How to Keep Dogs Safe in the Summer Heat and Sun

Yellow Lab dog on the beach

Some might believe the frigid winter is the most dangerous season for our dogs, but the East End summer carries a very serious set of perils. Thankfully for our little friends, a combination of education, good preparation and common sense makes most dangers easily avoidable.

There are no viable statistics out there, but it’s safe to say far too many dogs die from heatstroke every year. The most common cause of heatstroke in dogs is people’s carelessness. Our pups depend on us to protect them.

Leaving a dog in a car with the windows cracked, for example, is careless. PETA claims “thousands” of dogs suffer and die” like this each summer. A 70-degree day may feel cool to humans, but the car can heat up to 120 degrees in minutes, killing your dog during a brief errand. Car windows can also function like a magnifying glass, focusing and intensifying the hot sun. Even in the shade, temperatures inside a car can rise quickly.

Remember, if you are hot, your dog is even hotter. Dogs primarily have sweat glands on their feet, and instead rely on panting to release excess body heat and regulate their temperature. This is not as effective as sweating.

Sparrow bichon frise in grass
A relaxed dog stays much cooler, Photo: Oliver Peterson

It’s also important to note that, According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), normal canine body temperatures range from 101 to 102.5 degrees—the smaller they are, the higher the temp—while humans are 98.6 degrees. Any temperature above 103 degrees isn’t normal and dangerous for a dog.

They also wear a fur coat year round.

Excessive exercise in high temperatures and humidity can also result in heatstroke. Leaving your dog outside unsupervised for long periods is never a good idea on a hot day. Always provide a shaded area when they are outside in the summer. And don’t forget: As the sun shifts, so will that shaded area. Most trees do not provide enough shade for a dog to be outside all day in the heat.

Keep plenty of fresh, cool water accessible to maintain hydration. The sun will warm a bowl of water, so it’s best to keep bowls in the shade and refresh them regularly. Some dogs like being hosed down, which is another great way to stay cool and enjoy some playtime in the yard. Even a plastic kiddie pool in the shade can be a fun way to beat the heat.

Of course, an air-conditioned house is always a safe choice.

Symptoms of heatstroke include heavy panting and drooling, increased body temperature (above 103 degrees), dehydration, reddened gums, rapid or irregular heart rate, increased anxiety (barking, whining, pacing), a wobbly or “drunken” walk or behavior, vomiting, inability to produce normal urine, black tar-like stool, thickened saliva, lethargy and listlessness, seizures and unconsciousness.

Once it sets in, heatstroke can lead to multiple organ dysfunction and system failure. This includes the brain, kidney and liver, as well as blood clotting issues and more.

Give your dog plenty of water in summer
Give your dog plenty of water in summer, Photo:

Some dogs are at higher risk for heatstroke, including flat-faced breeds like pugs and boxers, seniors and puppies, obese dogs, those with extra thick coats and dogs with underlying heart and lung illnesses or hyperthyroidism.

If your dog does have heatstroke, it’s important to bring down his or her core temperature gradually with cool water. Use a bathtub, hose or wet towels, and never try doing it too quickly with ice-cold water, which could result in shock.

Bring your dog’s temperature down to 103 degrees and then get them to the veterinarian as soon as possible.

While not as critical as heatstroke, dogs can suffer from painful sunburn and an increased risk of skin cancer during the summer, just like humans. White dogs and those with thin hair are at the greatest risk, but all dogs have sensitive hairless areas, such as noses, bellies and the inside of ears.

Shade, again, is key. If you’re spending time together at the beach—which we all love—either head out later in the day or invest in a pet-friendly sunscreen that’s not harmful if licked. Zinc oxide, for example, is great for people, but it’s toxic for dogs.

Rub safe creams into hairless areas just like a human would. Or use a pet-safe spray sunscreen, which is much easier to apply, especially on their coat and the less exposed skin beneath it.

A short haircut can be appropriate to stay cool in summer, but balance this with the need for protecting your dog’s skin from UV rays. And be aware of hot sand or asphalt. Dogs don’t wear shoes and could be burned. If the pavement is too hot for your hand (try holding it palm down for 30 seconds), it’s too hot for your dog’s pads.  Carry them until you reach a cooler spot.

Use common sense and empathy, and remember your dog will always be hotter than you, and you’ll have a safe, fun summer with your best friend.

If you do see a dog suffering in a locked car, call 911 immediately.

Colleen Peterson is Red Cross–certified in canine first aid and CPR. She is the owner and operator of Petite Dog Care in Center Moriches, a home-based dog care business for small breeds. Call 631-726-0183 or email [email protected].

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