In the UK, the hot weather can creep upon us. Suddenly, after weeks of stomping after our canine friends through mud and puddles, we wake up to something rather more continental! We all know that our dogs don’t necessarily know what’s best for them (greedy labradors, we’re looking at you), so naturally, they will be as keen for a walk like any other day. It’s up to us as owners, then, to make the best decisions for our dogs’ health.
Understanding Dogs and Heat
Heatstroke occurs when a dog’s body heat climbs too high for them to regulate. This could be caused by being subjected to extremely hot conditions, or from vigorous exercise in warm weather. Your dog’s coat actually helps to cool them in the heat as well as insulate them in the cold. However, they do not have sweat glands over their body like us humans. Instead, they regulate their body temperature through the panting mechanism. When panting becomes faster and more shallow, this is your dog working to release more body heat.
A dog’s reliance on panting to regulate their body temperature is one reason that brachycephalic (or flat-faced) breeds tend to be more susceptible to heatstroke. Other types of dogs who can experience an increased risk of heat-related illness are:
- Elderly dogs
- Overweight dogs
- Large or giant breeds
- Those with underlying heart or lung conditions
Don’t forget that if your dog doesn’t fit into any of these categories they can still experience heat-related illness. Heatstroke caused by physical exertion can come as a surprise to owners of younger and extremely active dogs.
What to look for
Your dog may need medical attention if they move from heat stress to heatstroke. Symptoms of heatstroke are:
- Unsteadiness on their feet, or collapsing
- Diarrhoea or vomiting
- Slow responses or unconsciousness
These signs may occur while in the heat, or while exercising. So if your dog experiences any symptoms, make sure they are rested, hydrated, and out of the sun while you call your vet for advice.
Prevention is always better than cure, so when the temperatures rise it’s time to take precautions.
Always ensure that your dog has access to drinking water. This goes for any time of year, but keep an extra eye on your dogs water bowl in the summer as it’ll dry out quicker than you expect. For breeds keen on splashing and swimming, a dog pool or morning walk by water is ideal.
While outside, make sure that your dog has access to shade. Choose woodland walking areas, or a route that offers some kind of shade. Obviously, shade is more abundant in the mornings and evenings.
You may be surprised that your dog wants to be inside the home on a warm day when everyone else wants to be outside. However, a cool hard internal floor may be just what they need to rest and recuperate.
Avoid exerting your dog in the heat. Go for walks in the morning or in the evening. On days of extreme heat you may need to avoid a walk altogether. Your dog might sulk but it’s for their own good!
Never leave your dog in a stationary car during warm weather. Even with the windows ajar, it could be catastrophic. It’s just not worth the risk.
Every dog is an individual. So it’s really important for you to listen to and observe your dog’s behaviour on hotter days. Guidelines are there as a guide and cannot be instructive to every single dog. If you have a niggle of doubt that your dog should exercise, then just play it safe and leave them at home in the shade. They might give you that scornful look, but will soon get over it come dinner time!