Help Your Dog Beat Summer's Heat

The old saying "the dog days of summer" wasn't coined for nothing.

The phrase actually stems from the stars, as Sirius, the "Dog Star," rises in conjunction with the sun between July and August. Some of our ancestors believed that the brightness of the sun and star combined to cause summer's extreme heat. Over the years, however, we've come to use the expression for sweltering days that aren't fit for any dog.

The truth is that dogs are more susceptible to the summer heat than we are. They have to wear a fur coat all year round. Whereas we can sweat to cool ourselves down, our pups sweat only through glands on the nose and paws and try to release heat by panting. "They can't cool themselves off like humans," says Kelly Connolly, an issues specialist with the Humane Society of the United States. "They can't roll down the windows of a car or turn on the air conditioning. It's up to humans to make sure that their dogs are comfortable enough and that they can live healthily in the summer heat."

As global warming brings more extreme temperatures to all corners of the planet, it's important for pet owners to do what they can to keep their furry friends cool and recognize signs of discomfort. Veterinarians say signs of overheating include panting hard. But heat stroke symptoms can include a staggered gait, rapid heartbeat, listlessness, restlessness, vomiting and a darkening of the gums and tongue. If your dog's bodily temperature rises above the normal range of up to 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit, it may be time to take the dog to a veterinarian or animal hospital, says April Guest, DVM, of the Meyerland Animal Clinic, near Houston.

Summer Don’ts
There are several summer hazards pet owners should be aware of. Here are five things you should never do with your dog:

  • Don't leave your dog in a parked car Even with the window cracked, temperatures can rise up to 30 degrees in the space of a few minutes, says Connolly. "Pets are in danger of heat stroke when the indoor temperature reaches 110 degrees," she says. "Even when it's 70 degrees outside, it is going to be suffocating in a quick amount of time in that car."
  • Don't tie your dog up outside in the blazing sun Our canine pals need an escape during sunny summer months, so if you plan to let your pet outside, make sure that it can find shelter under a tree shade, a porch or other structure. The heat is not only a danger to your dog, but your pet can also become sunburned if it’s a thin-coated or wire-haired breed.
  • Don't put sunscreen made for humans on your pooch Chemicals in some sunscreens can be harmful if pets ingest them, says Dr. Guest. What dog won't try to lick off the gooey white substance if given the option? Pet stores sell sunscreens formulated especially for dogs.
  • Don't exercise your pup under the midday sun Chasing sticks or a Frisbee, or even a long walk, can put extra strain on a dog during peak sun times. "The heat of the day can take a toll particularly on dogs who are overweight, older or who have certain diseases," Dr. Guest says.
  • Don't walk your dog on asphalt unless you test the temperature A dog's paw pads are susceptible to burns, says Elaine Acker, CEO of Pets America, a nonprofit animal rescue organization. "Slip off your shoes and stand on the pavement with bare feet first," she advises. "If it's not comfortable for you, it's not going to be comfortable for your dog either."

Tips for Keeping Your Dog Cool
There are also steps -- and extra measures -- you can take to keep your dog comfortable in the heat and humidity of summer. Experts suggest these tips:

Cool: Put warm -- never cold -- water on your pup's paws to help them cool down.

Cooler: Try rubbing alcohol instead of water, which will cool as it evaporates from your pet's pads.

Cool: Turn on a sprinkler outside for your dog to run through.

Cooler: Buy a $5 plastic kiddie pool for your pup. Place it in the shade and fill it with a few inches of water for splashing and fun.

Cool: Brush your dog's coat to get the knots out and add a bit of water to help cool your pet. This will happen as the water evaporates.

Cooler: Schedule a grooming session or a shave for long-coated dogs or those with a heavy undercoat.

Cool: Fill your dog's bowl regularly with cool water.

Cooler: Toss a few ice cubes in the water bowl so your canine has something cool to gnaw on.

Cool: Set up an old beach umbrella in the yard for your dog to lie under.

Cooler: Buy a well-ventilated doghouse and keep it in the shade. Some pet stores now sell misters that attach to a doghouse and spray water throughout the day.

Cool: Plug in a portable electric fan and aim it toward your pet.

Cooler: Fill a spray bottle with water and gently mist your dog. Some may try to playfully bite the spray or stream.

Cool: Encourage your pet to lie down indoors on a tile floor, such as in a bathroom or kitchen. Ceramic tiles stay cooler than wood floors or carpet.

Cooler: Wet a towel for your dog to lie down on and place it on a surface that stays cool in the shade, like concrete, marble or tile.

Cool: Take a cool, wet towel and wipe down your dog.

Cooler: Take a cool, wet towel and wipe the inside of your pup's ears. Body heat is dispersed in the capillaries that line your dog’s ears, making coolness there especially important. Make sure to wring out the towel first because pooled water can lead to ear infections.

Cool: If your dog will be outside for part of the day, provide a large bowl for water that can't be tipped over, leaving your dog without it.

Cooler: Place that large bowl of water under a slowly dripping spigot to constantly replenish the supply with cooler H2O.

Cool: Instead of playing outside in the heat, toss a ball for your dog indoors.

Cooler: Plan your playtime or your daily walk for early in the morning or at dusk. "The odds are your pet will enjoy it a lot more," Connolly says, "and so will you."

Seasonal Health Concerns

Through rain, snow, sleet or 90-degree temperatures, something else is delivered to our homes as regularly as the mail: seasonal health hazards that affect the family dog.

Depending upon the time of year, your dog is likely to suffer from certain medical problems. The winter months bring exposure to the cold weather, dangerous plants -- like poinsettias -- and potentially hazardous foods, such as chocolate. On the other hand, from late spring through early fall, fleas, ticks and other parasites attack.

Here's how you can make sure your mental calendar is on the alert for your pup's seasonal health issues:

Avoid long-term exposure to the elements Dogs left in freezing temperatures for too long can develop frostbite in their ears and paws. How much exposure they can take depends on the breed -- hairless or small dogs can succumb to cold weather in minutes, while a thick-coat breed may be able to sleep in the snow, Peterson says. You can help by trimming the fur around your dog's pads so that ice and snow won't stick and clump. You can also towel off your dog's feet so that they dry quicker. Also, consider investing in an ointment to keep pads from cracking. During summer, your dog should not be left in the car when temperatures rise above about 70 degrees. Be careful when taking your pet for a walk on asphalt or the beach in high temperatures. Touch the surface yourself to make sure it won't burn the dog's paws.

Ready yourself for allergies and pests in the spring and summer When you start sneezing because plants are blooming, be aware that your canine companion may be an allergy sufferer, too. "Dogs can develop allergies to the same things people can, so seasonal pollens are common causes," Beaver says. Some clues: your dog may start to scratch, lick or bite its body. Or it may shake its head frequently or rub its snout along the carpet. Treatments include allergy medications and baths with shampoos that contain soothing oatmeal and/or aloe vera. Flea allergies are among the most common in dogs, particularly in summer when fleas are most active. Also active in the summer are ticks, which can cause illnesses, such as Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Fortunately, flea and tick medications are available to prevent infestations. Consult your veterinarian for advice.

Watch what your dog eats during holidays You may need to avoid certain foods during Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanzaa or other seasonal celebrations. Your dog's diet also should be monitored. "Dogs often get into very fatty foods like gravy, turkey fat, etc. and can develop pancreatitis," says Dr. Bonnie V. Beaver, BS, DVM, MS, DACVB, who teaches in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences at Texas A&M University. This inflammation of the pancreas, a gland behind the stomach that helps with digestion, can result in vomiting in mild cases or it can be life threatening. Beaver says you should also be aware that some holiday foods that you might cherish may be poisonous to dogs. These questionable foods include chocolate, macadamia nuts, raisins and grapes.

Deck the halls -- with limitations When breaking out the icicle lights and plastic Santa, be aware that some holiday decorations are harmful to pets. "People need to look at what their decorations are throughout the house," says Lisa Peterson, spokesman for the American Kennel Club. "Are they within the dog's reach?" Dogs will zone in on new decorations. Poinsettias, mistletoe, holly and other plants can be poisonous and/or harmful to dogs, Peterson says. But you also need to watch out for the Christmas tree. Don't let them drink the water, which may contain additives or plant foods. And avoid low-lying decorations -- particularly glass -- which may look like a chew toy to a curious pup.

See your vet for checkups Every pet should have a check-up at least once a year. "As they get older, the frequency should increase to twice a year and be more intense, such as monitoring blood work," Beaver recommends. During a checkup, you and your veterinarian can discuss preventative care, such as vaccinations against infectious diseases (such as rabies and distemper), or medications to fight flea infestations and heartworm. Heartworm is a parasitic roundworm spread to dogs through mosquito bites. In the Sun Belt, dogs need to be given medication year-round; time it for the first of the month or put a sticker on your calendar as a reminder. In Northern climates, at an annual spring check-up, dogs can be tested for heartworm and started on a seasonal dosage of medication.

Bug Off!

Summer time is great for hiking and camping with your canine friend. But it's also great for picking up unwanted hitchhikers. Chiggers, fleas, flies, mosquitoes, and ticks abound in wilderness areas, parks, and even roadside rest stops -- ready to make both you and your dog miserable.

Bugs are more than just pests. Fleas carry diseases such as bubonic plague and parasites such as tapeworm. Mosquitoes can carry heartworm and West Nile virus. Flies can gnaw at ears and make your dog miserable, and ticks can carry diseases such as Lyme disease, canine ehrlichiosis, babesiosis, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

Your veterinarian can recommend several excellent spot-on topical preparations that will kill and repel fleas and ticks. Some topicals will actually repel chiggers, mosquitoes, and flies, too. The Preventic collar will kill ticks. Make sure the collar or topical you plan to use is appropriate for your dog's age, and ask if it will react with your dog's medications or any flea sprays or powders. If you're camping in areas where Lyme disease is a problem, ask if a Lyme disease vaccination might be appropriate. Be sure your dog is up-to-date on his heartworm medication, too.

How do you keep the critters off your dog? Follow these handy tips for hiking and camping bug-free:
  • Trim the hair on your dog's legs and underbelly to keep him from picking up stray critters. Keep him out of brush and don't let him run loose.

  • Use a topical product such as K9 Advantix, Advantage, Frontline Plus, or Biospot on your dog. Check with your veterinarian to make sure they do not react to other medications or flea and tick preparations.

  • Use a Preventic collar in heavily tick-infested areas. Check your dog frequently for ticks when you're hiking, and remove them promptly.

  • Use a flea comb on your dog every day to remove any extra pests.

  • Use a tarp for ground cover to keep pests off you and your dog. Fly strips (sticky strips that attract flies) are a non-poisonous way to combat flies and other flying insects at camp. OFF makes a mosquito lantern that will help keep your area mosquito-free while camping.

  • Don't use DEET products directly on dogs, because they can ingest the poison while grooming. (It's OK to use them for your own personal bug spray.)