Summertime in Texas can be pretty brutal. Between the skyrocketing temperatures and seemingly relentless sunshine, plenty of us are perfectly content to spend as much time as possible indoors. However, while you’re trying to keep your loved ones safe, cool, and comfortable, please don’t forget about your four-legged family members.
The vast majority of domesticated dogs spend at least some of their time outside every day, whether it’s to exercise, patrol their yard, or “do their business.” And some dogs spend more time outside than others, either due to Fido’s personal preferences or their owner’s beliefs. And at this time of year, many dog-owners find themselves wondering if it’s actually too hot for their dog to be outside.
There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to that question. If you’re worried about your canine companion’s well-being, though, here are some general things to keep in mind:
Understand that all dogs are different.
There’s no set temperature at which being outside “officially” becomes dangerous. Factors like the dog’s age, weight, coat color, and coat type can affect their ability to stay cool. So, just because your neighbor’s dogs are perfectly happy in hot weather doesn’t mean that your pooch will be safe in the same conditions. Be especially wary if Spot is a brachycephalic breed (that is, a flat-faced breed like a pug, bulldog, shih tzu, etc.); these dogs can have trouble breathing even on good days, and very hot will weather only exacerbate their condition. Most (but not all!) dogs will be okay at temperatures up to 84°F with moderate humidity. At 85°F and higher, or on extremely humid days, you’ll need to exercise additional caution.
Know how to perform the “Touch Test.”
Pavement—including sidewalks, streets, and driveways—can get unbearably hot during the summer months, especially in the afternoon. While humans can wear shoes to protect their feet from being burned, dogs usually don’t have this option, and scorched paw pads can be the sad result. So before you take your dog for a walk on a hot day, step outside, find some pavement or asphalt, and touch it with the back of your hand. If you can’t stand to hold your hand against the ground for more than five seconds, then it’s simply too hot to go for a walk. Postpone Muffin’s exercise time until the weather cools down.
Remember that amenities might not be enough…
It’s not uncommon for pet owners to assume that if a dog has access to a shaded area and a water dish, then the pooch will be fine staying in the yard all day. While these accommodations definitely aren’t bad things for your dog to have when he has to be outside, they require a little forethought. Double-check that your dog will have access to shade at all times; take into account the fact that shadows tend to “move” as the sun travels across the sky. Water dishes should be heavy enough that they can’t be accidentally knocked over, and they should be taken inside and washed daily. And even if you’re mindful of all of these things, that doesn’t guarantee that your dog will be safe (or even comfortable) in the long-term. Think of it this way: when it’s blazing hot outside, is the shade from a tree and a bottle of water enough to keep you comfortable for hours on end?
…and they can attract uninvited guests.
At this time of year, your dog won’t be the only outdoor animal trying to beat the heat. Water sources and the possibility of shelter can entice wildlife to come into your yard and “stake their claim,” so don’t be surprised if you go to hose down your dog’s house one morning and an angry raccoon hisses at you from within the structure! Conflicts for water and shelter can cause fights between animals, and chances are, you don’t want to subject Ranger to that kind of trouble. Check your yard often for signs of animal activity, and if one tries to muscle in on your dog’s turf, it should be dealt with as soon as possible.
Be able to recognize signs of heat stroke in dogs
Again, all dogs respond to heat a little differently, but here are the classic signs that something is wrong with Charlie:
- Excessive panting
- Excessive drooling with thick, sticky saliva
- Flushed tongue
- Gums that are red, pale, or feel “tacky” to the touch
- Increased body temperature (e.g., the dog feels hotter than normal when you touch her skin)
- Muscle tremors
- Weakness or listlessness
- Disorientation or dizziness (e.g., the dog has trouble walking straight or seems confused by his surroundings)
If your dog is playing outside and starts to show any of these symptoms, bring her indoors immediately! Emergency first aid for canine heat stroke is as follows:
- Use cool water to thoroughly wet down your dog’s body. Do not use cold or icy water, as this can actually cause your dog to go into shock. Small or medium-sized dogs can be soaked in the bathtub, while larger dogs might need to be sprayed with a hose or coaxed into a kiddie pool.
- Focus cooling efforts on the dog’s head and neck. A first aid cold pack (or a bag of frozen vegetables) can be placed on those areas to help facilitate the cool-down.
- Rub the dog’s legs. This will increase circulation to her limbs, help prevent shock, and encourage your dog to remain calm.
- Allow the dog to drink plenty of cool water. Again, make sure that the water she’s drinking is not too cold, as this can cause shock or extreme stress. Also, if your dog has been doing a lot of panting, then consider adding a small pinch of salt to her drinking water to help her replenish essential minerals (namely, sodium).
Once your dog appears to be in a stable condition, take him to the nearest animal clinic as soon as possible. Heat stroke can very easily cause severe dehydration and/or organ damage, so even if Rex seems fine, he should still be checked out by a licensed veterinarian to see if further action is needed.
The issue of how much time a dog “should” spend outside versus how much time it “should” spend indoors is a controversial one; your thoughts on the matter will probably be influenced by your cultural background, your upbringing, and your dog’s personality. We’re not here to take sides on this debate; instead, we just want to impart some basic safety information so you can make the right decision for your furry friend.
Unlike wild animals, who rely on their instincts to stay cool, our dogs rely on us to make good decisions for them. So please, folks: on those harsh summer days, do what you can to keep your dog cool and comfortable!