldogs, Pugs, Boxers, and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, among others. To give you an example of how heat-sensitive these flat-faced breeds are, a Chow Chow is sixteen times more likely to develop heat stroke compared to a Labrador Retriever.
Age is also a big factor in how well our dogs can regulate body temperature. As our dogs age, they are more likely to have other health-related issues that make them more sensitive to managing the heat; the longer our senior dogs are exposed to the heat, the harder the body has to work to stay cool. This can put a tremendous amount of strain on the heart, brain, and other vital organs. Additionally, many older dogs may lack the presence of mind to leave a hot environment, so keep a close watch and help guide them to a safer setting with shade and plenty of fresh, cold water.
There are many things you can do to prevent heat-related stress and enjoy summertime activities at the same time.
Try to avoid going out during the hottest hours of the day. Timing your outings can go a very long way towards preventing overheating. In the middle of the day, when the sun is brightest, your dog is at greatest risk, so plan to get out during the early morning or later in the evening when it is much cooler and far more comfortable for your dog. If you have to go out during a hot summer day, try to stay in the shade and limit your outing to a short walk.
The most important tip for keeping your pet cool this summer is adequate hydration. Panting can expend significant amounts of water, which needs to be replaced in order to properly regulate temperature. This is especially true during times of activity, however, simply lying in a sunny spot on a warm day can be enough to overheat your dog, so it’s important to ensure they have access to fresh, cold water at all times. If you’re enjoying the outdoors, take a travel bowl and plenty of water so your pooch can hydrate regularly.
If your dog spends a lot of time in the backyard, consider getting them a small kiddie pool to splash around in. This will not only help keep your pooch cool, playing in water is an excellent enrichment activity that can be enjoyed all summer long.
For those times where you need a little cooling boost – especially if you are going for a long outing – consider a chill vest or collar. These handy garments are made to be soaked in water, rung out a little, and the remaining moisture in the material will help to wick away heat from the body for hours.
Enjoying some fun in the sun with our dogs is an absolute blast, but it’s important to use common sense during these times. Never, ever leave a dog in a hot vehicle, even if you’re just running quickly into a store. Even with the windows down, a vehicle can reach deadly temperatures in mere minutes. Every year in North America, dozens of children and hundreds of pets experience unimaginable suffering from being left to die in hot vehicles. This is a sad reality, and is one of the most preventable types of death.
Heat stroke is not something to take lightly. If your dog displays any of the following symptoms, he may need urgent medical attention:
- Body temperature higher than 40°C (104°F)
- Excessive panting
- Confusion or disorientation
- Rapid heart rate that does not slow even with rest
- Vomiting or diarrhea
- Bright red gums
- Difficulty with balance
If you are unsure how well your dog will handle the heat throughout summer’s hottest days, the best thing you can do is leave them home.
Summertime should be a season filled with outdoor adventures for the whole family. With some careful planning, and some common sense, we can have fun, be safe, and enjoy the best of what summer has to offer.
Brandon Forder, known as The Pet Expert, is vice-president of Canadian Pet Connection, an industry leader in healthy pet lifestyles. Brandon is certified in pet nutrition, and has more than twenty-five years’ experience specializing in pet health and behaviour. He has written hundreds of informative pet-related articles for newspapers, magazines, radio, and the popular Ask the Pet Expert Blog. Brandon is highly skilled in pet problem solving, and enjoys teaching others about smart and responsible pet ownership. To learn more, visit www.CanadianPetConnection.ca.