A Dog’s Eye View: Hot stuff, cool dogs
May 25, 2012
Steamboat Springs — Our beautiful but mild winter is over. Thoughts now turn to warm-weather activities. From strolling the Yampa River Core Trail to hiking the Flat Tops and from paddling the rivers and lakes to actually swimming in them, we're all gearing up to take advantage of summer. And because so much of what we'll do will include our dogs, let's be proactive and plan for what they'll need.
As the temperatures climb, we humans accommodate. We lessen the layers, replacing ski clothes with short-sleeved shirts, shorts and sandals. We also have an efficient method of personal air conditioning: We sweat through the pores covering our bodies, allowing us to self-regulate our internal thermometers pretty effectively. Our dogs have fewer options. Their coats are year-round, and the only way they can release built-up body heat is through the pads of their feet and by panting. If overexposed to heat, even the healthiest pets can suffer from dehydration, sunburn and heat stroke — something that can be fatal if not treated promptly and properly. We need to help them out.
Let's start with water. Keep plenty of cool, fresh water for you and your dogs in the car, on your person as you hike and in your coolers if you go camping. I have friends who freeze small towels to take along to lay on their dogs to help them cool down as they rest after a hike in the mountains.
Shade is another crucial element for preventing over-heating. Make sure your dog always has access to someplace that is out of the sun and provides good ventilation. If your dog needs to stay in one place for an extended period of time, look into some of the new "cool mat" products for dogs. And please don't let your dog linger on hot asphalt. Being so close to the ground, dogs' bodies quickly can heat up from the temperatures radiating from the sizzling pavement. And their paw pads can burn — think bare feet on hot tar.
Be conscious of the temperatures when exercising your dogs. Try avoiding heavy exercise in the warmest part of the day. Cooler times, such as early morning or evening, are best. Be particularly sensitive if you have a flat-nosed dog such as a pug, an older or overweight dog or one with heart or lung weaknesses. These dogs have greater difficulty panting effectively and thus are more susceptible to heat stroke. Also, when out on sunny days, there are many good sunscreen products made specifically for pets that you may want to investigate.
Never, ever leave your dog alone in a parked car. Even with temperatures as low as 75 degrees, the inside of a car can heat up to 120 degrees in less than 20 minutes, which can result in death in less than an hour.
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As one last piece of advice, I recommend becoming familiar with the signs of possible over-heating and heat stroke. Have your veterinarian instruct you. If you do find yourself faced with a pet showing signs of heat-related issues, your prompt and knowledgeable reactions could save its life.
Lisa Mason is an experienced dog training instructor with the Total Teamwork Training group. Her specialties include new puppy owner education and management.