Updated: Sep 7, 2021
Ah, the English summer. Months upon months of it being grey, cold and wetter than an otter’s pocket… then, almost overnight, the mercury is so high you’d think it’d been to a 90s rave. The BBQs fire up, the sunscreen comes out, trousers are swapped for shorts and bras for bikinis and, if you’re anything like me (and my plain and painfully unexciting Englishness), anyone within a 5 mile radius is temporarily blinded by pasty skin that hasn't been touched by sun since grunge was a thing. But, while us humans are lapping up the sunshine, our hounds may not be quite so happy. Hot weather can be troublesome for dogs – each year, an unfortunately high number of dogs in the UK die from heat-related conditions such as heatstroke. However, with a bit of preparation and planning, you can make sure your hot hound is as cool as a canine cucumber and enjoy those hot lazy days together. Here’s a few tips on how to look after your pooch when that sun finally decides to shine!
Only mad Dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun… plan your walks!
The chances are… if it feels warm for you, it’s going to be just as warm if not warmer for your dog, who, let’s face it, has been given a fur coat to wear all year round. Temperatures start to rise as the day wears on, so it’s time to set that alarm clock a little earlier, I’m afraid – aim to take your dog out early in the morning before the sun has had a chance to heat things up. And talking of heating things up, remember that certain surfaces will retain the sun’s heat stronger and for longer than others, so if you can’t get out early and decide to try an evening walk once the sun has lost some of its ferocity, remember to test the ground you’ll be walking on first. Hold your hand or bare foot to the pavement… if you can’t stand it, your dog won’t be able to either, and will be at huge risk of burning their paw pads.
Ultimately however, remember that no dog died from not having a walk (despite what those puppy-dog eyes would have you believe)… but dogs HAVE died from being walked in hot weather. If you cannot get out with your dog in the cooler part of the day, it is better to try again tomorrow!
Water, water everywhere
It’s obviously important to ensure your dog has constant access to clean, fresh drinking water… but this is never more important than on the hot days of summer. Always take a good supply of water with you wherever you take your dog – they WILL go through it. You can buy special dog water bottles with built in drinking bowl attachments for ease, or alternatively, silicon folding bowls are my personal favourite as they fold completely flat so can easily be clipped to a bag or belt with a carabiner.
(Hey, I may not be the epitome of style, but at least I’m always prepared…)
There’s no other way to say it – NEVER LEAVE DOGS IN CARS
No doubt you’ve heard it uncountable times before – dogs can die in hot cars. And no doubt you’d never dream of leaving your precious pet alone in a vehicle on a hot day. Yet, each year, emergency services and the RSPCA are called out to so many incidents of dogs being left in cars or caravans on the hottest days… and of those calls, many of them are too late. Even if the car is parked in the shade and left with the windows open, the temperature inside can soar in a very short space of time – on a day when the outside temperature is 22°C, the temperature inside the car can reach 47°C in under an hour. So “not long” is “long enough” to kill your beloved pet. Make sure you always have a plan so your dog isn't left alone in the car or any other enclosed spaces.
If you see a dog in a hot car, dial 999.
Cool down playtime
Unless your dog is like my two Bassets and spends 23 hours of each day sleeping, chances are your hot housebound pup will require some form of home entertainment. However, in the hottest of weather, you really don’t want your pup buzzing around like a summer bee. It can be really useful at this time to introduce games and toys that don’t involve too much activity in an effort to keep pup calm and cool. For example;
Hiding toys or treats around the house or garden and letting your dog sniff them out is a fun game for your dog that keeps his interest and makes his doggy brain work without getting him too hot and bothered
If you have one, you could use toys or treats to encourage your dog into a paddling pool to cool down
Freezing small items of food or treats or using special food puzzles can help to keep your dog stimulated without too much exertion
Cool haircut, man…. – remember to keep up with your dog’s grooming
Regular grooming and/or clipping can not only help keep your dog's coat clean but can help to keep them cooler when the weather hots up. While grooming is especially important for dogs with very long or fluffy/frizzy coats as it removes knots and matts that can trap heat, it also removes excess dead and loose hair that can contribute to retained heat on any coat.
Work on that doggy beach bod – keeping your dog healthy can help keep them cool
It’s not just us humans who need to try for a beach bod for summer… Keeping your dog fit and a healthy weight – whatever that may be for their particular breed – means they are best equipped to cope when the mercury rises. Dogs that are overweight will find the hotter days much more uncomfortable and are more likely to suffer from heatstroke more quickly. Bear in mind also that, like us, your dog will likely be less active when it's hot and walks and play should take place at cooler parts of the day and with far more rest breaks, so it can be a good idea to adjust the amount of food you give them to reflect how much energy they are using up in the day. Don’t think you’re being mean by doing this – you’re doing your dog a real favour by keeping them slim for summer!
Hot dog to chilli dog – how to cool your dog down!
If your dog is showing signs of overheating, there are a few things you can do to help bring their temperature down:
Where possible, encourage them to keep to shaded areas and out of direct sunlight
Wet some old towels, wring them out and lay them down for your dog to lie on. Some people also do this with old T shirts which they put on their dog, or alternatively there are special dog coats you can buy made just for this purpose.
Fill a hot water bottle with cold water and lay this in your dog’s bed. Watch your dog carefully to make sure they don’t chew it, however, as the material could be harmful if swallowed.
Put garden sprinklers on, or perhaps keep a paddling pool in a shaded area for them to splash in.
It’s the pits...
Primarily, dogs pant to regulate their body temperature. However, like us, they do also sweat a little through areas on their body not covered by fur. These keys points on a dog’s body release heat more than others and as such can bring down their temperature quicker if cooled. Much like you running water over your wrists or the back of your neck to cool yourself quickly, wetting or similarly cooling the underside of a dog’s arms (their arm/leg ‘pits’) or tummies can bring their core body temperature down very quickly.
Be hot on heatstroke – know the signs of overheating in your dog
Heatstroke occurs when panting is just not enough for a dog to reduce their body temperature and as it rises, it damages their tissues and organs, making them unwell. In severe cases, heatstroke can cause their organs to fail entirely and can lead to death. 1 in 7 dogs treated by vets for heatstroke die, (www.thekennelclub.org.uk), so it’s vital to know the signs and spot heatstroke in a dog so they can be cooled down immediately, taken to a vet as soon as possible and given the best chance of survival. Signs of heatstroke include:
A rapid pulse
Lack of coordination
Vomiting or diarrhoea
Loss of consciousness
If you suspect your dog may have heatstroke, you need to act quickly. Get them to to a cool, shaded area, apply cold towels to their head, neck and chest, encourage them to drink water or lick an ice cube and contact your vet immediately. Try not to give them too much water to drink and never place them directly into ice cold water as this can cause them to go into shock.
Stay cool, canines and companions! And enjoy the summer... while it lasts!