Think how miserable you feel in summer when the air temperature and relative humidity are on the rise. Now, think how much worse you’d feel under those same conditions if your body happened to be covered with a thick layer of fur, you lacked the ability to speak, and you had to depend on a completely unrelated species to perceive and respond to your need to drink water, get out of the scorching sun, and cool off. That’s the reality for the dogs (and other furry pets) in our care—and it’s the responsibility of every dog owner to take proper precautions to protect their beloved pet from heat-related illness or injury. Here’s how:
Keep the water flowing
Make sure your dog has plenty of fresh, clean water to drink throughout the day. Outdoor drinking bowls should be placed in a shaded location rather than in full sun where the water will heat up and evaporate more rapidly. Also, choose a spill-proof bowl so your dog doesn’t accidentally tip over its water supply while you’re away, leaving it with nothing to drink until you come home.
Provide shelter from the elements
Dogs that are kept outdoors for any amount of time must also have access to a permanent shelter that protects them from sun exposure, heat, and inclement weather conditions. And, remember, a yard that is shady in the morning when you leave for work could be exposed to scorching sun all afternoon. An appropriately sized all-weather, insulated/ventilated doghouse is ideal shelter.
Don’t spare the sunscreen
Sunscreen may seem like an unusual requirement for a furry animal, but remember, many dogs, especially those with shorter, lighter fur, are prone to sunburn and skin cancer. The most vulnerable areas are the bridge of the nose, the tips of the ears, and the skin surrounding the lips. Dogs that are shaved or have lost fur due to illness or medication are also at increased risk of sunburn. Choose a sunscreen formulated specifically for use on pets and carefully follow the label instructions for application.
Don’t walk and play in the heat of the day
To help prevent your dog from getting overheated during exercise, try to limit walks and active play to morning or evening hours rather than the middle of the day when temperatures tend to be at their highest. Also, keep in mind that hot concrete or asphalt can easily burn the pads of a dog’s paws. Think how hot beach sand feels on your feet, and you’ll get the general idea. If you can’t tolerate placing your hand or bare foot on a surface for several seconds, your dog’s pads won’t be able to tolerate it either.
Never leave your dog in a parked car
Sure, you may be running into the store for just a few short minutes, but that’s all the time it takes for the temperature in a parked car to rise to a level that can be deadly to pets—even if you leave the windows cracked open. If you must run errands in hot weather, do your dog a favor and leave him or her at home.
Consider your dog’s age and physical condition
Just as with people, dogs that are elderly, very young, or ill are more vulnerable to heat-related illness or injury. For example, an aged dog with arthritis that is left outside all day long will be more vulnerable to heat stroke because it has greater difficulty getting up and moving around to avoid sun exposure. Outdoor time for senior dogs, puppies, and sick dogs should be limited on hot days.