Written by Lacy M, Pack Leader
“Man, it’s HOT out there!” How many times have you heard or said this phrase lately? The brutal Florida summer is here, and it won’t be letting up any time soon. We all know how unpleasant it can be to go outside in the hot and sticky weather, but it’s even tougher on our pets, particularly our dogs. Heat stroke in pets can be very serious, even deadly, and it is a completely preventable situation. Unfortunately, pet parents may not notice the warning signs until it’s too late because it tends to sneak up very quickly–it can take less than 15 minutes to cause heat stroke if the conditions are right.
Why is heat so dangerous for dogs?
1. How Dogs Cool Off
Dogs can’t sweat through their skin like humans do. The sweat glands they do have are primarily in their paw pads, so the main way they cool themselves is by an evaporative process we know as panting. When dogs pant, they rapidly increase their breath rate, moving air across the wet parts of their mouth and tongue, cooling the head and the rest of the body. If the air is too hot (and/or humid) and the dog’s body becomes overwhelmed, the dog can quickly overheat, suffer heat stroke, and die. Even if the dog survives a heat stroke incident, irreversible brain and organ damage may occur.
2. A Cloudy Day Doesn’t Mean The Humidity Goes Away
Living in Florida, we all know how thick humidity makes a hot day feel that much hotter. Because a dog’s cooling process works mainly through panting, humidity makes it considerably more difficult for a dog to effectively cool down. Humidity levels higher than 35% can negatively impact a dog’s ability to cool down and humidity over 80% can actually make the evaporative cooling process impossible. Pay attention to the heat index and be extra cautious when the weather is humid.
3. Not a Big Fan
It seems odd, but fans alone do not help dogs cool down in hot conditions. Fans don’t actually make a hot area cooler, they just makes us humans (who possess naked skin and the ability to sweat) feel cooler. Because dogs don’t sweat, a fan has very limited capabilities in cooling for dogs. Do not rely solely on fans to keep the air (indoors or outdoors) a comfortable and safe temperature for your dog. Most dogs wear fur coats, and some of those coats are quite fuzzy and fluffy.
*Note: Extra precaution should be taken with dogs who have thick fur like the Northern breeds, dogs with undercoats, and dogs with darker coats. Though many people think that it helps the dog to stay cooler, shaving your double-coated dog is also not a good idea. Shaving can damage the coat’s texture and growth pattern, interfering with the natural protections that the coat offers for insulation in cold and warm temps, as well as protecting the skin from the sun. Read more here.
4. Keep The Paws In Mind (The Floor Is Lava!)
The skin on the bottom of your puppy’s paws may seem thick and durable, but did you know that your dog’s feet can be just as sensitive as your own feet? This means that they are equally susceptible to getting burnt while walking. It’s important to remember that the pavement can be much hotter than the outdoor air temperature, as it soaks up and retains the heat of the day and precautions should be taken before you venture out on a walk while the sun is at its brightest.
If you do choose to go out, be mindful and find some grass to walk in or just wait until the pavement is cooler. It is coolest in the morning. In the evening, the ground may not have had time to cool down from the hot sun shining on it all day. Additionally, it’s important to keep in mind that water softens your dog’s paws and can make them more susceptible to damage from hot surfaces. Take care around boat docks, pool decks, etc.
According to the chart below, tissue destruction can occur within 60 seconds at 125 degrees F – nearly at egg frying temperature! Try doing a quick test by laying the back of your hand on the ground for 7 seconds or walking with your bare feet. If you can’t leave your hand against the pavement, or you wouldn’t walk barefoot, it’s too hot for your dog’s tootsies too.
Finally, it’s important to remain aware of how the heat affects your pet, so to help you out we’ve put together this quick list of Hot Weather Do’s and Don’ts to make sure your pet stays cool, comfortable, and out of harm’s way this summer:
- DO familiarize yourself with symptoms of heat stroke and learn how to care for an overheated pet.
- DON’T leave any pet in a car, not even for a minute!
- DO make sure your petsitter or dogwalker is educated on the effects of heat on pets and knows first aid.
- DON’T forget that humidity makes it even harder for pets to cool down.
- DO have fresh water available at all times and add ice cubes to your pet’s water.
- DON’T take your dog out to play or exercise them in the heat of the day. Choose the morning or late evening hours when temperatures and pavement are cooler.
- DO acclimate your dog slowly as the weather heats up by taking shorter walks.
- DO protect your dog’s paws with Pawz Max Wax, on the shelf at St PetersBARK!
- DO visit an experienced groomer who is knowledgeable about double-coated breeds for help with removing/reducing the undercoat without shaving.
- DON’T take your dog to outdoor parades and festivals during summertime. The stress of big crowds and loud noises can accelerate the dangerous effects of heat on your dog’s body.
- DO make your yard comfortable and safe if your pets are outdoors for extended periods. Have fresh water in a tip-proof bowl or bucket available at all times and make sure your dog has a shady area to retreat from the sun. Consider buying a rip-proof doggie pool or a kiddie pool.
- DON’T rely solely on fans to keep your dog cool.
- DO provide chilly treats like That Dog Ice Cream (available in our freezer!), frozen raw bones, or frozen Kongs.
- DO stop by St PetersBARK! to pick up a Cool Aid Cooling Wrap. If you’re in a pinch, you can fold ice cubes into a BARK! bandana and tie it around your dog’s neck.
- DO remember that dogs and cats simply can’t cool down like humans. Recognize if your pet is at an increased risk for overheating due to breed (like those with heavy coats or brachycephaly), age, illness, weight or working status.
- DON’T forget that kitties can overheat too! We’ve focused mostly on dogs, since people tend to pick their pooches over their feline friends for running partners. But cats can also suffer from heat stroke if they don’t have access to water or are left in a car. Keep an eye on your cats if they go outside or if you take care of ferals.
- DO head to the vet immediately if you suspect heat stroke.
Something to consider: Google the closest emergency vets that are in your area, and save their information to your phone ahead of time!
Enjoying our content? Keep an eye out for part 2 of our Heat & Safety Awareness blog where we will be covering topics such as what to do about a dog locked in a hot car, the signs and symptoms of heat stroke, and how to administer first aid to an overheated pet.
Stay cool, St. PetersBARKers!