Sophie Jackson is a dog lover and trainer living in the UK. She competes in agility and obedience with her four dogs.
Feeling Like a Hot Dog!
It's hard to miss the message: heat and dogs don't mix. Whether it is signs warning us not to leave our dogs in cars on hot days, or social media posts about dogs collapsing from heatstroke, the information is out there and it can leave us wondering just how to keep our dogs safe and well when the temperature soars.
The first thing to understand is why dogs are more likely to suffer in the heat than humans. The most obvious factor is that dogs are covered in fur and some have a lot more than others. While this coat offers protection from the sun's rays, it does not stop the heat. Imagine running around in a thick winter coat during the height of summer. You would start to over-heat very quickly. While we can take a thick coat off, our dogs can't and that causes a problem if they are allowed to get too hot.
The next thing to remember is that dogs do not sweat like people. When we get hot, we sweat to regulate our temperature and cool ourselves down. We can sweat across every inch of our body. Instead of sweating, dogs pant. This exchanges hot air for cooler air and helps to cool the body. However, this becomes less effective when the outside air is already hot. Imagine putting on your fans in your car on a hot day and all that is blasting through is the outside warm air - it doesn't really cool you down.
The breed of a dog can also play a role. Breeds designed for surviving arctic winters (such as Spitz dogs and huskies) have dense coats great for retaining heat, but not great for keeping them cool. Breeds with shortened noses (pugs, French bulldogs, boxers) cannot cool themselves so effectively by panting and will really struggle in hot weather.
Lastly, we must remember that dogs are not always sensible about the heat. While some may not even want to leave the house on a hot day, others will run around, chase balls and generally keep going until they suddenly reach the danger point of overheating. At that stage things become serious: remember heatstroke is a medical emergency and can be fatal.
Luckily, there are many ways we can ensure our dogs enjoy the summer without overheating. These ten ideas will make sure your dog is safe and cool this summer.
1. Change Your Walk Time
If you have an active dog that likes a walk to settle it for the day, then simply skipping walks when the weather is hot is not necessarily an option. Instead, think about walking your dog earlier in the morning or later in the evening when its cooler.
Unfortunately, many people continue to walk their dogs in the middle of the day when the temperatures are soaring. Worse is when these dogs are encouraged to run around and chase balls. Dogs simply cannot cool themselves fast enough to cope with such exercise in the heat. Also, tarmac and concrete pavements can become extremely hot in the sun and uncomfortable, or even painful for a dog to walk on.
Just because your dog always gets a lunchtime walk, does not mean you should continue them in the middle of summer. Getting up a little earlier to walk your buddy, or going out in the evening is far, far better. And ditch the ball or throw toy because even in the morning and late evening, it is still warm and you should not be encouraging your dog to over-exert itself and get hot.
2. Head for the Beach, River or Lake, etc.
One of the best ways to exercise and keep your dog cool in summer is to find a safe swimming place. Not all dogs like to swim, but even just paddling at the edge of a stream is cooling.
For dogs that will swim, getting out in the water is a good way to cool off while burning off energy. But do remember that swimming is more intense an activity than running around, so it should be done for less time.
Here is how to keep your pup safe while swimming:
- Be Aware of Underwater Hazards: Lakes and rivers may have thick weeds just beneath the surface that could tangle with a dog's feet. Keep your dog to the shallows and avoid steep banks that would make it hard for your dog to get out.
- Consider a Life Vest: Doggy life vests can be bought off the internet and should be considered when swimming, especially in the sea; if the dog is swept away, the vest should keep them afloat.
- Keep Them on a Long Line: This is dependent on the situation, but you could have your dog wear a harness and clip a light long line to the harness (you should not clip it to the collar, as this could choke the dog in an emergency). This firstly prevents your dog getting too far out when swimming, but if they did have trouble, you could pull them in.
- Take Breaks: As lovely as swimming is for dogs, too much can produce its own hazards. There is a condition called water intoxication, where a dog consumes too much water with dangerous consequences. This is primarily seen in dogs who are retrieving things from water repeatedly. Each time they grab the item they ingest water accidentally. It can also happen if a dog likes to play with hoses or sprinklers, or even with dogs who simply drink too much. If your dog likes to retrieve from water, make sure you spend time onshore too, and don't let them over do things: remember, ten minutes of heavy swimming is similar to an energetic walk.
- Have Fresh Water on the Beach: When swimming in the sea, your dog will probably consume saltwater. Take fresh water with you and give them small amounts to drink after swimming, as the saltwater will make them thirsty. Don't give a huge bowl of water, for the reasons stated above.
3. Invest in a Paddling Pool
If there is nowhere local to you where your dog can swim, then why not buy a paddling pool for the garden? If your dog likes water, a paddling pool can be an ideal place for them to chill and cool down in hot weather. It does not need to be big enough for them to swim in, just enough that they could lie down if they wished.
Hard, plastic pools made for kids are better than soft pools which may be split by nails or teeth, especially if your dog likes to splash about and 'dig' in water.
To make things more fun, you could add hard plastic balls to the pool, throw in treats for your dog to hunt for, or even add ice cubes for them to fish out and eat. If you plan to do this, don't make the water too deep.
4. Dogs Love Ice Cream
Giving your dog a frozen treat can help to cool them on a hot day, just like it helps us. There are a number of special doggy ice creams on the market these days. Some come ready to use, others are a formula that your mix with water and freeze yourself.
Even better, make your own! Simple doggy ice cream can be made from Greek yogurt, peanut butter and bananas.
- Greek yogurt
- Peanut butter
- Take a 500g tub of yogurt
- Mix in 2 bananas and two tablespoons of peanut butter (you can adjust the quantities if you wish).
- Freeze it in small tubs (ready for when your dog wants a cooling snack).
Alternatives: You can also freeze fruit such as watermelon or make flavoured ice cubes using chicken stock (make sure it is zero salt) or goat's milk. For other recipes for doggy ice cream check out this list of fifteen.
Some dogs can be sensitive to dairy and may experience GI upset.
5. Keep Them Drinking
Some dogs are really bad at taking advantage of the water bowl. They are the dogs who maybe take a couple of laps once or twice a day, which is not a problem in the cooler months, but in summer these dogs could easily become dehydrated.
Other dogs will drink at home, but when out and about refuse water, again raising the risk of them dehydrating. Here are some ways you can make their water more palatable and tempt them to drink more:
- Add Goat's Milk: Some dogs who won't drink water straight will cobble a bowl down if you add goat's milk. Goat's milk is low in fat but rich in protein and calcium, it is also easier for a dog to digest than cow's milk. Many dogs are lactose intolerant and will develop an upset stomach from cow's milk, but will be fine with dairy. You can also add puppy milk as an alternative.
- Add Electrolyte Formula: There are products on the market that you can add to a dog's water which help them to restore their electrolytes, similar to hydration drinks used by athletes. These are for dogs who are very active, not for couch potatoes. The formulations can be hit or miss with dogs, some loving them, some turning their nose up at them.
- Add Chicken or Beef Stock: Another way to flavour water and make it more tempting for dogs is to add fresh stock to the bowl. This should always be a zero salt stock (and onion and garlic-free), else you are defeating the point of getting them to drink.
- Try Watermelon and Cucumber: Watermelon is 92% water and most dogs will eat it readily. This is a great way of getting fluids into them. You can offer the melon in slices or cut it into cubes and add it to their food. You can also try cucumber, though not as effective as watermelon, it still has a high water content and can be slipped into a dog's dinner. Note: Do not feed rinds or watermelon seeds to your dog.
6. Consider Ditching the Kibble
When we are hot in the summer, we start to think about eating salads and fruit, or ice cream. Things that are cool and full of fluid. We are not usually craving salty crisps or similar dry snacks.
Our dogs are the same, but for them their meals are even more important for keeping them hydrated and refreshed. Dogs derive a lot of their water intake from their meals, far more than we do. It is why dogs that eat raw food tend to drink less.
Some dogs will also lose their appetite in the hot weather, and need to be tempted to eat. Don't forget food provides various nutrients that help the body cope with heat and keep it functioning. If those are depleted a dog can become ill.
By changing our dogs' summertime meals we can ensure they are getting the hydration and other resources they need to keep well in summer. You don't actually have to ditch kibble, but instead of serving it dry, soak it in water.
You could also consider switching to a wet variety of the food you feed during hotter weather. If you feed raw, you could try offering items semi-frozen to help cool your dog.
7. Use Cooling Mats
Cooling mats can be found in pet shops, along with various other outlets and, of course, from the internet. There are various versions, but the best sort are ones that contain a cooling gel that activates when pressure is applied to the mat. The mat will then cool down slightly from the surrounding temperature.
Cooling mats can be stationed around the house, or in the car for your dog to lay on. Some dogs love cooling mats and will be drawn to them, enjoying the sensation of the mat chilling down beneath them. Other dogs will not go near them, and seem to dislike the feeling. Fortunately, these products are relatively inexpensive, so if you dog doesn't like it, you have not lost a lot.
One word of warning, these mats are not resilient to being chewed or scratched up and will puncture and leak. There is little information about what the gel is inside these mats, and it might be toxic if ingested. If you have a dog that might destroy a mat, always supervise its use.
8. Take an Umbrella
This sounds an odd one, but it is a tip I picked up years ago from a woman who had an elderly collie. She took an umbrella around with her on very hot days and would open it and place it beside the dog when they were sitting out, to provide the dog with personal shade.
This is a great idea if you are heading out on a picnic, or going to a fun day out and your dog is with you. You can make sure your dog always has shade, even if you are out in the open. You could even combine this with a cooling mat to make a perfect chilling spot.
You could also use this idea at home if you have a garden which does not get a lot of shade, and your dog likes to be outside with you. Whether you are gardening or having a BBQ, your dog will always have his own personal shady spot to sit in.
9. Invest in a Fan
Just as we appreciate some cooling air on a hot day, so do our dogs. Household fans are a cheap and easy solution to help our canine companions chill out when its just too hot. There are all manner of varieties, from electric plug-in fans, to car fans and portable battery-powered ones. You can even get solar-powered fans.
The important thing to remember is that unlike an air conditioner, fans only move air around. If the air they are moving is already hot, then they are not much good for cooling a dog. In fact, car fans are of little benefit to anyone on a hot day and you should never leave your dog in a car hoping a fan plugged into the cigarette lighter will keep him cool—it won't!
Fans are certainly a handy thing to have around to assist with cooling a dog, especially used in conjunction with a cool mat or frozen treat. Older dogs especially appreciate a little air passing over them, as many do not cope well in high temperatures.
Here are a few safety factors to bear in mind.
- If you have a puppy or a dog prone to chewing things, do not leave them alone with an electric fan, as they might chew the cable and cause themselves harm.
- Some dogs may find the noise of the fan or the movement unsettling. Do not force a dog to be near a fan, and if they are worried, place it on a low setting to give them time to get used to it.
- Most fans have safety guards these days, but older fans may not. Make sure your dog cannot get its mouth, paws or even its tail near the blades of the fan.
- Never rely on a fan alone to keep your dog cool, and make sure to monitor your pet on a hot day in case they need extra help to cool down.
10. Keep an Eye on Sun-Lovers
Most dogs are sensible enough to stick to the shade when the weather is hot out, but some dogs are addicted to sunbathing, just like humans, and these individuals can be at risk of over-heating.
Don't rely on your dog having the sense to stop sitting in the sun when it gets too hot. If you know your dog is a sun worshipper, prevent them from lying in the garden in full sun during the middle of the day. At other times, make sure they come in and cool off at regular intervals and encourage them to drink.
Certain breeds with short coats can suffer from sunburn, this is especially true of hairless dogs such as the Chinese Crested. Hairless dogs need to always have sunscreen applied before going out in the sun, as they don't have a coat to reflect harmful UV rays.
Dogs with white coats can also be more prone to suffering in the sun. In these dogs it is often the ears which suffer the worst damage, as the skin is thin and delicate there. Repeated sunburn to the ears (or any part of the body) can lead to skin cancer, which would necessitate the removal of the ears. You can apply sunscreen to white ears to protect them, or keep your dog in the shade.
11. Bonus Tip: Cooling Coats
I've included this tip as an 'extra' as there is some debate about the benefits of coats a dog wears to cool the body. There are lots of varieties of these coat and most involve soaking the fabric in water and then putting it on the dog. These coats can be bought quite cheaply from pet shops and other outlets, but they are somewhat controversial.
The idea behind them is logical. The wet coat is cold when first applied and, as the sun evaporates water from the material, it further cools the dog. Some coats are designed to wrap around the chest with the specific aim of cooling the heart, while others sit over the sides and back. You can even get cooling bandannas that just go around a dog's neck.
However, there are those who say cooling coats are not effective and may even cause a dog to heat up further. A study done in Australia in 2016 looked at the effect of heat on racing greyhounds and whether cooling coats could help them after a race. The study found that greyhounds wearing a cooling coat had a higher body temperature than those who did not wear one.
Another study by the University of Florida looked at how cooling vests might assist working dogs in hot environments. The coats the dogs wore were more sophisticated than the typical cooling vest and had rechargeable packs inserted into the cloth that aimed to keep the temperature of the dog consistent. While they found that some dogs seemed to cool down faster when wearing the vest, the evidence was inconclusive.
One thing to bear in mind is that most shop-bought cooling coats are far less high-tech than those being used in these experiments, and have not been tested to demonstrate whether they help cool a dog or not.
While the jury is out on the benefits of a cooling coat, there is no evidence to suggest they are harmful to dogs and many owners do believe they help their pet. They are likely of more use to short-haired dogs than long-haired dogs, and dogs with double-coats should not wear them as their coats naturally protect against heat. Whether you choose to use one or not, is entirely up to you.