Another heatwave is on the way, and you know what that means - dog walks are off until the weather breaks!
Dogs can’t keep cool like we do. They’re unable to sweat, and most of their ‘cooling’ comes from panting - so in the hot weather it can be really easy for them to overheat. That’s why it’s so important to keep your dog cool and prevent heatstroke and other heat-related illnesses.
RECOGNISE THE SIGNS OF HEATSTROKE
Although hopefully we can pre-empt the situation by ensuring our dogs are kept cool and don’t over-exert themselves, it’s important to recognise the signs of heatstroke in dogs, so that we can seek assistance from a vet as soon as possible. The main symptoms are:
- panting heavily
- drooling at the mouth
- wobbling or having trouble standing up
- bright red gums
If your dog is suffering from these symptoms, call your vet immediately. You should move to a cool, shaded area, offer your dog small amounts of water to drink and dampen them with room-temperature water. Never use ice or freezing water in these circumstances as it can cause shock!
Of course, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, so ideally we want to make sure it never gets to the point at which we need to treat our dogs for heatstroke. So what steps can we take to keep them cool in a heatwave?
WHEN TO WALK
Typically, you should not walk your dog when the temperature rises over 24C. This is a general rule, but some breeds and dogs should not be walked at even lower temperatures.
Brachycephalic breeds (e.g. pugs, bulldogs)
heavy coated breeds (e.g. huskies or german shepherds)
giant breeds (e.g. St Bernards)
These will all find the heat more difficult to cope with and you should use a lower temperature for the cut off point if your dog falls into one of these categories. It’s important to use common sense and seek advice from your vet if you are uncertain.
Always remember - missing a walk in this weather won’t kill your dog. Taking them out could.
CONSIDER YOUR OWN DOG’S NEEDS
It’s also worth considering that even if your dog is NOT one of those more ‘at risk’ breeds, it may be too hot for him to be out in it.
My sister’s eldest boy, Dave, has a condition called Exercise Induced Collapse (EIC), and will not cope in weather above around 18-19C, so it is quite normal for him NOT to have a walk. Instead, he has an enriched life through other means (read on for ideas!)
If in doubt, don’t walk your dog!
EARLY MORNINGS AND LATE EVENINGS
When the weather is warm, the best time to walk your dog is in the early morning - before it gets too hot - and later in the evening, once it has cooled down. As a general rule of thumb, you shouldn’t walk your dog between 9am and 9pm, but do judge this yourself based on how warm the day is.
Don’t forget that tarmac will be much hotter than the ambient temperature and may take longer to cool down, so choose your locations wisely. Woodland and places where water access is available are great ideas for the warmer weather, as are secure dog fields - particularly if there is shade.
If you must walk on tarmac, check the temperature with the back of your hand. If it’s too hot for you, it’s too hot for your dog. Stick to grass verges and shady areas wherever possible.
Watch out for blue-green algae - sadly, this time of year also brings with it the presence of blue-green algae in standing water. Please ensure you check the area carefully before allowing your dog to enter any public water source.
WHAT TYPE OF WALK?
Even if you are going out early or late, this is not the day to have a super active walk with your dog chasing a ball all the time, as you’ll want to encourage a calming atmosphere for the rest of the day while they’re staying in the cool at home.
Keep the walk short and reasonably calm, and provide enrichment through sniffing or other relaxing activities instead of running around and playing fetch.
DON’T HAVE A ROUTINE
As odd as it sounds, NOT having a set routine can be a great thing for the warmer weather! When my Mum got her old boy, Charlie, she was still working, so got him into a routine where he would go out for a walk first thing in the morning, and then a longer walk when she got back in the afternoon. He loved it - but because he was walked at set times each day, he would become demanding and frustrated if, for any reason, his walk couldn’t take place at the usual time.
Compare this with Dave, who, because of his EIC, is perhaps walked once every 2-3 days. He loves going out, but he is equally happy chilling out around the house. He’ll be a contented boy during the heatwave because he doesn’t have a daily walking routine and is happy to relax at home.
PREPARE YOUR HOME
Chances are your dog will be spending more time home during the heatwave, so think about how you can prepare the environment to make it more comfortable for them.
Keep curtains closed - this will keep the air cooler inside so that it doesn’t get too warm
Get a fan - get the air circulating with an electric fan - you could even put some ice cubes in a food-bag and hang it in front of the fan to help create a cool breeze
Have water available - keep your dog’s water bowl topped up and easily accessible so that he can drink whenever he needs to. You can also add ice cubes to his water bowl (make sure you supervise your dog when giving them anything like ice cubes, Kongs or brain games to do)
NB: There are some social media posts circulating about the dangers of ice cubes. UNLESS your dog is suffering from heatstroke, where the freezing cold could cause them to go into shock, there is no danger caused by giving ice cubes to your dog
COOLING MATS & COATS
There are plenty of cooling products designed for your dog that you can purchase to help them feel comfortable in the hot weather. Cooling mats are great for laying on, and cooling coats are ideal to keep them cool during the day, particularly if they are more at risk.
If you don’t have one of these already, you could simply soak a bandana or length of fabric in cool water and put it around your dog’s neck to help him keep cool.
WHAT’S BETTER THAN A WALK?
You might think that there’s nothing better than a walk, but the truth is there are HEAPS of brain games and activities your dog can do to provide enrichment on those days when it’s too hot to go outside (or even when you just want a pyjama day yourself!)
Here are some of Dave’s favourites:
If your dog is used to having food in a Kong, you’ll already know what great enrichment these provide, as your dog has to work to get the food out. Adding an extra challenge by freezing the Kong means it will take them a little longer AND has the added benefit of being a cooling treat to enjoy
You could also make some frozen treats for the warm weather! Why not freeze the water from a can of tuna in an ice-cube tray to give your dog something yummy yet low-fat to enjoy
Learn a new trick
This is the perfect opportunity to teach your dog a new trick (yes, even the old dogs!), and all that thinking will give them the opportunity to work their brains and tire them out! Think Spins, Twists, High-Five, Paws On, Peekaboo and Weave.
Or if your dog already knows all the tricks, why not have a little practice?
Play brain games
There are many brain games that you can buy or create at home - from plastic games that they have to work out how to get the treats, to enjoying a snuffle mat or Hol-ee-roller, or simply hiding treats in the empty boxes from your recycling.
Why not take a little Sniffari around the garden? Let your dog’s nose lead the way - and you could even provide some added enrichment by scattering some treats on the grass for them to snuffle out.
It’s really up to you how creative you can be with brain games and enrichment activities - there are a variety of ideas on my blog here to get you started!
WHAT IF YOU’RE ON HOLIDAY THIS WEEK?
The responsible thing to do is to keep your dog inside - and if you’re on holiday, I know there can be challenges, as you normally can’t leave your dog alone in the accommodation. But missing out on a day out, while disappointing, is far better than losing your pet because they’ve collapsed and died due to the heat. It simply isn’t worth the risk.
Do you have any great tips for entertaining your dog in the heatwave? Let me know in the comments!