Summer is approaching with rising temperatures and with them, our concerns about how to protect our dog from the heat.
It is quite clear that neither you, nor I like to wear a lot of clothes at +30 degrees, but the dog’s coat actually provides relief from the heat. By acting as an insulator, it keeps her* from getting too cold in the winter, but it also keeps her from overheating in the summer.
The coat is the dog’s thermostat and slows down the heat absorption process.
With shedding when the warmer season is nearing, dogs are making their coats more suitable for heat protection rather than heat preservation. The thick undercoat that is needed to trap body heat in cold weather is not needed in the warmer part of the year. But in fact, the remaining outer layer is optimal for handling heat, as long as it is not extreme.
For this reason, experts agree, it could be a mistake to shave or drastically trim a dog’s coat in the summer. Although it may seem that we would help her to stay cooler, it can actually heat the animal up more. The coat also provides protection against insect bites, which are very common in the summer.
Come on – dogs have developed their coats for a reason. It is a barrier between the dog’s skin and the sun. The more heat and sun that reaches the skin, the warmer the dog will be.
In high environmental temperatures, the dog will suffer with or without a coat and we may have to help her with internal or external relief. But a dog with a preserved coat has a much lower risk of suffering a heatstroke from sun exposure. The coat does not keep your dog cool, but it does protect her against rapid increases in body temperature.
By definition, insulation reduces the transfer of energy through the insulation material in either direction, whether the temperature on one side is cooler or warmer than the other.
For example, insulating a house will keep it warmer in winter and cooler in summer. Similarly, the insulation inside a thermos will help maintain the temperature of hot or cold liquids that are put in it. So, by extension, an animal with a thicker coat should lose less heat in cold conditions and gain less heat in a hot environment. That is, the insulation helps to isolate the body temperature of the animal itself from the external temperature.
Sometimes we hear arguments like this conflicts with our own experience, and simply extrapolating our physiology to other animals can be problematic. If you wear a thick winter jacket in summer, you will quickly overheat, especially if you on top of that do some exercise while wearing it.
But sometimes comparing the dog with the human is clearly wrong and this is one of those cases. What’s missing here is the difference between how dogs and humans regulate their body temperature in hot environments. The main way, for a human, to lower body temperature in hot conditions is through evaporation of sweat from the skin. Putting insulation on the skin, or simply preventing air from flowing over it, stops our ability to lose heat and therefore we quickly overheat.
In hot environments, dogs don’t lose much heat by sweating. Like us, they still lose heat by evaporating water, but that is done through panting and the fur does not prevent that process. Dogs can also lose heat by lying down on a cold surface, and the coat doesn’t prevent this either – the dog’s coat collapses and loses its insulating properties as trapped air leaves it.
So, as in most mammals, the dog’s skin does not interfere with the active regulation of heat. Instead, it defends body temperature from a potentially changing external environment, and in this case, humans are unique, because we rely primarily on sweating to keep us cool.
Heatstroke occurs when the dog’s normal body mechanisms cannot maintain body temperature in a safe range. Dogs sweat only through their paws and panting cannot always completely cool down a dog when overheated.
The dog’s normal body temperature is around 38 to 39 degrees. If the body temperature goes over 41 degrees it is deadly and requires immediate veterinary assistance.
Signs of heatstroke include:
• Bright red tongue
• Red or pale gums
• Thick, sticky saliva
• Weakness and dizziness
• Vomiting, sometimes bloody.
Be aware that any dog that cannot cool off, is at risk of suffering a heatstroke.
So what can I do to protect my dog from suffering a heatstroke?
- In high temperatures, do not leave the dog on hot surfaces such as tarmac and concrete. Being so close to the ground can heat up the body fast and is also an invitation to burn her sensitive paw pads. Keep walks on these surfaces to a minimum.
- Access to fresh water at all times. Make sure an outdoor dog has access to shade and plenty of fresh water.
- Cold therapeutic bones. For example, a frozen cow knee is an excellent remedy.
- Restrict exercise when temperature is rising and do not muzzle your dog as this inhibits her ability to pant.
- Many dogs enjoy swimming, splashing in a pool, or running through a sprinkler in warmer weather. This can help lower her body temperature.
- Never leave your dog in a parked car, not even if it is parked in the shade or if “it will only be a couple minutes”. The temperature inside a car can reach temperatures like that of an oven, in a matter of minutes. Temperature often reach values above 60 degrees. Such a climb can turn into a disaster and could be fatal.
If you suspect your dog is suffering from a heatstroke, quick action will save her life.
Get her out of the hot environment immediately. Soak her with cool water and try to ventilate the air around her.
Don’t use ice or very cold water – it can backfire as cooling too fast can trigger other life-threatening conditions. Allow free access to water, but do not force her to drink, as she may inhale it or suffocate.
Even if the dog appears to be recovering, always take her to the vet as soon as possible. Dehydration is just one of the complications of heatstroke that your vet will need to address.
A dog with heatstroke should be monitored for shock, respiratory distress, kidney failure, and heart abnormalities and treated accordingly.
Never forget that dogs are, by nature, our protectors. As responsible caretakers we must return the favor by protecting our dogs from the dangers of excessive heat so that they can safely enjoy the pleasant summer heat.
Be your dog’s best friend and take care of her – in the summer as well…
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*In this article, when the gender of the dog is unknown it is taken as femenin. I do not like to treat the dog as an “it” and apart from that, I am just lazy – nothing else.