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Sunday, July 8, 2012

Feelin' hot, hot, hot...

Swamp cooler from Ruffwear
We're having a heat wave, or so it would seem. We have been fortunate here in the Northeast; while it has been hotter than is usual for this time of year, it hasn't been horrid. In other parts of the country though, folks haven't been so lucky. Heat can be difficult to escape. It isn't like the cold when you can just layer up or hunker down inside. There are only so many layers you can remove (or should remove), and even if it were legal to run around "layer-less", it would still be hot. And it's not just too hot for people. Animals can suffer terribly in the heat too.

I have been working on tweaking my "hot-weather dog-survival" system for many years and I think I have it down. Maybe there is more tweaking on the horizon, but I feel I have a system that works. If it works for a service dog (who doesn't always have the option of just avoiding the outside) then I suspect it could be helpful for pets too. I'll start with a couple of "Don'ts":

1) DON'T SHAVE YOUR DOG. Having a coat in the summer is NOT the equivalent of "wearing a fur coat" to us. We sweat through our skin. Covering our skin makes it near impossible for us to cool down. A dog's coat insulates...against the heat as well as the cold. They do not sweat through their skin, so having a coat does not prevent them from cooling. There is also some evidence that shaving a dog can stress the thyroid (Google shaved dogs and thyroid, but here's a link to start: ). It's literally and figuratively not cool.

The other big "Don't" is:

2) DON'T WET DOWN THE WHOLE DOG. Water in the coat can actually trap heat next to the skin. Wetting down the dog's chest/belly/paws will do much more to cool them off than wetting the whole body. The exception here, is a dog that has access to a pool or lake (or ocean). Being immersed in cool water for a period of time can be very cooling, unlike getting wet and then hanging about with a wet coat.

While we are on the subject of how dogs keep cool, I would feel negligent if I didn't point out that dogs absolutely need to be able to pant. I realize that sounds like a big ol' "duh", but I have seen an alarming number of dogs being walked in fabric muzzles (or leather ones that fit like fabric) and that's something that should NEVER happen. The only type of muzzle that is suitable for exercise is a properly fitted basket muzzle. They still prevent biting, but they also allow the dog to breathe and pant and drink. Fabric muzzles hold the dog's mouth closed. It is the equivalent of us wearing a garbage bag in the sun. These muzzles were never intended for use while exercising, but only for very short-term use like at the vet's office or at the groomer's. Okay, moving along now...

Here is my list of "Do's" with a few product recommendations thrown in for good measure:-)

1) Do exercise your dog early in the morning or late in the evening on a hot day. I get up very early some days because mornings just work best for us. Not only has the sun not baked everything yet, but it's less buggy and I get the park almost to myself.

2) Bring cool water for your dog, always. I am still surprised by how eager my dog is to drink cool water when we are out and about. He is a raw-fed dog, so at home he really doesn't drink much. When we are out on a hot day though, he will drink a LOT. I always carry a water bottle for him, either in a sling or a back pack, and I always fill it with ice. My favorite water bottle is this one: H2O4K9 I like their sling too.

3) Take plenty of breaks in the shade. I try to avoid being out during the hottest part of the day, but if I need to (and consequently my dog does too) I try to get some place where there is air conditioning, or to at least find a cool spot to relax a bit.

4) Cool-down coats DO help! You can wet down the coat so your dog gets the benefit of evaporative cooling without having water in his/her coat. It's important to note here that they tend to work better when they are damp, not so much when they are dripping wet. I have two of them for different reasons. I keep this one: Oaisis Cooling Coat in my back-pack because it's super light-weight and works well under Murphy's working harness. I have also found that its slightly reflective fabric helps a bit even when it's dry. At the very least it seems to prevent the hot sun from soaking into Murphy's black coat. The other cool coat that I really like is this one: Ruffwear Swamp Cooler , which I consider the 'big gun'. This is the one I take to Florida with us when we go. I soak it, I wring it out and I clip Murphy's ID right to it and use it alone (we exercise on the beach in Florida where I'm not likely to need his harness). I'm always amazed by how cool it feels underneath!

5) Be mindful of hot pavement! It gets really hot, really fast. Teach your dog to wear boots ( help here: Training a Dog to Wear Booties ), and then use them if they need to be on pavement on a hot day. Your dog's paw pads can literally cook on the tarmac, so either use boots or avoid it altogether. I like these: Ruffwear Grip Trex boots  because they fit my dog well, have soles that are thick enough to insulate against the heat and because I could buy them individually for the same price as a full set (that's a very convenient policy if your dog is like mine and has rear paws and front paws that are different sizes). Because your dog also sweats through his or her paws, make sure to take the boots off periodically if you're out for any length of time. During your "break in the shade" is the perfect time to let paws breathe:-)

6) Dogs need eye protection too! As much as your eyes appreciate the UV protection of a good pair of sunglasses, so would your dog's eyes. If I am out for the day with my dog and I need sunglasses, I make sure to afford him the same care. I have found these: Doggles  to be both readily accepted, and to stay put. They block UV's, they are shatterproof and they don't fog. They are an affordable solution to damaging UV rays.

7) Put sunblock on the pink spots. I have a black dog now so it's not a concern, but I used to have a dog with a big, pink spot on the top of his nose. Because the hair was so sparse in that area, it was quite prone to sunburn. I made sure to put a good sunblock on it, and it did the trick. No more sun burn:-) Dogs have skin too, so if you see any pink, make sure to protect it:-)

8) Home management. Make sure there is a place for your dog to escape the heat at home. I have air conditioning because I am a wuss and I like a temperate environment; Murphy sure appreciates that too. At the very least, keep a room shaded, keep the air moving and throw a few ice cubes in the drinking water. There are cool beds and cool mats on the market too. I have never used them so I can't make any personal recommendations, but if you have experience with them, feel free to comment! They seem like a great idea. I know a lot of folks who use kiddie-pools too, and their dogs seem to enjoy them a great deal. Keep them clean, keep the water cool and make sure your dog has a place in the shade to dry off and they are a GREAT way to beat the heat.

And of course it goes without saying: NEVER, EVER LEAVE YOUR DOG IN A PARKED CAR IN THE SUMMER. Even if you leave the car running with the AC on, a car can stall. I know of more than one police dog who lost their life that way. Even with all the windows open, the car can still be hot as Hades. DON'T DO IT. Leave your dog at home if you can't take him out of the car with you. Don't stop and run an errand "just for a minute"; run your errands another time. NO DOGS LEFT IN CARS. PERIOD. Okay, sermon over:-P

If you have any other cool ideas to help your dog enjoy the summer and beat the heat, please feel free to share!

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