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Keeping Your Dog Cool in the Summer

By: Dr. Amy Wolff

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As the cooler spring weather gives way to the hot summer months, you'll be spending more time outside with your dog, walking and playing in the sunshine. But while you are having fun, you will need to keep your dog cool to protect him from heat-related illness and injury.

Sunburn

Most people don't think about their pets getting sunburned but they certainly can. White and lightly colored pets can suffer sunburn just as we can if they experience too much exposure to the sun. Long-term sun exposure can lead to skin damage and in some cases skin cancers. Limit the amount of time your fair-haired pets stay in direct sunlight. Even basking in a sunny window counts as time in the sun. If any type of discoloration or sore appears, consult your veterinarian for a check-up. Areas that are commonly affected are the ears, eyelids and nose.

Heat Injury

Heat injury occurs when a dog's body temperature exceeds his ability to cool himself. Unlike people, your dog's normal body temperature ranges between 100 and 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit. When body temperature elevates above 106 F, normal cooling mechanisms are overwhelmed, which results in a serious condition requiring intervention and medical treatment. This type of temperature elevation is different from a fever, which is a normal response to inflammation or infection. The severity of the heat injury can range from a mild/moderate temperature increase called heat stress/ prostration (103 to 105 F) to a potentially life threatening condition referred to as heat stroke (106 F and higher). Certain breeds are more prone to heat injury than others. Large double-coated breeds like the chow chow are particularly susceptible. Dogs bred for life in cold climates such as malamutes, huskies, American Eskimos and Newfoundlands often have little tolerance for heat and humidity. Dogs with shorter faces such as bulldogs, pugs, shar-peis and Boston terriers have less ability to cope with a heat load due to their short and narrow respiratory systems.

Heat stress can happen quite rapidly, sometimes only in a few minutes, especially in dogs that live primarily indoors. Even pets that live or spend a lot of time outside can succumb to the heat if their cooling mechanisms are exceeded by weather extremes.

Preventing Heat Stroke

For many dogs, especially the double-coated breeds mentioned, a summer hair cut can relieve heat stress. A good groomer can clip your dog's coat to a comfortable few inches so they can more easily dissipate the heat. Do not have your pet shaved down to the skin as this eliminates the natural protection of the hair coat and predisposes your pet to sunburn and other injury.

In the heat of midday, keep your dog indoors in either air conditioning or in a well-ventilated area with circulating fans.

If you have a pet that enjoys water, keeping a small pool of water outside provides a fun and cooling environment. Be sure there is just enough water to play in, the water depth should not come over your dog's head. If a pool is not available, a spray from a hose will help. To get your dog used to the hose, start by trickling a small amount of water on the feet and gently move up until your pet gets used to the water. Never blast water at a dog who is not used to the hose.

Limit Exercise Time

Even if your dog accompanies you everyday on a walk or jog, certain weather extremes may call for some changes. Limit vigorous exercise to early morning and after sunset or eliminate long walks/jogs until the weather cools. Also remember that dogs can burn the pads of their feet on hot pavement.

Don't forget that any dog left outside in summer weather needs shade, shelter, food and fresh water. Never leave your dog in a car. Your car can reach 120 F in minutes, even on a cool day and exceed your dog's cooling capacity. In the event of a heat emergency, cool your dog with tepid water; do not use cold water. A fan will help to cool and circulate air. Call your veterinarian immediately, even if your pet seems to have recovered.

Be aware that the outside temperature may actually be warmer than what the thermometer reads. The heat index, a measure of the temperature and relative humidity, makes it more difficult for a body to cool down by perspiration. A temperature of 85 F can actually feel closer to 100 F (or higher) depending on the index.

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