The remarkable bond between humans and dogs has persisted for more than 10,000 years, and it is probably why our canine companions are treated more like family members than pets.
Because many of our dogs live with us, act like us, and sometimes even look like us, it’s easy to forget they’re a different species with a completely different set of biological needs — especially when it comes to surviving hot weather.
Working as an emergency and critical care vet for the past 30 years, Jerry Klein, doctor of veterinary medicine and chief veterinary officer for the American Kennel Club, says summer is the busiest season for dog injuries and illnesses. And unfortunately, in most of the cases that he sees — like dehydration, heatstroke, and car accidents — dogs aren’t the ones at fault.
“The vast majority of summer accidents don’t happen when dogs are left on their own,” he says. “Dogs are such incredible creatures who try to please us and we try to include them in our everyday lives. With that, we can lose perspective and take dogs with us wherever we go, whether they want to or not.”
Help your dog beat the heat with these eight tips from veterinary experts on how to keep your pet safe:
1. Never Leave Your Dog Alone in a Hot Car
This tip is No. 1 for a reason. It seems like common sense, but every year emergency crews break into blistering hot vehicles that owners have left dogs unattended. If you’re thinking, “I’ll be right back, they’ll be fine right?” or “What if I leave the window open?” or “How about the air conditioning?” — think again. Pet experts everywhere will answer the same: No, no, and no.
“The worst possible situation is for kids or dogs to be left alone in an enclosed car,” says Dr. Klein. “Even with the windows open, a car quickly becomes like an oven.”
Within an hour, the temperature of car seats alone can hit 123 degrees F, according to a study published in May 2018 in the journal Temperature. Last year, 52 children died of heatstroke in vehicles — the highest number of deaths in 20 years, according to the National Safety Council.
Klein says dogs succumb to heatstroke much faster than humans, and irreversible damage can happen within minutes.
If you see a pet alone in a parked car, the Humane Society of the United States says to take down the car’s license plate and model, notify a business or security guard nearby, or call your local non-emergency police line.
2. If It’s Too Hot Outside, Your Dog Is Happier Inside
On a scorching day, our first instinct is to slap on a swimsuit and get our bronze (or burn) on. But what may be a hot yet tolerable day for you, can be intolerable for your furry friend.
Dogs lower their body temperature through a process called thermoregulation. They achieve this by panting, which expels hot air from the body and causes moisture in the mouth to evaporate and cool, according to the Humane Society of the United States. These protective mechanisms are much less effective in the heat and humidity, especially, Klein says, for brachycephalic dogs — those smush-faced dogs we all know and love, like pugs and French bulldogs.
Klein’s best advice is to leave your dog at home (with the air conditioning on, if your house gets hot), and limit walks to early morning or dusk when the sun is less harsh.
3. Make Sure Your Dog Always Has Access to Fresh Water
It’s a basic rule of survival for every creature: Stay hydrated. Whether indoors or outdoors, your dog should always have access to a bowl of clean, freshwater. Even if you’re just out for a short walk, Klein says to always bring a dog water bottle or a portable dog bowl to fill up in case your pup gets thirsty. Lastly, it’s important to make sure the water is at a drinkable temperature — a bowl of water that’s been sitting in the sun all day will not be tempting for a dog to drink.
4. Protect Your Dog’s Skin and Paws From Scorching Surfaces
We’ve all done a frantic tiptoe run to the water after unsuspectingly stepping onto piping hot sand in bare feet. As is the case for our toes, a dog’s paw pads can easily burn on surfaces like sand or pavement that absorb heat from the sun’s rays.
“Before heading outside for a walk or playtime, be sure to touch the pavement with your hand to feel its temperature,” says Kurt Venator, Ph.D., a doctor of veterinary medicine based in Williamsville, New York, and the chief veterinary officer for pet food manufacturer Purina. “If it feels too hot to touch, then it’s too hot for your pet’s paw pads.”
Try to walk your dog in grassy or shady areas. If the hot pavement is completely unavoidable, Dr. Venator says you can also try dog booties or wipe on some paw protection wax, like Musher’s Secret Pet Paw Protection Wax, before walks.
5. Dogs Get Sunburnt, Too (and Other Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Shave Your Dog’s Coat)
If you have a dog with a double coat, like a Husky or Chow Chow, your first instinct may be to shave your dog come summer. Stop — and back away from the shears.
A dog’s coat isn’t just important for keeping them warm in winter, the fur also helps protect their skin from sun damage and slows down heat absorption, says Klein. Dogs will shed their winter undercoats when summer hits, leaving their topcoat to act as a shield against the sun’s harmful rays and protect them from bug bites and stings.
Shaving your dog not only disables its natural cooling mechanism, but it might affect how the hair grows back; and sometimes, it won’t grow back at all.
Some dogs do require a trim or more extensive grooming in the summer but always check with your veterinarian first. For hairless dogs or ones who have light skin pigments, there are sunscreens formulated specifically for dogs, like Handy Hound SnoutScreen.
6. Help Keep Your Dog Comfy (and Looking Stylish) With a Cooling Coat
If your dog is prone to overheating or has an especially thick coat, you can also try a cooling vest like the Ruffwear Swamp Cooler, which is designed to evaporate heat faster, and deflect the sun’s rays. Reviews from pet experts note that these vests work better in arid climates, and should be dry, not wet. A wet vest can cause friction and chafe the skin. There are also cooling mats available that help reduces your dog’s temperature by absorbing body heat.
7. Keep Your Dog Safe and Calm During Fireworks
Fireworks can be the bane of a dog owner’s existence. A study published in October 2015 in the journal Applied Animal Behaviour Science found that fireworks frighten dogs even more than gunshots or thunderstorms.
“Dogs have a more acute sense of hearing than humans, so those loud booms, crackles, and whistles are alarming,” says Venator. “They’re also unpredictable — they come without warning and at different intervals, so dogs can’t get used to them.”
Keep dogs indoors during fireworks, and ensure they have a safe place in the home to hide. Venator says that putting on loud music or a movie can also help distract a dog.
For dogs with severe phobias, talk to your veterinarian about doggy CBD oil or medication that can help calm their nerves.
8. Protect Your Pup (and Yourself) From Fleas and Ticks
If you and your dog are going on a hike or spending time outdoors in wooded or grassy areas, flea and tick prevention is a must. Ticks can transfer diseases that cause serious health problems for humans and dogs, Lyme disease being the most common, according to the American Kennel Club.
Climate change, Klein says, is having an impact on the migration patterns of fleas and ticks. If you previously thought you were in a tick-free area, you may not be now. Talk to your vet about flea collars or the proper preventive medication to protect your pet all year round.
If your dog loves to munch on grass or pretend they’re wolves in the wild, review the ASPCA’s list of toxic and non-toxic plants to make sure they’re not coming into contact with any vegetation like poison ivy that could be harmful.