Helping dogs cope during summer

helping dogs cope during hot weatherDogs love to be outdoors, especially during summer when they can head for long walks in sunny fields or have a lovely fun day at the beach. However, despite how much your dog loves being outside, when the summer days are getting longer and hotter it can be really dangerous for your dog and sometimes even fatal. Here we discuss what these dangers are and what you can do to help your dog continue to love the outdoors but be protected.

A common problem for dogs, which some owners may not be aware of, is the risk of sunburn. If the sunburn is severe it can even lead to more serious medical problems such as cancer, so it’s important for dog owners to be aware of the signs of sunburn and what to do to prevent it.

Sunburn is caused by over exposure from the sun and is more common with dogs that do not have a lot of fur or have a very thin coat, although it can still affect other breeds of dog. Some of the symptoms are similar to humans, and these include red patches on the skin or changes in the texture of the skin. Certain areas are more susceptible to sun burn such as the skin around their lips, their belly and the tips of their ears.

You can try to prevent dog sunburn by using dog friendly sun cream spray or wipes, having the dog wear a hat to reduce the risk of heatstroke, and by ensuring that there are shaded areas for the dog to go to. Also, avoid taking your dog out into the sun during the heat of the day. Plan your walks to either be early in the morning or later in the afternoon.

If your dog has mild sunburn, then you can try applying aloe vera to the red areas. However, if the sunburn is more severe and your dog seems to be in pain or have a fever as a result then you should seek medical attention immediately.

Sunburn is not the only thing you need to look out for. Overexposure from the sun can also lead to heatstroke, which can be fatal. Monitor the amount of sun your dog is exposed to. During the day, if you are spending it in the garden, set up a little paddling pool for your dog to keep cool in. It’s also a great way for him or her to have a play and burn up energy that they would usually get during their daytime walk. It can only take a few minutes of severe heatstroke to be fatal to a dog, so you need to be vigilant at all times.

Signs of heatstroke include collapse, excessive panting and dribbling. If you think your dog has heatstroke, move them to a cool place immediately, wet their coat with room temperature water and ring your vet straight away. Never use frozen water as this could cause them to go into shock.

To keep your dog cool and avoid the risk of heatstroke, place wet towels outside for your dog to lie on in the shade. Add ice cubes to your dog’s water bowl to keep the water cool throughout the day. Also, ensure you change the water on a more regular basis than you would normally do. Ensure you have a water bowl, preferably outside in the shade, for the dog to access whenever he wants. You can also get pet friendly ice lollies to boost hydration as well.

Be careful with short nosed dog breeds such as bull breeds, boxers, pugs or dogs that are older or overweight. These are the dogs that are more at risk of heatstroke and can suffer from it really quickly.

Burnt Paws
A common injury due to hot weather can be burnt paws. Avoid this by not taking them for walks during the hottest part of the day. Before heading out for your walk, no matter what time of day, quickly test the temperature of the pavement. If you are unable to keep your hand on it for longer than 5-8 seconds, then it is too hot for your dog to walk on. Exercise your dog on grass wherever possible and choose shady walking routes.

A big part of many people’s summer holidays are family days out to the beach or other places with their dog. Try and avoid long car journeys if you know you have to take your dog in the car. Always ensure your car is kept cool and your dog has a supply of water. Stop for regular breaks and fresh air when possible.

Once you get to your destination, NEVER leave your dog alone in the car, even if you have the windows open. The car will get unbearably hot really quickly causing your dog heatstroke and dehydration. If you do see a distressed dog in a car on a hot day, ring 999 immediately and ask for the police who will advise you further.

As we have discussed before, take your dog on walks during the coolest times of the day. During the day keep them stimulated by playing games and teaching them tricks instead of a walk.

Swimming is a great option for the summer, but don’t force your dog to swim if they don’t want to. If you are at the beach be careful of the tides as they can change quickly. Once your dog has been in the sea, wash the salt and sand off their fur as it can lead to skin irritation. Try and make sure your dog doesn’t drink the sea water as the salt will not be good for them.

If you are swimming in freshwater lakes, be careful of algae as some can be poisonous to dogs. Also be careful of the current of the rivers. Although dogs are usually great swimmers, they are still at risk of drowning so constantly keep an eye on them.

For advice on dog care, training, behaviour therapy and more, please visit our articles page which is full of free advice.

About the author

Dr Shahad Mohammed
Veterinary Physiotherapist
National Association of Veterinary Physiotherapists