Shorts, tanks, flip flops, sunglasses and sunscreen can only mean one thing: SUMMERTIME! The winter woollies have officially been packed away, hot beverages have been replaced with ice-cold drinks, and your need to spend time outdoors in the glorious sunshine is overwhelming. We, as South Africans, are incredibly lucky to enjoy hot, sunny weather for almost half of the year, but with it comes the heatwaves, where temperatures often soar to above 35 degrees Celsius.
To beat the heat, we often find ourselves getting creative, but what about our pets? Dogs and cats have sweat glands that are located on their paw pads, but due to the small surface area, sweating alone is not enough to lower their temperature. Dogs will also start panting as a means to cool themselves down, but if one isn’t careful, our pets can easily become overheated, especially if they spend a lot of time outdoors.
Since our furry friends have limited options, read on to see how you can help your pets to stay canine cool this summer.
- Cooling mats
On hot days you will often find your pet sprawled on the floor, making the most of the cool tiles on their hot bodies. If you don’t have tiles, or if your pet finds the floor too hard and uncomfortable, then a cooling mat is a great investment. Cooling mats are simple to use; place it in the fridge overnight and when needed, put it on the floor for all to enjoy (I am not ashamed to admit that I have shared the cooling mat with my dogs). I have found that placing a towel over the cooling mat encourages them to lie on it.
- Frozen treats
Creating delicious homemade frozen treats is a great way to cool your pooches down. A simple Google search yields thousands of easy recipes for you to try, using basic ingredients like yoghurt, fruit and peanut butter. You can also check out Bake and Bark from Darg Days for more ideas.
Another fun idea is to fill a Kong or other suitable toy with peanut butter or wet food, and freeze. Not only will your dog be entertained for a while, but the frozen treat will keep them cool.
If your dogs are like mine, then they absolutely love ice cream! And while it might be tempting to share your cone, dairy is not ideal for your pooch’s digestive system. A safe alternative is Cool Dogs or Murphy’s pet friendly ice cream.
- Exercise sparingly
If temperatures are excessively high, you might want to rethink your daily walk. Pavements and tar roads absorb the sun’s rays and, if the ground is too hot, can damage your dog’s sensitive paw pads. A quick way to check if the ground is too hot is to place your hand on it for 3-5 seconds. If you can’t leave your hand there comfortably, then it is too hot for your dog.
In our household, skipping our walks is not really an option. To ensure everyone remains safe we avoid the hottest times of the day and walk in the early morning or after the sun has set, and keep the distance to a minimum. Also make sure to carry plenty of water for both you and your pet and take frequent breaks.
- Pool party
If your dog loves water, then allowing them to take a dip will cool them off instantly! And you don’t have to have a pool to partake in this fun, a clam shell, inflatable paddle pool or even a large bucket filled with water is all your dog needs to wade in.
- Make sure they have plenty of shade and water
This may seem like an obvious one, but it’s imperative that all pets, big and small, have access to plenty of fresh, clean water and shade. If your pet’s water bowl is located outside, make sure that it is in a covered/shaded area and that it is topped up daily. Large containers might hold more water, but they also have a greater surface area for evaporation to take place. Self-filling water bowls are a good solution, but they must be cleaned regularly to avoid a build-up of algae.
- To shave or not to shave
Many people reach for the shaver or take their dogs and cats to the groomers just before summer temperatures peak. Unfortunately, you may be doing more harm than good depending on the type of coat your pet has. A single coated dog can be shaved down repeatedly, as the hair will continue to grow back unchanged, and shaving in summer can benefit them. Double coated dogs on the other hand have two coats – the outer coat, which is known as guard hairs, are long and the undercoat is shorter and thicker. In winter, the thick undercoat provides insulation and keeps your dog warm, while in summer, the undercoat is shed leaving the longer guard hairs which allows air to circulate and in turn cools the skin. Therefore, if you shave a double coated dog, you are achieving the exact opposite of what you want, as the undercoat grows back first and keeps your dog warm, as opposed to cooling them down.
If you are not sure what type of coat your dog has, consult your vet first.
- Know the signs of heat stroke
Any hot environment can cause heat stroke and it’s important to know the signs, as, if left untreated, it can be fatal. Certain dog breeds are also more prone to heat stroke than others, especially brachycephalic (flat-faced) dogs. Think pugs, bulldogs, Boston terriers. Owing to their short muzzles, these dogs cannot effectively cool themselves down by panting, making them twice as likely to get heat stroke.
Signs to look out for are excessive panting, rapid heartbeat, high fever, drooling, vomiting, diarrhoea and uncoordinated movements.
If you suspect your dog has heat stroke, remove them from the hot environment, offer water without forcing them to drink, place a soaked towel on their backs and take them to the vet immediately.