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Tips for Living Well with Your Dog

Your pet needs help coping with hot weather

Fifth in a six-part series

Besides food, daily walks are the other essential ingredient in a dog's world.
Many of our loyal companions crave walking as much as eating, but sweltering summer heat can be disruptive to them - and pose life-threatening danger - as they go about their daily exercise routines.

Unlike a person, a dog has no sweat glands for cooling, making hot weather particular dangerous for our precious pooches. A dog dissipates some heat from the skin but relies heavily on panting to evaporate water from the respiratory tract. A dog's cooling system will start working hard when the temperature approaches 70 degrees and can easily become overwhelmed in summer's heat and humidity, leading to heat stroke.

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Dogs who are elderly, have heart or respiratory conditions, and breeds with short snouts - like Pugs, Terriers and Bulldogs - are especially at high risk of overheating.

On hot and humid days, even a healthy dog can quickly begin to overheat after just 20 minutes of vigorous exercise.

The obvious way to beat the summer heat is to plan your dog's daily exercise for early morning or late at night, when the temperature is cooler. But some energetic dogs insist upon going out even during the heat of the day or they are miserable.

If your dog is one of these, try some of these ideas to keep him safe:

  • Wet your dog down with a water-laden sponge before going on a walk. I have had two energetic English Setters who insisted that they had to get their exercise even on the hottest days or they would go stir-crazy. Sponging down a dog will keep its fur coat cool - at least temporarily.
  • Carefully plan walk routes along shaded areas. Stay off the pavement, especially the black top of roads and driveways that can sizzle in the midday blazing sun and actually burn a dog's foot pads. A park or area with trails that traverse through heavily wooded areas is a great place on hot days. The temperature in the woods sometimes can be 10 or even 15 degrees cooler.
  • Go to a pond in a wooded area rather than an ocean beach. Blazing beaches are one of the worst places to take a dog in the summer. The sand sizzles, the blinding sun reflects off the water and sand, and the water is salty. All are a bad combination for a dog's foot pads, eyes and fur coat. Conversely, a pond in a wooded area gives a dog a chance to take a dip in fresh water to cool down and then walk in the shade.

  • Always have a supply of fresh drinking water. Either carry a canteen or plan the route to go by a water fountain. One of my favorite tricks is take a tiny two-ounce Dixie cup with me. They have a waxed coating, so they easily fold without tearing and fit into a pocket. One route I walk my dogs along has a fountain at the midway point, where we stop for water. They have no trouble lapping up the water from the tiny cup with their probing tongues. The cup also is a handy tool to use to wet down a dog's coat. I repeatedly fill and use it to gently pour cool water over my dogs, wetting them from head to toe before we resume walking.

  • Modify the exercise routine. Rather than that one long hike, go on two or three shorter walks. During the summer, I sometimes take my dogs on three 20-minute walks at different locations around town. The drive in between each location allows them to cool down in the air-conditioned car, drink some water and rest.
And remember the importance of making your home comfortable for your best pal. Air conditioning and oscillating fans are obviously the best ways to provide comfort. But a few simple techniques - like placing ice cubes in the water bowl, removing puffy blankets that hold heat from a dog's bed and removing a throw rug from the bathroom floor to offer a sanctuary on the cool tiles to plop down - can help keep your pal cool. If they eat canned food, consider chilling it in the refrigerator.

Igloo ice cube bottles, those plastic flat rectangular-shaped containers that you fill with water and freeze, also are handy. Wrap one of those in a hand towel in a pillow shape and place it on your dog's bed. Dog's like to sleep on lumpy items, and this one will help keep them cool.

Dogs are fun-loving creatures, and they will play and prance along - always determined to complete their sacred daily exercise routine - without regard for the heat. They are unable to understand that sweltering temperatures may pose danger. So it is up to us to use every method we can to protect our pals and help them get through the dogs days of summer.

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