By Nancy Carlson • Columnist • 

Happy Tails: Helping dogs keep their cool

It is hot and probably just going to get hotter. We could be on track for one of the hottest, driest summers ever, and what with climate change, next year may be worse. On that cheerful note, it’s time to review how we can keep our pooches safe and comfortable through these dog days of summer.

Happy Tails

Nancy Carlson has an enduring interest in the bond between humans and animals.

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I was inspired to write this by an article in the July 2015 issue of Whole Dog Journal called “Cool that Hot Dog” by Cynthia Foley. Foley starts the article with a somewhat lengthy explanation of how a dog’s physiology puts it at much higher risk for adverse effects from heat than a human’s.

We, of course, sweat. But dogs basically don’t. Their main cooling mechanism is panting. When a dog pants, air flows through his mouth, cooling the blood sent to the tongue by the heart. This cooler blood is then circulated through the rest of the body.

Even a scientifically challenged mind like mine understands that this is not very efficient, especially as the thermometer rises. As the temperature outside a dog’s body gets closer to the temperature inside, the system starts to fail. The risks are greater if your dog is obese or has other health challenges, or has a mouth and nose like a pug or a bulldog, which restricts oxygen flow and limits panting.

So, given what we now know about physiology:

n Never muzzle your dog on a hot day. (Gentle Leaders and Haltis don’t count as they allow a dog to pant.)

n Never leave a dog in a car on a warm day. Rolling down the windows a couple of inches only allows hot air outside and hot air inside to change places, which doesn’t help your dog much at all. Shade is better, but it can change quite rapidly, leaving your dog stuck in the deadly sun. The best solution is to leave your pooch at home. Next best: Take him into the store when you run errands. If that’s frowned upon, bring your spare key, leave the engine running with the air conditioning on, and don’t dawdle.

n Never allow your dog to exercise excessively on a hot day.

n Avoid traveling over hot pavement.

n Make sure your dog has access to shade and fresh water whenever he’s outside.

It seems counterintuitive, but shaving your thick coated dog to protect him against the summer heat does not actually help. However, grooming does. The undercoat can be an insulation against the heat, unless it’s matted or dirty. Single-coated dogs, like my greyhound and possibly your Weimaraner can actually suffer from sunburn, so take extra precautions on sunny days. Interestingly, the article lists Papillons and poodles as single-coated dogs, which was news to me.

The article also recommends allowing your dog to play in a kiddie pool, as a wet belly and groin area can help him stay cool. Just hosing her down might not, as a wet back can actually trap the heat. Of course, if your Lab recklessly jumps into anything liquid, you’ll just have to keep an eye on him.

A few ice cubes in Poochie’s water dish will no doubt be appreciated. You can also freeze chicken broth into pup-sicles, but it’s usually salty, so you still need to have fresh water nearby.

Are you in the habit of taking Poochie to your kid’s soccer matches? If it’s hot, don’t. Or, if you do, make sure there’s shade. If there are no trees, bring an umbrella or pop up tent and make sure your dog stays in the shade. This is especially important if your dog has a dark coat.

If your home, like mine, is not air-conditioned, keep the fans going on hot days. Most dogs have the good sense to lie in front of fans to stay cool. Another not-so-high-tech means of helping Fluffy stay cool is a plain old wet towel on the ground. Just refresh it occasionally and keep it clean. Alternatively, you can purchase ice packs from Ice Horse, or a cooling pad, such as an Aspen Pet Cooling Mat or K & H Cooling Bed III. These are less messy than a wet towel but a lot more expensive.

There are also “cooling coats” you can purchase for your dog, but WDJ is not terribly enthusiastic about most of them. They may keep your dog cooler at first, but as the temperature of the jackets rise, they can trap the heat in. The only coats that WDJ gave a nod to are of very lightweight fabric that reflect light, and thus heat, away from your dog.

In summary, on hot days your dog needs lots of water and shade if he’s outside or air-conditioning or a fan if he’s inside. That works fine for dogs with the good sense to just lie down and sleep on hot days.

But not all of our dogs are blessed with such wisdom. Higgly Piggly, Irish, and Snuffleupagus could snooze through the whole month of August. But Fiddlesticks, my corgi, with her indefatigable energy, is another story altogether. My routine for this summer is to get up early enough to walk her and get her to the dog park before things really start cooking. But the dog park has very little shade later in the afternoon, so if your schedule is not as flexible as mine, a better choice might be Airport Park or the shaded area behind the Evergreen Aviation Museum.

Evenings are better, of course, but Fiddles has a very hard time waiting for things to cool off. You can also invest in one or two of the dozens of interactive toys available at pet stores to help your restless dog pass the time on a hot day.

Hope all this helps. God willing, in a couple of months, we’ll be complaining about the rain again.

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