Q: My dogs really love to be outside, and the whole family is pretty active. How do I protect my boxer-Lab mix from getting overheated this summer?
A: Dogs aren’t subtle. My sister’s dog used to stop, drop and remain immobile until someone picked her up on hot and humid days. When my pooch Lulu has had enough of the great outdoors, she prefers to bang and scratch on the back door. Sometimes she even manages to open it, bursting into the living room.
The recent spike in temperature and humidity surprised plenty of pet owners, prompting Dr. Ann Hohenhaus, a veterinarian with the Animal Medical Center in New York, to offer a few timely tips on keeping pets cool in the summer heat.
Watch the clock: Even if your dogs love being outside, save the extreme play for after the sun goes down. This reduces the risk of heatstroke, particularly for dogs that may be overweight.
Keep essentials nearby: Whether you are out playing Frisbee in the park or lounging in the backyard, Hohenhaus says to have plenty of water readily available for your hot dogs. “Collapsible water bowls are easy to put in a dog’s tote bag for car trips.”
She also has a neat trick to keep pets hydrated while you are away: “Put your backup water bowl in the freezer overnight,” Hohenhaus says. “They will have a cool drink of water when the ice melts.”
You also can stuff their favorite chew toy, such as a Kong, with canned food or dampened kibble and freeze it. Dogs will happily lick away as their treats thaw. “That just sounds like a pleasant treat on a hot day,” she says.
Look for signs of overexposure: Dogs pant to cool off. If you notice excessive panting, move your dogs to a cool, shady spot and offer plenty of water. In extreme cases, pets can develop high fevers, rapid heartbeats or even vomit — these are signs of heatstroke and require an emergency trip to the veterinarian. On the way there, Hohenhaus suggests applying towels soaked in cool water to hairless areas on your dog’s body.
Protect dogs with short snouts: “Certain dogs are at risk for heat-related illness,” she warns. “Any dog with a squished face — boxers, bulldogs, pugs — has what we call Brachycephalic syndrome. Because of their short noses, they have less surface area and smaller-than-normal tracheas.
“This keeps them from cooling themselves effectively on a hot day, and that’s why they are on the no-fly list,” Hohenhaus notes. (Her blog for the Animal Medical Center also offers tips for pets that fly as cargo, such as booking travel during cooler times of the day.) But short-snouted dogs aren’t the only pets at risk on hot days.
Don’t be colorblind: Pets with dark coats tend to absorb more of the sun’s rays. White coats also require a bit of extra sun protection. “Out West, where pets are outside a lot, white dogs and white cats get skin cancer, especially on the tips of their nose and ears due to sun exposure,” Hohenhaus says. “Some dogs love to lay on their backs in the sun, and they can get skin cancer on their tummies.”
If your dog has white fur, consider a bit of sunscreen. She notes that old-school sunblock with zinc oxide is a no-no for dogs because it can damage blood cells. Instead, opt for versions with titanium dioxide. A few dabs on the nose, ears and other exposed areas should do the trick before you head outside for fun in the sun.
It’s hot under that fur: If your dog has a heavy coat, consider a summertime trim to handle the heat. Also, Hohenhaus warns against leaving any pets in the car in the summer heat. Even short-coated pets can overheat quickly in a car. During long car trips, consider investing in a window screen, which offers ventilation and keeps pups from hanging their heads out of the window.
Consider fun — indoors: No one wants to get cabin fever, but there are plenty of fun indoor activities that burn calories and keep pets active. (Hohenhaus suggests pet treadmills.)
In the meantime, Lulu and I are working our way through a book called “50 Games to Play with Your Dog,” by Suellen Dainty. We're still on game No. 1, but we have a whole summer ahead of us!