By Victoria Schade
Because our dogs are stuck wearing fur coats, summer heat requires a shift in typical leash walking routines in order to keep them healthy. Exposing your dog to high temperatures, prolonged direct sun, and intense exercise can lead to heat stroke, a dangerous and potentially fatal condition. Older dogs, dogs with shorter snouts, and dogs battling illness are particularly susceptible, but any dog can fall prey to heat stroke. According to Dr. Christina Moore of Thrive Affordable Vet Care in Round Rock, Texas, early signs of heat stroke include rapid panting, excessive drooling (which is a secondary cooling technique when panting isn’t enough), walking slower, trying to lie down, or seeking out shade. As heat stroke progresses dogs can develop bright red, pale, or blue gums, vomiting, diarrhea, difficulty breathing, abnormal bleeding and bruising, and seizures.
The following tips can help to keep your dog safe and comfortable during summer leash walks.
Time your daily walks so that you avoid the midday heat. No matter how hot it gets in the summer, you’re likely to find some relief if you walk your dog before 9 a.m. or after 6 p.m. By avoiding the peak sun hours, you’re missing the hottest part of the day, when the sun is directly overhead. Dogs with dark fur, like black Labs, are more likely to feel the effects of walking in midday sun since black absorbs heat, so taking advantage of off-hours will keep everyone happy.
Four-season dog walkers understand that the warmth of the sun can make or break a stroll. In winter, it helps to seek out the sunny side of the street, and in summer, opting for the shady side helps to keep walks tolerable. Remember that the shifting sun throughout the day will impact what part of the sidewalk is in the shade and what isn’t. A tree-lined street can become just as steamy as the middle of a parking lot if you don’t time your walk correctly.
Your dog will probably need hydration breaks during summer walks, so bring a dog-specific water bottle or bowl for him that’s easy for you to carry and for him to drink from. Many dogs are suspicious of novel water receptacles at first, so it helps to introduce the bowl or bottle at home before you go out. Give your dog ample opportunity to familiarize himself with the mechanics of it before you try to use it in the literal heat of the moment.
Because dogs are closer to the ground, they’re more susceptible to the warmth radiating from hot surfaces. Try to stay on the sidewalk instead of the street, or better yet, a grassy path, when you walk. Keep in mind that the heat coming from black asphalt can be dangerous for dogs’ paws, and contact with hot surfaces can lead to pad burns. To test just how hot the pavement is, rest your hand on it. If it feels intolerable to you for longer than a few seconds, it’s probably going to feel just as bad on your dog’s feet.
Brachycephalic breeds with pushed-in faces, like Pugs, French Bulldogs, English Bulldogs, and Boston Terriers, are particularly at risk for overheating on hot days. Their unique anatomy, which includes pinched nostrils and a narrow windpipe, makes it difficult for these types of dogs to cool themselves through panting, Moore says. Pet parents with brachycephalic breeds need to be particularly careful in hot weather.
Even if you and your dog normally walk at top speeds, it’s important to slow down on hot and humid days. A leisurely stroll might feel like you’re depriving your dog of exercise, but most dogs enjoy the opportunity to sniff their way through the neighborhood at a slower speed. Plus, allowing your dog to take time to smell the mailboxes provides mental exercise, a much-needed but often overlooked type of stimulation.
Many dogs instinctively know when it’s time to chill out during a walk, and will move toward a shady patch beneath a tree for a brief rest, while others keep moving even though their tongues are nearly touching the ground. It’s a good idea for both ends of the leash to find cool resting points beneath trees along your route for mandatory timeouts. Encourage your dog to stretch out on the grass for a few minutes, and when you’re both ready, continue at a leisurely pace, and then head home for a big drink of water.