It’s a familiar sight for dog owners; the slightest hint of sun outside, and our furry friends stop whatever they’re doing and contort themselves into a silly upside-down position in order to drink in the rays. This isn’t due to vanity or laziness; canines share an important biological trait with humans- the oil on their skin reacts to natural sunlight by breaking down and converting to Vitamin D.
Vitamin D is essential for the healthy balance and performance of over 200 different genes in both the human and canine body. Your dog’s exposure to sunlight is limited, even when they spend time outdoors thanks to the fur that covers their body. This means they need to spend more time in the sun to produce the necessary levels of vitamin D their body needs. Much like dogs tend not to believe or understand that they are full and will eat until they are fit to burst, they’ll also gleefully lounge in the sunshine for as long as they are permitted to do so. Unfortunately, this leaves Fido at a high risk of heat exhaustion, the consequences of which can be quite severe.
Signs of Heat Exhaustion in Dogs
The physical symptoms of heat exhaustion or heatstroke in a dog are excessive panting or drooling, lethargy and drowsiness (especially if your hound is usually a little ball of energy), and in extreme cases, vomiting and collapsing. Heat exhaustion occurs when dogs are unable to regulate their own body temperature via panting, so be vigilant about watching this activity. It may look like your fur baby is giving you a goofy grin to express their affection, but they could actually be in distress.
If you are worried that your dog is suffering from heat exhaustion, you should get them into a shaded area immediately, and do what you can to cool them off. Submersion in cool water (though not too cold, as that could send Fido’s body into shock), the use of a rotator fan, and the application of damp towels are all options here. Let your dog take a drink of water, and have them looked over by a veterinarian as a matter of urgency. Heat exhaustion is not something that should be taken lightly, and can be fatal very quickly.
Preventing Heat Exhaustion in Dogs
Of course, however, prevention is preferable to cure, and you should always take the appropriate steps that will prevent your dog’s temperature from reaching this critical point. Don’t lose sight of the fact that Fido has a year-round fur coat that cannot be removed and hung in the closet for the summer (although regular trims to thin out a dog’s fur during the hot season are no bad idea – just don’t shave your pooch bare, as that leaves them at risk of sunburn). Certain allowances will need to be made to ensure that the hot months remain safe and enjoyable for your four-legged friend.
Some things are hopefully obvious, such as never – and we do mean never –leaving your dog in a car with the windows up during the hot summer months. No, not even if, “it’s just for a couple of minutes” while you run into the store; those two minutes could see your car’s interior reach temperatures north of 140, and are more than long enough to place your dog in danger. Keep a regular supply of cool water and a collapsible bowl on-hand, including when you’re outdoors. Don’t rely on other sources to give your pooch a drink, and offer refreshment at regular intervals, possibly with some ice cubes (avoiding the use of ice-cold water, as it may also shock their system). Your dog may not be interested every time, but it may just save their life when they are.
You’ll also need to keep an eye on the temperature, especially if you live in urban surroundings. Remember that doggy paws are essentially walking barefoot on hot asphalt, and that could quickly grow to be unbearable. There’s a simple test here – place the back of your hand on the ground for around three seconds. If it’s too hot for you to leave your hand there comfortably, it’s too hot for a dog to walk on. If Fido still needs to got for walks during the peak periods of a heatwave stick firmly to grassy, shaded areas, and if your dog is a little older or lives with a pre-existing medical condition try to avoid taking them out at all until the temperature is a little more palatable. You may need to adjust your routines to accommodate exercise earlier in the morning or later at night, when the sun is not quite so ferocious.
Don’t over-exert your dog on these trips, either. A boisterous puppy may wish to disregard the weather and chase their ball around the park for hours regardless of soaring temperatures, but you’ll have to put a stop to that for their own safety – and if you like to jog with a doggy pacesetter, you’ll have to give that a break for a while. It’s tempting to take Fido to the beach while the sun is at its hottest for a day trip that you can both enjoy, and while the easy access to water is a positive (a dip in the sea or a lake is the fastest and most fun way for any pooch to cool off), remember that shaded spaces will be at a premium in such a location.
The summer can be a wonderful time to spend with your furry friend, but as a responsible doggy parent you’ll also need to be fully aware of the risks of heat exhaustion, and be vigilant in recognizing the symptoms of this potentially deadly illness. Taking the necessary steps to keep Fido safe from harmful elements of the sun will ensure that nobody needs to end their fun early with an unwelcome trip to the vet.
My dogs have given me an entirely new spiritual perspective on life. I now have a genuine understanding of unconditional love and provision.