We are heading into a spell of hot weather here in the UK. This can mean danger for our dogs as the temperature rises. Here are some things to watch and tips to help your canine family members stay safe when the sun is out.
High temperatures can bring risks to all dogs. Unlike us, dogs don’t have sweat glands all over their bodies, only in their paws. The main way dogs lose heat is through panting. This reduced heat loss capacity means it’s vital we understand the risks and take action to keep our dogs safe from the danger of heatstroke, which can quickly be fatal.
The risks are higher for certain dogs. As panting is the main method dogs have to cool themselves extreme brachycephalic breeds of dogs, the ones with flatter faces, are in much more danger. Their airway is often much narrower and they can often start to pant with much less exertion than most dogs because they can’t get as much air as they really need in or out and so can’t cool themselves as efficiently. Senior or very young dogs, obese dogs, giant breeds and those with heavy thick coats are also at increased risk.
Knowing the symptoms of heatstroke is essential as it is a real emergency requiring immediate vet help and the sooner we can recognise the potential signs, the better chance the dog has of surviving.
Symptoms of heatstroke:
Heavy and rapid panting
Elevated heart rate
Agitation such as barking, whining, and restlessness
Lots of drooling
Dark red-coloured or very pale gums
Very high body temperature (104ºF / 42oc)
Keeping our dogs safe in hot weather
Keep walks to the coolest parts of the day. Walk in the early morning or late evening. Pick cooler locations if possible, and remember that dogs will not necessarily regulate themselves. Keep a close watch on them to make sure they don’t run around too much for the conditions and overheat themselves.
Find activities to keep your dog entertained at home. Things like scatter feeding in the garden or finding food hidden around the house. Use food enrichment activities like hiding food in boxes or toilet roll tubes with the ends folded over so the dog has to hunt it out and work out how to get it.
Prepare things such as lick mats with tasty things spread over them or food dispensing toys and KONGS and freeze them for a cooling meal for your dogs. All kinds of things can be used, from dog-safe peanut butter (if using human peanut butter check it doesn’t contain xylitol/birch sugar, which is deadly for dogs), Greek yoghurt, or portions of their food. If you feed kibble, that can be soaked so it’s easy to spread or stuff before freezing.
You can also make dog ‘ice lollies’ by freezing pieces of dog safe fruit in water. Alternatively use your dog’s favourite foods and very dilute low salt broth to make a tasty cooling treat. We will often see scaremongering posts in hot weather about the dangers of ice for dogs in the heat, but giving our dogs frozen treats to lick is absolutely safe for them and really helps to keep them cool.
Make sure they have access to plenty of shade and if your dog has sun worshipper tendencies make sure they spend plenty of time in that shade – maybe give them their frozen treats in a shady spot to encourage them to stay there.
Many dogs will also enjoy playing in water. If you don't live near suitable water a paddling pool can provide entertainment in the garden at home. We can add in food to encourage them in and to go ‘treat bobbing’ or toys to encourage them to play in the cool water. While lots of dogs do love playing with water spray from a hose, care is needed here as too much water can lead to water intoxication or water toxaemia which can cause serious illness and can even be fatal.
Use fans to create airflow to help keep your house cool – your dogs will appreciate this just as much as you will. Keep an eye on their reactions in the beginning if they haven’t seen a fan before in case it worries them, but most dogs will accept them happily after a little while. Don’t try to make your dog sit in the direct flow of the fan if they don’t want to – although you may well find that they decide they love it!