Summertime means sun, beach, and lots of outdoor play with your dog. But higher temperatures also mean higher risks for our furry companions. Dr. Laura Robinson, one of Canidae’s consulting veterinarians, shares her Summer Safety Tips to keep your pet safe.
1) Dogs are much more sensitive to high temperatures
Heat stroke, especially in summer, is a big problem. Some breeds can regulate their temperature better than others. For example, Border Collies and Belgian Malinois have a higher heat tolerance and can likely spend more time outside than other breeds. The breeds we worry about the most are the flat-faced breeds such as Pugs, French Bulldogs or English Bulldogs.
A dog’s temperature is higher than ours and they normally run around 101℉-102.5℉ degrees. Therefore, normal temperature feels hotter to them and they get to higher body temperatures faster than we do. Dogs can typically tolerate anything between 68℉ to 86℉. However, larger dogs, flat faced dogs, overweight dogs, young dogs and old dogs have a more challenging time regulating their temperature. With these dogs, I recommend decreasing that upper limit. Sometimes these types of dogs can’t tolerate anything above 80℉.
2) Be aware of hot pavement
Be cognizant that sometimes ground temperatures can be 50℉-60℉ hotter than the air temperature. Avoid potential hot concrete and asphalt on hot days or your dog’s paws may get burnt. This can be extremely painful. If you think your dog may have burned their paws, it is worth a vet visit.
A good rule of thumb to keep them from overheating is to decrease the amount of time spent outdoors by half. If you normally play fetch for forty-five minutes, cut that down to 10-15 minutes during the summer. Try to aim for early mornings and after or around sunset when it may be the coolest.
3) Think twice before shaving
Tips to keep your dog cool include access to shade and water at all times and not exercising your dog or leaving your dog outside when it is hot out. In the hot months, exercising your dog in the early morning and later evening is best. Make sure you are changing their water regularly, so it is not too hot. While shaving your dog in the summer may be tempting, this can actually be a bad idea. Some coats are meant to actually keep dogs cool in summer so when we shave them, it can actually make it harder for your dog to control their body temperature. Lastly, be mindful of their panting. When it becomes excessive, this is often the first sign that your dog is too hot. If you think your dog may be overheating, you can apply cool (not cold) washcloths to the non-haired areas of their body such as the face, armpits, stomach and feet until you can make it to the vet.
4) Heat stroke watch outs
Heat stroke in pets can occur within minutes, with their body temperature increasing very rapidly. Heat stroke is hyperthermia, a.k.a. a fever, or an elevation in body temperature. A normal dog’s body temperature is typically between 101℉-102.5℉ but, with heat stroke, their temperatures will typically go above 105℉. Some dogs’ temperatures can even increase to 107℉-109℉. Unfortunately, at this high of a temperature, multiple organ failure and death can occur. Some dogs cannot even tolerate air temperatures higher than 80℉.
Symptoms include excessive panting and breathing rate. It often seems like they cannot catch their breath or calm down. Other symptoms can include vomiting, diarrhea, drooling, dizziness, loss of balance, incoordination, and even seizures. Dry sticky gums, abnormal gum color or bruising of the gums are also possible.
Treatment for heat stroke should generally not be done at home. It is an emergency and a vet visit is highly recommended. At the vet, we usually place an IV and give cool IV fluids through the veins to cool down the body quickly. We also will run bloodwork to ensure all the organs are still functioning properly, and, if anything is abnormal, treat as indicated.
5) Car safety
The most common cause of heat stroke (hyperthermia) is leaving a dog in a car without adequate ventilation. The second most common cause is leaving your dog in a yard without access to shade or cool water on a hot day. The third most common reason is exercising your dog outside during hot temperatures. Heat stroke is an emergency and, left untreated, can cause long-term health issues and even death.
6) Swimming safety
A lot of dogs are good swimmers but even the best can’t paddle for extended periods. There are certain breeds that typically have a much more difficult time swimming such as greyhounds (because of their low body fat), breeds with flat faces such as English and French Bulldogs, senior dogs and dogs with mobility issues. Every dog is different and not all were born to swim.
I like life jackets for dogs just to be safe. It is never a bad idea. In addition, a dog who is just learning how to swim will feel more comfortable and will feel more at ease having one on. Tips for choosing a good life jacket include picking one with a handle on top so you can easily grab them, one with a “D ring” on it to attach to a leash, choosing a bright color so you can easily spot them, and ensuring correct fitting (i.e. not too big or small). You also want to figure out if you need a life vest or life jacket. Life vests are typically lighter, better for pools, and easier for casual swimming. A life jacket is better for water sports, more buoyant and covers more surface area so you can see your dog better while providing a little more protection than a life vest.
If you have a pool in your backyard and it is not fenced, I recommend slowly acclimating your dog to be comfortable in and around water and routinely showing them how to get out. It’s very important to entice your dog slowly into the water initially (with a life vest on). Create a positive experience with a toy, a treat, or a situation where your dog will enter on its own. Don’t pull or force your dog into the water. Sometimes finding a dog friend for them who is confident in the water may help your dog have extra courage. Your dog can watch by example and see how fun water can be. It can be best to start with just getting their feet wet, then progressing to shallow water, then slowly into deeper water. It may be best to first learn somewhere where the water slowly gets deeper and has a gradual slope. Just be patient with your pup, being comfortable swimming and in water can take some time.
Fireworks are a huge reason for fear and anxiety in our pets during the summertime. They scare our pets because they are extremely loud, unpredictable, and make your pet feel trapped. They can’t understand where the sound is coming from and many pets believe that the sound is coming from somewhere close by–leading to them becoming terrified, hiding, and sometimes even trying to escape. If your pet is very terrified, I would suggest talking to your veterinarian about prescription anti-anxiety medication options. If you think your pet only has mild anxiety, some suggestions to try would be desensitization training (this can involve playing the sound of fireworks in the home every so often to get them used to the sound and rewarding them with special treats/pets etc during it), creating a safe, calm space during the event, and ensuring your pets are safely inside so they do not escape your yard.
8) Parasite prevention
Everywhere in the United States has fleas, ticks and mosquitoes, all of which can transmit diseases to your pet. Did you know if one single flea gets into your home, she can lay up to 2,000 eggs which can hatch into your carpet, bedding, and furniture? We hear all the time “well I don’t see fleas on my pet”, the truth is, most of the time you won’t. For every one adult flea that you find, there are probably at least a hundred juvenile fleas present. Ticks can spread lyme disease and other blood-borne parasites to your pet as well. Mosquitoes carry heartworm, which is a deadly parasite that both dogs and cats can get. If you live where mosquitoes are present, in humid clients, heartworm prevention is a MUST. Once they get heartworm, it can be very difficult to treat. It is also advised to check a fecal sample for your pet once or twice a year to ensure your pet does not have any worms, which they can get from their environment, fleas, or other dogs/cats.