Summer Heat and Dogs: Know Your Dog’s Limits
by Lynn Stacy-Smith
As committed forever owners to forever dogs, we want our best friends by our side as much as possible, especially when we are fully out of winter hibernation and out exploring the world. Like I’ve written before, spending time with your dog and having fun together is the whole point of getting a dog. It is equally important, though, to know your dog’s limitations and make sure that you are not putting him or her in harm’s way when warm weather hits.
Earlier this week I wrote about dogs in hot cars and about preventing paw pad burns on hot surfaces like concrete and asphalt. Today I want to talk about knowing your dog’s limitations in the heat and making the decision to leave him or her home from your daily run or trip to the local festival.
Every dog is different and some dogs do better in the heat than others. Although mine are young and in good physical condition, I can tell when it gets too hot because they run outside, do their bathroom business, and immediately head to the door or lay in the doggie pool for a bit. When we go on walks I watch for either of them to start panting with a longer tongue than normal or to fall back from their normally exuberant pace. From watching and observing I can tell when they are starting to get warm and we head home.
Typically once the thermometer goes above seventy degrees I use extreme caution and start with very brief walks keeping the radius to our home short so that we can return to a safe, cool environment quickly. As they become more accustomed to the weather and more conditioned to it, our walks get longer, but it does not have to be very warm to me for it to be too warm for them. Over the last several decades of dog ownership, I can tell you that my dogs and I definitely do more fun things outside in fall, winter and spring than in summer.
Dogs with short muzzles like boxers, bulldogs, and pugs have a particularly hard time in warm temperatures because their muzzles make it harder to breathe, pant and cool down. Dr. Marty Becker, DVM, explains how panting works to cool down a dog on his post Dog Behavior Decoded: Why Do Dogs Pant, “Panting is very rapid, shallow breathing that enhances the evaporation of water from the tongue, mouth and upper respiratory tract. Evaporation dissipates heat as water vapor.”
Dogs with super thick coats also have more problems handing summer temperatures, which is no surprise since many of them were bred to live and work in arctic climates. However, dog fur is functional and designed to protect the dog from sun and heat like insulation does to your home, so do not be tempted to shave your dog. Some breeds may get a shorter “summer cut” by professional groomers or owners who are very experienced at grooming their own dogs, but you should never shave your dog down to the skin.
This does not mean that your short-coated, long-nosed dog is ready to run a summer 5K with you. All dogs are at risk of overheating and developing heat stroke. It is critical to pay close attention to your particular dog and to watch for symptoms that she is not tolerating the heat. Some of these from the PetMD post Heat Stroke and Hyperthermia in Dogs include:
- Excessive drooling
- Reddened gums
- Increased or irregular heartbeat
- Wobbly behavior/changes in mental status
Always err on the side of caution to prevent getting to the symptoms above. You know what your dog looks like on a normal walk; use that information to continually monitor her to make sure she is not overheating.
Some dogs are more physically fit and used to athletic activities and may be able to go longer and farther on warm days than your average dog who takes a daily walk and goes on weekend adventures. It’s not unlike my firefighter husband who is used to working outside or in actual fires in the summer heat with massive amounts of bunker gear on his body, versus me who has had an indoor climate controlled job for the last fifteen or so years. He can spend an entire summer day at Disney without looking wilted and I have to drink gallons of water and beg for air conditioning throughout the day.
You can always go back out if you return home from a walk if you are being overly cautious and your dog is fine, but you might not be able to undo the results of pushing her body too far as the heat can be fatal when owners do not recognize and treat heat stroke. In fact if you do not have a fenced yard and must walk your dog, it is better to do shorter walks more frequently, especially in the early morning or later evening hours. Instead of a thirty minute walk, try three ten minute walks for the same amount of exercise.
There have been many occasions when I have seen dogs out on walk
s or runs with their owners or at summer festivals when it is far too warm outside and I cringe at their dog’s tongue lolling out of its mouth as far as it will go and their slow and labored gait behind their owner. The temperature on our deck this morning in the sun without shade was 101 degrees. There was no amount of bunny droppings enticing enough to keep them outside in that weather; they both peed and were right back to the door.
My dogs might be bored as they relax inside, but I would rather have a bored dog any day than one who is suffering from heat related issues. They are not going to miss it if I do not take them with me to pick up some dog treats at our favorite store or if we don’t take a long walk on their favorite path. We will make up for it and then some the next time a cold front comes through with a fabulous walk or a grand adventure that all of us can safely enjoy.
This blog is not intended to be medical advice. Please continue to research heat stroke symptoms and what to do in the event of heat stroke and always refer all medical questions to your licensed veterinarian.