How To Keep Your Dog Safe This Summer

a white and brown dog spending a sunny evening outside

Even though your dog may seem much like a human in many ways, dogs can overheat much more easily than humans because of their thick fur coat and their inability to sweat (except for the pads of their paws). Instead, they can only expel heat by panting, which can only do so much. Don’t worry, though — you and your pup can still have fun in the sun this summer as long as you follow these tips to ensure that your dog stays safe in the heat.

Signs of Heatstroke

Before we talk about ways you can keep your pup out of this situation, it’s important to recognize the symptoms of heatstroke in dogs so that you can take action before the situation worsens. Older, overweight, and flat-faced dogs are more susceptible to heat stroke because it can be more difficult for them to pant. Watch for these signs:

  • A body temperature higher than 103 degrees
  • Heavy panting
  • Thick drool
  • Dry and/or red gums
  • Unsteady legs
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting

Just like in humans, heat stroke is potentially fatal in pets if left untreated, so always be aware of your dog’s condition and instantly take action to cool them down if you see any of these signs.

Stick to the Shade

While your pup may enjoy sunbathing for a short time, direct sunlight can very quickly cause them to overheat. Make sure your dog always has access to a shady spot to cool off, and if they start showing signs of heat exhaustion, lead them to the shade, or even better, take them indoors.

A dog catching large water droplets in its mouth from the air
Making sure that your dog is properly hydrated is an important step in preventing heat stroke.

Always Have Water

Along with panting, drinking water is another way dogs cool themselves down. This means that they can become dehydrated much more quickly than humans, which is indicated by red gums and excessive drooling. Make sure that your dog always has access to fresh water, whether inside or outside. If you’re on the move, offer your dog water often.

A graphic explaining the dangers of leaving your pet in a hot car
Cars heat up alarmingly quickly on hot days, even if you leave your windows cracked. Image courtesy of ASPCA.

NEVER Leave Your Dog in the Car

Hopefully, all my readers already know this, but leaving your dog in the car for even a short time can lead to heat stroke and suffocation. As the ASPCA tells us, when the temperature is 80 degrees, the interior of your car can reach 102 degrees in a mere 10 minutes. Within 30 minutes, your car can reach 120 degrees. The danger is real, and it can’t be negated by a cracked window. Some states even have laws against leaving your animal alone in the car. The best policy is to simply leave your pup at home on hot days, or at the very least take your dog with you when you leave the car. If you ever see a pet in a parked car on a hot day, you should try to locate the owner first, and if they can’t be found, call the police.

A man supervising a surfing dog
Life vests can provide your dog with extra protection, especially in the ocean.

Cool Off by Swimming

Most dogs absolutely love swimming, and it’s a great way to give your dog some exercise while keeping them cool. Even a kiddy pool will do the trick. If you’re going to take your pup swimming in a larger, rougher body of water, you might want to outfit them with a life vest. Though dogs know how to swim instinctively, they may not be the best swimmers (there’s a reason it’s called “doggy paddle”). It can be difficult for them to compete with strong currents or even get out of the water. Even if it’s just in your pool, always keep an eye on your dog when they’re swimming.

A tick in the fur of a dog
Ticks are much more common in summer months. Image courtesy of PestWiki.

Beware of Parasites

All those nasty pests, like fleas, ticks, and mosquitos, love the hot weather and become much more vicious in the summer. They have the potential to carry Lyme Disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, heartworm, tapeworm, and a whole host of other unpleasant diseases that can also spread to humans. Your vet can provide you with the appropriate materials to ensure that your pup won’t pick up any of these parasites.

Keep Away from Asphalt

As nearly the only part of your pup that is not covered in fur, paws serve a very important role in keeping them cool.  Asphalt and metal surfaces can be baked by the sun and potentially burn your dog’s paws, as well as significantly raising their body temperature. Avoid walking your dog during the hottest times of the day, and try to find a nice grassy area to let your pup get out their energy.

A poodle being shaved and groomed
Less fur doesn’t always equal less heat. Image courtesy of The Mercury News.

Don’t Shave Your Dog

Despite the seeming logic in relieving your dog of their thick fur coat, shaving your pup can actually do more harm than help. The inner layer of their coat is designed to insulate them against extreme temperatures, and removing this can both make them more vulnerable to the heat and increase the risk of sunburn. It’s totally okay, and actually recommended, to give your pup a trim once in a while and brush them frequently.

Dogs Need Sunscreen, Too

Dogs, especially those with light-colored or short coats, can get sunburned just like humans, and it has the same negative effects, including discomfort and an increased risk of skin cancer. However, they can’t use human sunscreens, so ask your vet for a sunscreen appropriate for your furry friend. When you take your dog out, you should apply this sunscreen every three to four hours to their stomach, ears, and nose, spots where their fur is thin or nonexistent.  

A table showing a spread of summery foods and drinks
It may be tempting to feed your pup a bite, but resist the urge.

Be Careful with Toxic Substances

Summer is the time of yard work, but you’ll want to be careful with any insecticides, fertilizers, or mulches that you use on your yard because they can be toxic to your pup. Many plants or freshly planted bulbs can be harmful to dogs as well, so keep an eye on your pup when they’re out in the yard.

Summer is also a great time for outdoor celebrations, but keep in mind that many of the foods you have no trouble eating can be harmful to your faithful friend. No matter how sad their face is, you have to stay strong. Foods with which you should be especially careful include:

  • Alcohol
  • Chocolate
  • Any food/drink containing caffeine
  • Grapes and raisins
  • Avocado
  • Citrus fruits
  • Dairy products
  • Nuts
  • Onions, garlic, or chives
  • Salty snacks
  • Xylitol

It’s a long list, right? Just to be on the safe side, avoid feeding your pet any people food in general. If you think that your pet may have ingested something toxic, contact the National Animal Poison Control Center at 1-900-680-0000.

Screen Your Windows

On those few days that it’s nice enough to open up your house, you’ll want to make sure that your open windows have screens. Not only will these stop insects from invading your home, they can also stop your pet from jumping out and getting injured.

Bright gold fireworks
Despite how beautiful these are, they can be very harmful to your pup.

Don’t Use Fireworks Around Your Dog

Humans know to stay far away from fireworks — for the most part — but dogs don’t have that awareness, and their naturally curious spirit can cause them to get a little too close. Lit fireworks can cause severe burns and trauma, and even if your pup is at an appropriate distance, they can be freaked out by the loud cracks and booms. In addition, firework paraphernalia can be toxic to pets if ingested.

Drive Carefully

Many dogs love to go for a drive and feel the wind in their faces, but always drive safely when transporting your pet. The appropriate place for them is the backseat, and they should be properly secured with a pet safety harness or even within a carrier. If not, they may be injured or even thrown from the car if you have to brake suddenly. Loose dogs can also be a distraction to drivers, leading to accidents. Your dog should never ride in a truck bed, as the metal surface can become extremely hot and they can easily be thrown from the back of a moving truck.

Most of the time if you use common sense and pay attention to what your dog is telling you, it’s quite easy to keep your pup safe in the summer. Always be on the lookout for signs of overheating, try not to go out with your dog during the hottest hours of the day, and be careful with possibly toxic substances. As long as you keep all that in the back of your mind, you should be able to have a fun and safe summer with your furry friend.

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