Summer advice to protect your dog

N.H. Sunday News - Dog Tracks Column - 7/11/10
By: Gail T. Fisher


I’m writing this in what is officially a heat wave—and it’s predicted to hit 100 today. Kochi, my Okinawa street dog, loves this weather. He basks in the sun, even choosing lying on hot paving stone. Cannon, on the other hand, has far more coat, and chooses to lie in front of a fan.

You might think that it would be kinder to Cannon if I had him shaved. We have many clients that ask us to shave all their dog's hair off “so he'll be cooler.” As illogical as it seems, shaving does not make a dog cooler. A dog is actually hotter without a protective coat that shields him from sunburn, from (some) bug bites, from cold and from the heat. Professional grooming with hot water and high velocity bathing and drying gets out the undercoat that holds heat, leaving the protective (cooling) outer coat. Trimming the coat can make it easier to manage for brushing, swimming and bug searches, but don’t shave your collie, Lab, golden retriever, Newfie and the like.

Just as we are, dogs are affected by heat and humidity. Be sure your dog has access to shade or a cool, ventilated spot to rest, with access to fresh, cool water. Dogs don’t sweat through their pores; they regulate body temperature by evaporation through panting. The more they pant, the more they need to re-hydrate with fresh water. I call Kochi in from his sunbathing periodically so he has a chance to cool off.

In hot weather, don’t leave your dog in a parked car even briefly. Intending to be “just a few minutes,” we often get delayed or distracted. The interior of a car parked in the sun quickly reaches temperatures or 140 degrees or more – temperatures that quickly and cruelly kill a dog. Even with windows open a crack, a car interior can become a coffin.It isn’t safe to leave the engine running and the air conditioning on either. The car can stall and with the windows shut, the car will heat up in minutes.

If you must take your dog with you, park in the shade, cover the top of the car and windshield or rear window (whichever faces the sun) with a heat reflecting thermal blanket, leave windows on both sides open at least eight inches or more, with battery operated fans to circulate outside air into the car. Leave a bowl of cool water for the dog to drink, and check on him frequently. Sound like too much trouble? Don’t take chances—leave your dog home.

Avoid running or exercising your dog when it is hot. If your dog does get overheated, have him drink small amounts of water, wait a few minutes, let him drink again, remove the water, and repeat this process until the dog has had sufficient water to drink.

Heat stroke can kill your dog, so watch for these symptoms: body temperature 105-106 degrees, panting with thick mucous, bright red tongue and gums, unsteady movement, vomiting and diarrhea. Untreated, it quickly leads to collapse and coma. If you see any of these symptoms, immediately get your dog to a cool area—onto a tile floor, tub or wading pool is best—lay him on his right side and cool him quickly by wetting him with cold water, especially the head, neck, belly and groin areas. Gently massage his legs and body, and use a fan to speed the cooling. You want to get his temperature down as quickly as possible to normal, which for a dog is between 100 and 103 degrees.While you’re tending to your dog, have someone call the vet so you can get your dog there as soon as his temperature is down. Fast action can mean the difference between life and death.

Use common sense for your dog’s hot weather care and enjoy a wonderful summer together.

Copyright © Gail T. Fisher, 2010. All rights reserved. For permission to reprint this article or suggestions for future topics, please contact us.