With the first day of summer right around the corner, more people and their pups are enjoying the warm weather and wonderful landscapes Colorado has to offer. Most dogs love adventuring with their people, but sometimes we forget their bodies respond differently to the environment than our own. Summertime safety is just as important for dogs as it is to people, so here are seven tips to help your dog stay safe this summer.
- Water is your pup’s best friend! Access to fresh, cool water is important year round, but in the summertime it becomes even more important. Rising temperatures not only increases the amount of water your dog drinks, it also tends to heat up and evaporate their source of water faster–especially outdoors. Access to cool, clean water in a shaded area will help prevent dehydration and heat stroke. Keep an eye on how much your dog drinks and familiarize yourself with the signs of dehydration. Swimming, wading pools, sprinklers, and other water games are fun ways to cool off for dogs who enjoy water-related activities.
- Stay away from the hottest part of the day! Dogs tend to overheat quicker than humans because their bodies don’t dissipate excess heat the same way our bodies do. Dogs naturally have a higher body temperature than humans and they can’t cool down efficiently through sweat like we do. Dogs cool their bodies mainly through panting (which is significantly less-effective than sweating) and vasodilation (dilation of blood vessels), although they can sweat through their paw pads. A dog’s body cools through panting as moisture from the nose, tongue, and lungs evaporate while vasodilation brings blood to the surface of the skin to cool. Keep in mind the way your dog cools his body and avoid outdoor activities during the hottest part of the day. This can prevent heat stroke, dehydration, as well as paw pad burns. Heat typically builds between the hours of 12pm-3pm, with 3pm being the hottest part of the day. Morning and evening hours are the safest times to enjoy a walk on a hot summer day.
- Don’t be fooled by the doghouse! Do you ever wonder why your dog won’t go in his doghouse to escape the heat of the harsh Colorado sun? Chances are, it might be hotter in the doghouse than it is outside. Doghouses can reach extremely hot temperatures in the summer and frigid temperatures in the winter when not properly maintained. In the heat of the summer, the inside of a doghouse can actually be just as hot as leaving the dog in a car. Insulation, ventilation, and location are key factors to determining whether or not a doghouse is a place your dog can cool off and escape the sun. Always do your research when providing a doghouse to ensure it will provide adequate relief from temperatures in both summer and winter months. Some dogs prefer the simplicity of shade created by a tree or shade structure and avoid even the most effective doghouses. Knowing your dog’s individual preference will help you provide the best place for your best friend to cool off.
- Don’t forget the sunscreen! Just like people, dogs can get sunburns and benefit from the use of a dog-friendly sunscreen. Harsh UV rays can cause the same type of painful burns to your dog as in humans, and can also lead to skin cancer and masses. Certain breeds, characteristics, and conditions are more prone to sunburns and typically suffer from more severe burns. Dogs with light-colored coats, light skinned areas, hairless or short-haired breeds, and dogs with skin conditions and sensitivities are prone to sunburns. Always choose a sunscreen designed for dogs and apply accordingly when your dog will be out in the sun. Providing shaded areas and even doggy sunglasses are additional ways to help protect your dog from harmful UV rays. Keep an eye on your dog’s skin color and reapply sunscreen as needed and give your dog a break from the sun.
- To shave or not to shave? “My dog would be so much cooler in the summer if he didn’t have all this hair!” It seems like it makes sense, but sometimes, shaving your dog’s coat can do more harm than good. In certain breeds, shaving the coat does provide relief from heat in summer months, but for others it does the opposite. A shaved coat in certain breeds can put your dog at an increased risk of sunburn, skin irritation, and can even cause them to overheat quicker than they would if all that fur was left unshaved. A dog’s coat is designed to protect them and insulate them from both the heat and cold, so before you decide to shave your pet, do your research. Talk with your vet and a reputable groomer to determine if your dog is a breed that would benefit from a shave or coat trim. Regular grooming such as brushing and bathing is always recommended for all coat types.
- Never leave your dog in the car unattended! Hot cars are detrimental to your dog’s wellbeing and can lead to heatstroke–and even death–within minutes. Despite knowing the risks, many dogs are still left in hot cars during the summer months. Even with the windows down or the car idling in the shade, temperatures in the car quickly can rise to well over 110 degrees even on cooler summer days. Never assume that leaving the windows down, parking in the shade, or letting the car idle will keep the car at a comfortable temperature for your dog. Travel responsibly with your pet. It’s best to leave your dog safely at home if you are planning to leave them unattended in the car for any length of time.
- Know your dog’s limits. Dogs, just like people, have individual levels of fitness and heat tolerance. What may be an easy hike for one dog may be exhausting for another. It is important to know your dog’s limitations when it comes to what activities he can safely enjoy while avoiding the onset of heat stroke and exhaustion. Dogs who are overweight or don’t normally go on anything more strenuous than a walk around the block are not going to be able to keep up with a dog that is at the peak of fitness and regularly hikes every dog-friendly trail in Colorado. Familiarize yourself with symptoms of heat stroke in dogs and take your dog’s fitness level into account when choosing an activity. Fitness can be achieved, but it is best to work up to it gradually than to have your dog struggling.
We hope you and your furry friend have a safe and wonderful summer! Don’t forget to always have some form of identification on your dog at all times, especially when on hikes and walks away from home. Collars and harnesses with tags and microchips are some of the best ways to reunite a lost pet with their family. Don’t forget to keep your information current at all times for the best chance of reuniting with your pet should they become lost.