With the “Dog Days of Summer” quickly approaching, it’s a great time to refresh our memories on some summer pet safety!
How many times have you seen people out walking their dogs in 100-degree plus weather? It’s so frustrating to see, and when approached, oftentimes it seems they don’t even realize that they’re harming their pets. So, let’s work together as a community of dog lovers, to spread some summer safety tips, and increase our collective understanding about where we live, and what we can do to keep our furry family members safe this summer.
Get familiar with your dog now
This may seem silly; of course you already know your dog! But there are things we don’t necessarily pay attention to in the cooler months, because we just don’t need to. But being observant now as well as in the dog days of summer, can help us to care for our dogs when it does get hot outside.
Tip 1: When your dog is calm and relaxed, gently pull up on the loose skin on the back of her neck. Notice how quickly the skin returns to the dog’s frame.
Keep this in mind when you perform the same test out in hot weather…you’ll probably notice that the skin takes longer to retract to the body when the dog is dehydrated. This is a great early-warning sign that your dog is dehydrating, and needs to be moved into a cooler, shady place quickly and offered some water.
Tip 2: Check your dog’s paw pads and get familiar with the texture and color of the pads. A healthy paw pad will be strong but smooth, and will have some spring-back when you gently press on it with your thumb. Some pads are pink or partly pink – the pink parts are the most sensitive ones, and will be the first to tear or burn. Remember to re-check those pads periodically, especially in the summer months, so that you’ll notice when the texture changes, when they become dried out, or when white burn marks begin to show up. Those are a warning that your dog’s paws have been on too-hot surfaces and are becoming burned. You can help heal those burns and help improve the overall condition of the pads with natural, botanical treatments such as the organic herbal sprays offered by Natural Paws. Whatever you choose to use on your pet’s pads, ensure that you’re not impeding the pads form breathing! Toxins and sweat are released from the body through the pads, and you definitely don’t want to clog them up with dangerous petroleum or thick lotions. Keeping the paw pads healthy and supple is good for the whole body, as the pads are the body’s shock-absorbers and relieve pressure which would otherwise transfer to the joints. Keeping tabs on your dog’s pad condition will help to identify troubling changes more quickly if they arise.
Tip 3: How much can your dog really self-cool? Panting is an important mechanism, and the main way for dogs to cool themselves down. They use their bodies like an evaporative cooling system, drooling to provide the moisture, and breathing heavily (panting) over that drool to create a cooling effect into the mouth and throat. It’s good to remember that lots of drool doesn’t mean that the dog has had plenty of water. Dogs will literally deplete all extra water to use their cooling techniques, and this can transfer to becoming heat stroke very quickly.
Animals with snub noses like Pugs, Pekingese, and Boston Terriers (and some mixed breed dogs) are more susceptible to heat stroke since they cannot pant as effectively. It’s critical for their humans to be aware of this, take it especially easy on them in the hot months, and create cooling opportunities for them when need be.
The same consideration should be given to elderly, overweight, and those dogs with heart or lung diseases. They should be kept cool in air-conditioned rooms as much as possible.
Time to Play!!
Now that we’re familiar with what your dog is like in his or her “normal” state, you’re ready for some action!
Summer doesn’t mean that activities with your dog must stop – it does mean that as responsible dog parents, we need to choose the right activity for the right dog and time of day. To continue a regular walking routine, pick the earliest parts of the day to go out for that walk or jog. Once the sun is up, pavement (and even desert trails) become exceedingly hot; too hot for anyone to go out without shoes. Asphalt can reach upwards of 160 degrees on a hot, sunny day! Touching the ground with a flat palm for 3 full seconds before venturing out, is a great idea to judge if it’s already too hot outside. If it hurts your hand to place the palm down for the full 3-second count, or it’s too hot for you to go out barefoot, it’s too hot for your dog. Dog shoes or boots can help with the ground temperature, but continue keep on the lookout for those dehydration signs.
Can’t get out for that walk before the heat is too much? Most dogs would love to join you for one of the most healthy exercise activities around – swimming! I remember as a kid, spending summers in the pool with our neighbors and their 2 golden retrievers. One would literally spend all day jumping in to fetch a tennis ball, and the other would jump in with us at will, paddle around a bit, and get back out to sunbathe. It was a rough life, and they managed to wear themselves out pretty well and have a blast at the same time. Kiddie pools are a great alternative too, especially if your dog likes water but isn’t so into swimming.
If your dog hates being in the water like mine does, there are other indoor activities that can be fun ways to exercise your dog. Just get creative with what you know your dog loves to do.
My Sweet Pea’s got some favorite activities, which our family loves to help out with. One is “Dottie” the laser beam. Yes I know, this is largely a feline favorite, but Sweet Pea would chase the laser until the batteries went out if you let her. (She’s now blind, so this game is retired over at our house now.) Over the years, Dottie developed several personalities depending on which human of the house was driving her. I liked to play a little game of hide and seek. Sweet Pea chased Dottie, and Dottie would disappear under the couch, under a favorite toy, or heavens forbid, under my kids’ hands. The kids loved this little bit of control, as well as interacting with Sweet Pea’s game. Jason gave Dottie a bit more of a race-car personality. She cruised along the floor, up the wall, onto the ceiling, and ZIP back to the other room and onto the couch. For us, the key to this game was teaching the “all-done” move so that Sweet Pea didn’t spend the rest of the day searching for her beloved friend.
If your dog has the right temperament, another game we love is as simple as a cup of bubbles and a bubble wand. I would say that this game brought a smile to Sweet Pea’s face that was not topped by anything else, ever. She would chase and pop bubbles every day if we let her, and my kids end up laughing so hard they couldn’t stop. We tried for years to get a good picture of this activity, but she’s just too quick for us!
Another great summertime activity is getting enrolled into an agility class. When our Sweet Pea lost her right eye to glaucoma, I enrolled us into agility classes at Villa La Paws to work on her confidence moving about with the one eye. It made such a huge difference in her life, she seemed to feel a new level of purpose and her confidence soared. Plus, it was a great way to spend some time being active, indoors! And although we didn’t really feel that we were lacking in our bonding, we became so much closer through this activity.
These are just a few ideas; and there are countless games you can make up to suit your own dog’s personality and likes. Because of the glaucoma which took her right eye, my dog Sweet Pea recently lost her remaining left eye…she had already been blind for a few months, so really all she lost was the pain of the condition. But my point is, she still loves to play. We’ve now altered some of her favorite games to suit her new needs…it isn’t difficult, it just takes a little creativity and time to mess around and find what resonates for you and your buddy.
Fun in the Sun / Made in the Shade
So let’s assume that your activities include some outdoor play, either on a walk or at the park. Are you ready to go?
• You’ve checked the ground temperature by putting your palm flat on the path for a full 3 seconds
• You’ve got plenty of water for you and your dog,
• You’ve checked the outdoor temperature to ensure it’s not too hot
• You’ve got a plan including shade areas to rest in along the way
You’re ready to go! Keep in mind that getting out there is the key, but less is more when it comes to summertime walks. Your dog isn’t going to tell you when he’s had enough; he’ll walk with you to the end of the earth. So it’s up to you to gauge how much is too much. It will certainly be less than you’re used to in the cooler months!
Thinking of driving to your destination? This is a great way to get to a safer location like a shady park, without having to endure the pavement on the way there. Refrain from making errand stops on the way there; besides being illegal in many states, it’s also potentially deadly. According to Humane Society, on an 85-degree day, the temperature inside a car with the windows opened slightly can reach 102 degrees within 10 minutes. After 30 minutes, the temperature will reach 120 degrees. It only takes minutes for a parked car to reach a deadly 200 degrees, even in the shade with windows cracked!! Keep this in mind as well, if you see a dog left out in a car. If the owner doesn’t return promptly, you can save the dog’s life by making a call to local police or Humane Society to come rescue the dog from the dangerous car.
When you arrive at your park or play zone of choice, make sure to provide a safe route to get to grassy areas, like a shaded path, shoes or socks, or even carrying your pup to the play zone if the ground temperature requires it.
When you arrive, provide shaded resting areas and make clean, cool water available to your dog.
Watch for signs of dehydration:
• heavy panting
• excessive drooling
• glassy eyes
• drooping frame
If these occur, playtime is over and hydration/cooling off time is imminent to prevent heat stroke. Get your dog some relief via shade, rest, and of course, cool clean water.
When is it Heat Stroke?
The signs of heat stroke are:
• shaking or convulsing
• rapid panting
• drooling excessively
• deep red or purple tongue
• bloodshot eyes
• excessive salivation
If your dog shows these signs, TAKE ACTION immediately!
• get him into the SHADE
• wet him down with cool (not ice cold) water, especially on the HEAD, FEET, BELLY, and ARMPITS
• offer small amounts of cool water to drink
• contact your veterinarian immediately.
Because your dog has reached a danger zone of heat stroke, it’s urgent that you seek out your veterinarian to check the things which are not visible to the untrained eye. Excessive heat can cause organ damage that may not show symptoms for days, even if it seems that your dog has made a full recovery.
If you play your hand carefully, you and your pack can have a great time this summer and create lots of fun new activities as well as memories! And best of all, you can do it safely with good health!
What are some of your pack’s favorite summer activities?