The dog days of summer are definitely here. As the August heat swelters in many parts of the country, it's enough to make you want to stay inside with the air-conditioning turned up high, greenhouse gases or not.
For dogs with pushed-in faces such as pugs and Pekingese, that’s probably the best solution, but a lot of dogs are sun-worshipers and water lovers at heart. Here are some expert tips to help them beat the heat:
Sunscreen for pets
Dogs and cats can get sunburned, especially on the ears and nose, and they can get skin cancer just like people. You can find sunscreen made for dogs, but any PABA-free sunscreen will work, says Dr. Susan Nelson, a veterinarian and assistant professor of clinical sciences at Kansas State University’s Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital in Manhattan, Kan.
She likes sport-type sunscreens because they’re more waterproof. Apply sunscreen to the ears and nose, the tender belly if your pet likes to lie on its back, and to the entire body if you have a short-haired, light-colored dog such as a white boxer or bull terrier. You can use spray-on sunscreen for the body, but remember to use plenty of it for thorough coverage.
Offer a lot of water
Be sure your pet always has access to fresh water, especially if you’re spending the day hiking or at the beach. You can consider adding ice cubes to water so that it stays cold longer, but don't flip your pooch a piece of ice to chew as a treat since it can break teeth.
The most common summertime pet emergency is heatstroke, says Dr. Scott P. Shaw, a veterinarian specializing in emergency and critical care at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University in North Grafton, Mass. Dogs locked in hot cars are obvious candidates for heatstroke, but the dog that plays on the beach for hours on a warm day, without access to shade or fresh water is at risk, too, even if it doesn’t seem overly hot.
“Dogs cool via evaporation by panting,” Shaw says. “As humidity increases, panting becomes less effective. And certain breeds are at greater risk, particularly those with short noses, such as bulldogs, boxers and pugs.”
Signs of heatstroke include continuous panting, dark red gums and weakness or collapse. Cool your dog with cool (not cold) water and get veterinary help immediately. Never leave short-faced dogs outside on a hot day for any length of time. Even half an hour at 85 degrees is enough to kill them.
If you and your dog are out on a hot day, carry a water bottle he can drink from, bring a fold-up nylon bowl you can pour water in or purchase a combination canteen and water dish such as the Hydro-Go. Consider getting a cooling bandana that you can soak in water and place around its neck. Filled with polymer crystals, the bandana stays wet and cool for hours.
Work up slowly to working out
Acclimate dogs to exercising in hot weather gradually. The more conditioned they are, the better they’ll tolerate it.
“A dog that runs five miles a day is much less likely to have problems than a couch-potato dog that’s taken for a one-mile run on the same day,” Shaw says. His best advice? Exercise dogs early in the morning and just before sundown.
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Should you shave your dog to help it keep cool? Golden-retriever owner and former professional dog groomer Virginia Parker Guidry of Spring Valley, Calif., says there are pros and cons.
“A lot of people have their dogs shaved in the summer, but I’m not entirely convinced it keeps the dog cooler,” she says. “The coat does insulate and it protects against sunburn, though I imagine it must be somewhat cooler when it’s shaved. It certainly makes the owners feel better, and it’s easier to care for, especially if the dog is in and out of the swimming pool, going to the beach or going camping.”
Because shaving the coat makes the dog more vulnerable to sunburn, Guidry recommends limiting the amount of time the dog spends in direct sun and applying sunscreen.
Nelson says shaving a pet's coat can help prevent mats, make them more comfortable in the heat and makes it easier to spot pesky fleas and ticks.
Rinse and dry after swimming
Swim, rinse, dry, repeat. Many of dogs love to swim, but chlorinated water and salt water can do a number on their coats, leaving them dry and brittle. Rinse the coat thoroughly after a swim (ideally before you put the dog in the car to minimize odor) and use a towel to get it as dry as possible. When the coat doesn’t get completely dry, the result can be a mildewlike effect, especially under the chin or in the skin folds.
“Moisture in the coat traps bacteria, and the wetness and humidity predisposes them to what are called hot spots or skin infections,” Nelson says.
Keep ears dry, too. Damp ears are a breeding ground for bacteria. Nelson recommends using an ear cleaner with a drying agent after the dog goes swimming. “Pour some into the ear, massage it around, and let the dog shake it out,” she says. “If your dog is sensitive about his ears, you can saturate a cotton ball with the cleaner and squeeze it into the ear.”
If an algae bloom has taken over the lake or you don’t have a swimming pool, lake or ocean where your dog can swim, fill up a kiddie pool in the backyard so your pooch can splash around or just loll in the cool water. For tiny dogs, try using a plastic dish pan or litter box. No need to serve drinks with umbrellas.
Kim Campbell Thornton is an award-winning author who has written many articles and more than a dozen books about dogs and cats. She belongs to the Dog Writers Association of America and is past president of the Cat Writers Association. She shares her home in California with two Cavalier King Charles Spaniels and one African ringneck parakeet.
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