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Keeping Your Dog Healthy in Hot Weather

Dogs are in their element come summertime: Long walks, longer car rides, retrieving balls at the park. What fun! 

Keep in mind, though, that our canine companions are as susceptible to overheating as we are…even more so, since they can’t sweat like we do.

“A dog's main form of temperature regulation is panting,” explains veterinary consultant Beth Turner, DVM. “Moisture is evaporated from their tongues, nasal passages and the lining of their lungs as they pant.”

Dogs with thin, short coats handle the heat better than their shaggier cousins. On the other hand, dogs with pushed-in faces, such as Bulldogs and Boston Terriers, have a harder time when temperatures soar, as do puppies, elderly dogs and those with health conditions such as diabetes or heart disease.

Here’s how to keep your best friend happy and healthy all summer long.

Keep Your Dog at a Healthy Weight—and Properly Groomed

Carrying excess weight doesn’t do your dog any favors no matter what time of year it is. But that’s especially true once the weather heats up.

“Overweight dogs have a harder time keeping cool in warm weather and are at greater risk of overheating,” Turner says. “Help your dog by working to get him to, and keeping him at, an ideal body condition.”

The best way to do that is by ignoring those treat-begging eyes as well as by measuring out food portions and stopping all table scraps.

What’s more, Turner recommends regular summer brushing, since matted fur can trap heat.

“Brushing will help thin out the coat to allow for proper airflow along the skin but not eliminate natural sun protection as shaving would,” she says.

Don’t ever shave a double-coated dog—it will actually make it harder for the dog to cool off and will take a long time to regrow properly.

This category includes a number of common breeds, such as German and Australian Shepherds, Golden and Labrador Retrievers, and Pomeranians.

You can shave single-coated dogs, such as Poodles and Yorkies, since it won’t damage the fur.

“However, they are more at risk of sunburn with shorter coats,” notes Turner. (If you’re not sure what coat your dog has, ask your vet or groomer.)

Provide Plenty of Fresh Water

To keep your dog from getting dehydrated, replenish her water dish often.

Keep an eye on water consumption levels before or after exercise, however, since drinking too much at those times can lead to a condition calledbloat (an emergency that requires immediate treatment). Larger, deeper-chested dogs are more prone to bloat than smaller ones.

Despite what you may have heard, drinking ice water “doesn’t cause bloat,” according to Turner.

You can even give your dog ice; just make sure he doesn’t crack a tooth or choke on an ice cube (crushed ice is a safer option).

In fact, Turner recommends turning hydration time into playtime by “putting your dog's favorite toys and treats in a metal dog bowl and filling it with water, then freeze and serve.”

When going on hikes, bring a portable water bowl or a water bottle just for your dog, and give him a small drink every 15 minutes or so.

Keep Your Dog Cool, Indoors and Out

In extremely hot weather (90° or more), keep your dog inside, especially if humidity levels are also high (a dew point of 65 or more). Keeping him in an air-conditioned area is ideal.

Go for walks early in the morning or at night, when temperatures are generally lower. Save the more vigorous exercise sessions for whenever the heat breaks, or let her romp at an indoor doggy daycare.

If your dog does go out during the day, make sure there’s “protection from heat and sun,” advises the Humane Society. “Tree shade and tarps are ideal because they don't obstruct airflow.” The group also recommends using specially designed mats, vests or wraps to help your dog cool off.

“Add water to your dog's play by setting up an oscillating yard sprinkler,” suggests Turner. Or you can set up a kiddy pool under shade with “fresh cool water each morning; properly clean it in the evenings.”

Monitor Your Dog Around Pools Or At the Beach

Your dog could also cool off in larger bodies of water, as long as you take some common-sense precautions.

“Do not leave pets unsupervised around a pool,” says the ASPCA. “Not all dogs are good swimmers.

And try to keep your dog from drinking pool water, which contains chlorine and other chemicals.”

When taking your dog to the beach—if he’s allowed; check first—bring along a source of shade as well as fresh water. Don’t let him drink seawater, which will make him sick.

“When swimming in the ocean, be careful of strong tides,” advises the American Kennel Club, which recommends putting your dog in a life jacket (a must for all dogs who go aboard boats).

The AKC also notes that “running on the sand is strenuous. A dog that is out of shape can pull a tendon or ligament, and running on wet sand can make his paw pads blister.”

Always rinse your dog off after swimming in either a pool or the ocean to remove chlorine or salt.

Don’t Leave Your Dog in a Parked Car

Even when you think it’s not that hot outside.

If the outside temperature is 70°, “the temperature inside your car can quickly rocket to over 115°; dogs can experience heat exhaustion when their body temperature hits just 103°,” warns the pet food maker Hill’s.

“Cracking a window and parking in the shade makes little difference.”

You can even get into serious trouble: Leaving a dog in an unattended car “is illegal in several states,” notes the ASPCA.

If traveling with your dog, always restrain him with a secure harness or carrier, using ice packs if needed to keep the carrier cool. Don’t forget the water and bowl.

Protect Your Dog from the Sun

Your dog can get sunburn and even skin cancer, especially if his coat is minimal and the tips of his ears are white.

“You may want to use UV-blocking clothes and/or sunscreen on your pup when they're outdoors on sunny days,” says Turner.

“Apply pet-safe sunscreen on the typically hairless or thin-coated areas (belly, tips of the ears and bridge of the nose).”

Don’t spray sunscreen directly on your dog’s face. Spray onto your hands and apply it that way.

Protect Your Dog’s Paws from Hot Pavement

If walking on hot pavement is uncomfortable for you, imagine what it’s like for your dog.

“Don’t let your dog linger on hot asphalt,” says the ASPCA. “Being so close to the ground, your pooch’s body can heat up quickly, and sensitive paw pads can burn.”

Instead, try to walk your dog on grass or get protective booties (assuming your dog will wear them).

If your dog’s paws do get burned, cool them under running water and bandage them or cover with a clean sock. Then take your dog to the vet as soon as possible.

Signs of Overheating in Dogs (and What To Do If You See Them)

If your dog’s temperature rises to the point where his body can’t regulate internal temperature properly (104° or above), he may go into heatstroke. Look for the following signs:

  • Heavy panting
  • Excessive, thick saliva
  • Lack of coordination or seizures
  • Lethargy
  • Sunken eyes
  • Rapid breathing

Check your dog for dehydration by gently pinching the skin at the top of the neck: If it snaps back slowly, he’s low on water.

If your dog shows any of these signs, get him into shade or air conditioning and apply cold towels to the head, belly and underarm area; run cool (not cold) water over his body if possible.

Offer cool water—maybe with some carrot juice or fruit to encourage drinking—but don’t force him to drink. Contact the vet immediately.

Also: Protect Your Dog from Toxins and Bugs

Hot weather isn’t the only hazard your dog faces in the summer.

If you’ve fertilized or used weedkiller on your lawn, keep your dog off of it for at least 24 hours (longer if it says so on the package). Store yard chemicals out of your dog’s reach, as well as items such as citronella candles and insect coils.

You also need to keep an eye on your pal at cookouts, since a number of foods you may enjoy can actually harm your pet. (You can find partial lists of foods you can and can’t feed your dog here.)

If you suspect your dog may have gotten into something potentially hazardous, call your vet or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at 888-426-4435 (open 24 hours a day all year long).

Talk to your vet about protecting your dog from fleas and heartworm, a disease carried by mosquitoes.

To deter fleas from emerging in your yard, “use nematodes to minimize flea populations,” advises Carol Osborne, DVM, author of Dr. Carol’s Naturally Healthy Dogs (Marshall). “Since nematodes are living organisms, use them ASAP.”

Osborne also suggests keeping fleas off your dog with a spray made of half unfiltered apple cider vinegar and half water, and out of your house by “spreading diatomaceous earth (DE, food grade only) all over and vacuuming after 48 hours.

DE is a non-toxic powder that breaks apart flea eggs and dries them out.”

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**These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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