How to keep your pup cool this Summer
Now we finally have some sun, which as we all know in the UK is the same feeling as winning the lottery, as let’s be honest, having heat for longer than a week is also about a one in a million chance. Some people always ask me why dogs in the UK suffer more than dogs who live in permanently warm countries and the simple answer is that they’re just not used to it – like us! A dog that lives in California for example, will be well adapted to the heat, most places will have air conditioning and their bodies, coats and pads will have adapted to the climate, just like humans. Every time the sun peeps out from behind the clouds in the UK, I am running to the closet to find my sarong and bikini top for all-over tan coverage because, to me, 25 degrees is very hot. Someone who is used to 40 degree heat, on the other hand, would probably be in a long sleeve top, protecting their skin and not struggling at all... maybe even laughing at me sunbathing in 25 degrees.
This often short-lived change to the local climate is why we have so many temperature-related injuries in comparison to warmer countries. We expect our dogs to still carry out a normal hour’s walk at a time that suits us when really, they’re not going to feel like walking at all. This is why it’s important to stay mindful in the warmer weather and understand how dogs actually regulate their body temperature as it’s very different to us.
It's important to take into account that however warm it feels for us, dogs will feel it even more. Dogs don’t have sweat glands on the skin, therefore they don’t release heat the same way as humans and don’t “sweat” the same way we do. They release heat through airways by panting, and via the sweat glands in their paw pads. I have had numerous clients and friends try to prevent panting, or immediately worry just because their pet does it more than usual. I can assure you this is nothing to worry about and is just normal regulation of their body temperature. Of course, there are still some warning signs to keep an eye out for, such as a bright red tongue or a curled/extended tongue which is a sign of heat stroke. Normal panting is nothing to worry about even if it seems excessive to us. Most dogs are sensible and will seek shade or the coolest part of the house to lay in (well unless it’s my toy poodle who will happily sun himself for hours in the garden!) it is very important to ensure that your dog can get to the coolest part of the house. Sleeping wrapped around the toilet doesn’t seem like the comfiest place to lay for us but for a dog, if it’s cool, it works!
So, how do dogs regulate their body temperature? When a dog gets hot it will automatically go into “cool down” mode. Initially, they will find the coolest place they can to lie down, like on tiles or near cool pipes. Secondly, the blood vessels on the skin will dilate which helps bring the hot blood to the surface, radiating the internal heat. Dogs will often find a breeze or a fan to lay near to help transfer the heat from their body to the air. Panting is the main way to regulate temperature; it helps bring air into the upper respiratory tract to evaporate water, which usually results in them drinking more. Dogs can’t sweat through their skin, they sweat through their pads, which means it isn’t as effective as when humans do it. This is why brachiocephalic breeds with flatter skulls, such as pugs and bulldogs struggle to pant as effectively as other breeds.
One common concern in Summer comes from owners who panic and suddenly need their dog’s hair shaved off yesterday. Trust me, a regular grooming schedule is perfectly adequate and if your dog is on one you don’t need to panic. For those not on a regular schedule, I would strongly recommend creating one and maintaining it so you aren’t caught off guard when a heat wave strikes again.
This may come as a shock to some, but dogs don’t need to be shaved off to stay cool. You don’t want a dog that is excessively overgrown/matted or impacted by dead hair. If this is the case, they won’t be able to keep cool with airflow being restricted to the skin. This, however, shouldn’t be anything new, all dog owners should be keeping their dog’s matt/dead coat free all year round, not just when the sun comes out. A dog’s coat is designed to keep them warm and cool in equal measure, even on thick, double-coated breeds. By suddenly shaving them all over, you can actually make sunburn a bigger issue which ultimately results in more heat and distress. So, while you don’t need to shave your pooch, keeping the regular grooming schedule intact is still really important to prevent all the issues unkempt coats can cause! Groomers are also uniquely positioned to get up close and personal with your pet, and if anything seems off, raise this with you so you can get it addressed in the appropriate way.
So, rather than jumping to extremes, here are a few other ways to make sure pets are kept cool and comfortable all summer long:
There are many products on the market that aid with cooling, cool coats and mats are a fantastic way to help cool thicker-coated or brachycephalic dogs. Failing that, a cold towel can do the same thing! Just take care with the coats as they can warm up quickly and have the opposite effect!
Soak feet in cool pool:
As we covered above, dogs have sweat glands in their pads and when a dog is in shock at the vets, they will often apply something cold to the pads to help reduce the dogs body temperature. This can be done at home with a cool towel or a nice cool pool for them to walk in.
Always ensure plenty of shaded areas are offered to avoid your dog being forced to lay in the sun. sometimes this involves being a bit mean! My dogs will willingly sit in the garden next to me in the sun just because they are SO in love with me (yes I cannot even go for a wee in peace!), usually, I love this, but not in the heat! I have to tell them to go inside because their welfare is my responsibility and unfortunately, a dog’s loyalty can often trump their own safety.
Offering water and airflow.
Cars, conservatories, and locked rooms are a huge NO. they form a sun trap as the rays can beam through the glass but with no airflow, the room isn’t able to cool and therefore, neither can your dog. Make sure there is airflow and water so that the dog can use its body process to cool down efficiently.
Not walking in the daytime:
This seems very simple but you would be amazed at how many people I still see walk their dogs at lunchtime! In the salon we advise people to carry their dogs into the salon in hot weather before a groom, if they can, to ensure they’re not fatigued and already overheating when they come in. We are lucky enough to have air conditioning in our salon so it’s lovely for the dogs. Leave those long walks for dawn and dusk.
Frozen Kongs/licky-mats/frozen yoghurt.
I give my dogs a host of treats in a Kong or mat to help keep them cool and stimulated if they aren’t having walks. For a dog to get tired they don’t have to run for an hour. Simply using their brain to find and get to food counts as stimulation so get freezing that bone broth, peanut butter and chicken feet mixture in a Kong as it will not only keep them cool but also occupied as well.
Now this is from a groomer’s point of view. A “tram line” or “belly strip” is common practice in the salon. It’s quite simply where we shave the whole belly on a 7f blade to help the dog keep cool when laying on patio or tiles without the risk of sunburn to the rest of the body and without ruining the dog’s natural ability to cool. It’s a great addition to a summer groom and until they roll over, it has no visual effects.