By Kim Gilliam
Summer weather is upon us, and you are likely excited to get outside and enjoy some fun times with your four-legged friend. That’s great, but make sure you’re aware of the risks associated with this time of year to ensure your best friend stays happy and healthy.
Last year, there were 57 reported cases of dogs dying in heat-related events, according to PETA. There were likely more that went unreported.
Most of these occurred when a dog was left in a hot car. People often don’t realize how quickly a car’s internal temperature can climb. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, even when it’s only 70 degrees out, the temperature inside a car with the windows up can spike to 90 degrees in just 10 minutes. Cracking the windows does little to help because of poor air circulation. The rest of reported deaths were due to prolonged heat exposure without shade or water.
Bring water on your walks, head out during the cooler parts of the day, stick to the grass, take frequent breaks in the shade, and watch for signs of distress. An overheated dog will have glazed eyes, will pant heavily and have a rapid heartbeat, labored breathing, excessive thirst, lethargy and a fever. Dizziness, lack of coordination, profuse salivation, vomiting and a deep red or purple tongue are also signs of heat distress.
You can take your dog’s temperature to confirm. If it’s higher than 102.5 degrees, you should initiate cooling procedures and take your dog to the vet. Get them in an air-conditioned car, offer small amounts of cool water, place wet towels on their head, neck, foot pads and areas under the front and back legs, and let the vet know you are on the way.
Frozen dog snacks are a great way to help your dog cool off. They are tasty and refreshing and can make for great enrichment, too.
For example, frozen water bowls are fun and enriching for the brain. Drop some of your dog’s favorite healthy snacks — carrots, watermelon, banana — in the bowl. You can even freeze treats in different layers. This will not only help keep your dog cool on hot days, but it gives them something to work for as they try to lick their way to each frozen treat.
Want to use your muffin tin or molds to make them something special? Place a little Greek yogurt in the bottom then blend some fruit until it’s liquid and pour on top. Freeze then serve. These treats are sweet and satisfying.
One way to exercise your dog without overheating is to take them swimming in a lake, river, ocean or pool.
Make sure that the swimming spot is safe without riptides, strong currents or excessive reeds that your dog could get tangled in. And be sure to stay clear of toxic blue-green algae. For safety’s sake, it’s a good idea to put your dog in a life jacket. Don’t let them drink the water, and have plenty of clean water for them to drink instead.
If you’re staying closer to home, a kiddie pool or sprinkler in the backyard can also be a ton of fun.
And don’t forget: Dogs, especially those with short hair, white fur and pink skin, can get sunburned just like humans. Limit their exposure during the day and apply dog-safe sunscreen to ears, nose and coat before going outside.
The writer co-owns Frolick Dogs, an indoor dog gym in Alexandria, with her husband, Kevin Gilliam.