For dogs, sunshine means fun times: whether they’re bounding along a sandy beach, or snaffling a sneaky treat at the barbeque. While humans and dogs alike love summer, both -especially dogs- are susceptible to heat-related illness. To find out how to keep dogs cool in summer, and how to help keep them safe in the sun, here are some tips on how to cool down a dog.
Heat-related Illness and Heat Stroke
Dogs can’t sweat through their skin like humans can (imagine wearing a heavy coat in a heatwave) - using their paw pads, nose and tongue (when panting) to help regulate body temperature. When these functions fail it can be deadly: 1 in 7 dogs in the UK die from heat stroke and heat-related illness.
Symptoms range from mild, such as excessive panting - to more severe symptoms (in worst cases, overheating can lead to organ failure). Any symptoms - however mild - should be addressed immediately (even temperatures as low as 20°C are dangerous). Blue Cross has a guide on this - but to avoid overheating in the first place, take preventative care.
Dogs Die in Hot Cars
According to Blue Cross, “not long is too long” when it comes to leaving your dog in the car, where outside temperatures of 22°C can heat vehicle interiors to around 47°C . Depending on the severity of the situation, police may break into the car to free your dog (if you see a dog in a car on a warm day, here’s what to do). When in the car with your dog, avoid long journeys and provide plenty of water.
Dogs are vulnerable to sunburn - especially pale coloured dogs (who can get carcinomas on their ears), hairless breeds or dogs with fine or sparse patches. Sun damage can lead to skin cancer - which in serious cases can lead to surgery and even amputation.
To protect your pet, keep them indoors during the hottest hours (11am-3pm). Provide plenty of shade to rest in - you can also moisten a dog teehirt (or kid’s tee) to keep them cool and protected.
Use a pet-friendly sunscreen (this must be zinc-oxide-free), particularly on the ears and muzzle and tummy where the skin is more fragile and furless. If your dog’s skin appears sore, scaly or crusty, contact your vet - and remember: the sun can also exacerbate existing skin conditions and allergies in dogs.
Some dogs find the summer heat more challenging than others, requiring extra care and hydration to stay well. This includes older dogs and dogs with underlying health conditions who require a little extra TLC:
- Gentle giants - larger breeds like Bernese Mountains and St Bernards can struggle in the heat.
- Snuggly pugs - flat faced or short-snouted dogs like pugs or bulldogs are prone to respiratory issues - so take care not to over-exercise them in hot weather
- (Extra) furry friends - dogs with thicker fur aren’t built for the heat - so take extra care to keep them cool, which might involve…
Regular grooming is essential in summer - particularly for longhaired breeds. Removing matts, tangles or heat-retaining bulk helps to keep your dog cool - while regular bathing ensures they stay free from infestation by parasites and flies, who are attracted to dirty dog fur and may even lay their eggs there (yuck!). Ask a professional groomer or your vet for advice - and enjoy the sight of your happy hound looking fresh with their new “do”.
Food and Water
Overweight dogs also struggle in the heat, so consider adjusting food intake according to energy usage - and always provide fresh, clean drinking water for your dog - this is vital on hot days. Keep a bowl of clean water filled to the brim nearby - and, if you’re out and about, a travel bowl and flask. Frozen treats are also a great way to help your pet stay cool - animal charity PDSA has some delicious ideas.
In addition to rising temperatures caused by climate change, studies by Nottingham Trent University and the Royal Vetenary College cited overexertion or exercise as a key cause of heatstroke in 74% of heat stroke cases, many of these during summer months. While it’s important for your dog to stay fit and healthy, in hot weather it’s best not to overdo it.
Avoid walking your dog during the hottest parts of the day (early morning or late evening is best), and discourage them from running by setting a slower pace for yourself. Plan two to three short walks (rather than one big trek), keeping to shady areas. Avoid hot pavements or tarmac: if it’s too hot to touch, it’s too hot for your dog - always check with your hand first - and consider investing in dog booties to help protect your pupper’s paws - and remember: if you’re going outside more often, it’s even more important that your dog has is microchipped.
Exercising in water can be a refreshing way to cool off - but also comes with risks such as swimmer’s tail, water intoxication and drowning - so take extra precautions. Garden hoses, sprinkler pads and paddling pools can also help your dog stay cool, but (as always) supervise play.
If it’s simply too hot to exercise outside, keep their brain occupied by refreshing their training skills or hiding toys or treats to sniff out. If your dog enjoys lazing on a cold tiled kitchen floor, you could set up a fan for them in the same room - just be careful of extension leads and rotating mechanisms and avoid pointing the fan directly at them. You can also provide cool damp towels to lie on, but beware of moisture and electricity. Cool mats and raised beds also help - as can ice packs wrapped in a towel or a cold hot water bottle - just be careful of chewing as some materials in these can be harmful to dogs.
Keep your pet hydrated, groomed and chilled-out, and these tips should help keep your pet happy and cool - well into the dog days of summer.