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It’s just HOT!

Once again, Richmond went from one extreme to the other, seemingly overnight! I don’t need to tell you… Richmond is…

How to keep dogs cool in summer

Once again, Richmond went from one extreme to the other, seemingly overnight! I don’t need to tell you… Richmond is HOT! It’s like the weather goes straight from winter to a scorching hot summer every year. This leaves dog parents like you and I faced with the problem of keeping our beloved pets cool, especially our dogs that prefer to be outside.

We have talked about summer heat and its effect on our pets in several previous blogs. Several years back, we discussed heat strokes and how to tell if your dog is getting too hot. We talked about hot surfaces and how to keep your dog’s feet from getting blistered. Then we covered Sun Safety and using sunscreen on our dogs, providing rash guard shirts, and even goggles to protect their eyes. But we have never talked about simply keeping our dogs cool. It sounds very elementary, but there is some useful science behind it. Knowing it can help us to keep our dogs comfortable and safe this summer.

Why is it so dangerous for a dog to get overheated?

Remember the study of homeostasis in science class? It is from homeostasis that we find a similar term, “homeotherm”. A homeotherm is an animal that maintains its body temperature at a constant level despite the temperature around it. A homeotherm’s temperature is usually above that of their environment and they maintain that temperature by way of metabolic activity. Often referred to as “warm-blooded”, elephants are homeotherms, as are tigers, polar bears, some birds, etc., and most all mammals. And guess what? Dogs are homeothermic too.

We are fortunate that our fur-covered fur kids are homeothermic. A homeotherm’s body is designed to regulate temperatures. Under normal circumstances, dogs maintain a temperature of around 101 – 102.5°. They have a sophisticated thermoregulation mechanism to keep their body temperatures in check. Sounds great, right? Well, the key phrase here is “under normal circumstances” … Unfortunately, the problem of being homeothermic is that exposure to excessive heat can lead to a quick death. Yes, dogs can get too hot, and it can be fatal.

How do dogs cool themselves?

There is a common misunderstanding that dogs cool themselves by sweating through their paws. While any moisture is helpful for cooling as it dissipates, in truth, the moisture that develops on their paws is not for cooling, it is for traction. Sweating through their paws is not sufficient to cool a dog’s blood. Panting is a dog’s most effective way of cooling themselves.

Moderate to rapid, open-mouthed panting is a good thing. When dogs pant, they are actually expelling heat from inside their body. Pet MD describes it like this: Panting allows a dog to rapidly inhale, humidify, then exhale the air, which increases the evaporation of water from your dog’s nose and lungs. The evaporation of water cools the body from the inside out. When you think about it, though, it really isn’t a very efficient process. It is even less so for brachycephalic (short-nosed, flat-faced) breeds. That is why it is so important for us to make sure our dogs have the tools they need to cool themselves as much as possible.

A little more science…

Let’s talk for just a minute (I promise) about the science behind cooling. There are three ways that cooling takes place:

  1. Conduction: Conduction, by definition, is the transfer of energy (in our context, that energy is heat) from one surface to another when the opposing surface is cooler. An example is when your dog comes inside on a hot day and flops down on the kitchen tile. He is transferring the heat off his hot belly onto the cool tile.
  2. Convection: Convection dissipates heat away by cool air or water. It’s like when your hot pup gets a nice cool breeze (air), jumps in a swimming pool (water), or is hosed down with water.
  3. Evaporation: Evaporation is the process of turning a liquid into a vapor. The best example is when we sweat and a cool breeze comes over us. You can feel the sweat evaporate. When a dog pants, air is moved over the mouth and throat. The air causes the moisture inside the mouth and throat to evaporate. Blood vessels on the mouth and throat are cooled and is then circulated throughout the body. Evaporative cooling of the nasal passages occurs too, which helps to cool the dog’s brain.

Now that we know how cooling works, how do we create an environment that will make it easier for our pups to cool themselves? Let’s talk about some of the things we can do to keep our dogs cool in hot weather, focusing on outdoor dogs, or those that spend much of their day out of doors.

Cooling by Conduction

We have learned that conduction occurs by transferring heat away from one object to another when touching. We used the kitchen tile as an example. How else can we provide conduction cooling for our outdoor dogs?

Cooling mats

Outdoor cooling mats are the coolest (pun intended) thing ever. These mats are designed to maintain temperature for a limited time so regardless of the weather, they will be cool to the touch. There are several different types. Some outdoor mats are simply filled with water, some have ice packs inside that you freeze and insert into the padding, and some are filled with a chemical cooling gel. A few mats are pressure-activated, so they will not begin cooling until your dog steps on them. Mats generally have a time limit, such as “will cool for 4 hours”, or whatever.

I must warn you, though, use of a cooling mat for your dog should be closely supervised. Mats are not recommended if your dog is a chewer or is rambunctious when playing (likes to play tug of war, or tends to grab things and run with them or shake them). If the mat is punctured or torn, the chemical gel inside could be toxic. Also, the plastic/vinyl coating may cause choking if ingested.

Providing shade for our dogs

Many owners allow their dogs access to the concrete floor in the garage, or maybe a brick, stone, or concrete patio. These surfaces, when shaded, can provide conduction cooling for your dog in the heat – much like the kitchen tiles.

Shady areas of the yard can also provide conduction cooling. A shaded patch of grass under a tree, for example, is a great spot for your dog to cool down during the summer.

If the trees in your yard do not provide enough shade, consider adding shade sails like the ones we have at Holiday Barn Pet Resorts. Home versions are not that expensive, such as these shade sail options from Wayfair. Beach or patio umbrellas arranged in your yard can also provide nice shade.

Many dog bed manufacturers make elevated outdoor beds with canopies on them.  I particularly like the ones with a mesh cot to provide further airflow. Make sure it’s good and sturdy so that it doesn’t collapse when your dog jumps onto it.

Think outside the box!

If you’re a do-it-yourselfer with some spare wood around, you can really get creative! Consider constructing an A-frame. All it takes is two boards connected at the top. You could also construct a frame with 2x4s and fasten a board on top, or just stretch some kind of heavy fabric or a tarp across the top – like an open-sided doghouse. Or simply make a lean-to… that’s easy – just lean a board against the house – and voila! Your dog has a nice cool structure to get behind. Make sure the shaded area is open (as opposed to an enclosed structure) so that it will have adequate airflow.

Home Depot has some great dog pens/kennels of varying sizes – with roofs! You can secure the gate so that it stays open and your pup will have its own private – and cool – “bungalow” to come and go as he pleases! You may even think about hanging a tarp on one side or the other to further block the sun.

Cooling clothing for your dog

Cooling clothing for dogs is not only effective but super cute! Most cooling clothing for dogs works by evaporation, but some styles feature conductive layers. The conductive layers enhance the evaporation process of the clothing to remove heat more effectively.

Convection and Evaporation

Convection and evaporation go hand in hand. Convection supplies the moisture that evaporation gets rid of. I know, it sounds kind of funny… almost counterproductive, right?

So let’s talk a little more about cooling clothing for dogs. As I mentioned, most cooling clothing for dogs works by evaporation. My dog wears a cooling bandana when we walk in hot weather. I simply saturate the bandana in cool water and the outside air causes the water to evaporate, causing the temperature of the fabric to drop. I check it often and it feels nice and cool around Jesse’s neck. If it starts to dry out a little, I simply rewet it.

A cooling vest is an even better choice. The vests cover the chest area where the cooling effects are believed to reach the bloodstream faster. Some bandanas and vests require that you place the clothing – or a cooler pack within the clothing – in the freezer before putting it on your dog. There are tons of dog cooling bandanas and vests on Amazon, but for very active, perhaps working dogs, make sure you buy from a reputable manufacturer.

Baby pools can be used at your home and are a great idea for keeping your pup cool while playing in the yard. And check out this “pool bed”! It looks like a dog bed, but it’s filled with water! Isn’t that super fun? You can even purchase a canopy for it. I know a lot of our Labrador retriever customers would LOVE this! I really like this sprinkler pool by Hammacher Schlemmer too! It’s a pool and a sprinkler! How fun is that?!

Misting is another great alternative. Misting, particularly when combined with shade, can drop the surrounding temperature by as much as 20 degrees! Top Dog Tips has a great article on misting systems for your dog! Wouldn’t that be a fun feature to have in your yard on a hot day? Move over, Fido, Mommy wants under that mister too!

The importance of drinking water in the heat

Captain Obvious says drinking water is crucial for keeping your dog cool and hydrated. We all know that. Your dog’s access to cool, clean water is imperative during hot weather. If you are taking your dog on a walk, take along a container filled with fresh water. To make sure your dog does not dehydrate, offer them small drinks often, rather than having them gulp a large drink at one time.

If your dog spends much of its day outdoors, a water fountain is a great idea to keep them cool. That way you can be sure water is constant. Locate the fountain in a shaded area to assure the water is as cool as possible. Breeding Business provides its list of the best outdoor water fountains for dogs. I have to say, though, that this dog water fountain is the ultimate treat for pups in hot weather! It is not only for drinking and cooling, but it provides learning enrichment for your dog as well. Your dog must learn to press the pedal to operate, with separate pedals for a sprinkler, a shower, or a water fountain!

If a water fountain is not in your budget at this time, know that clay or ceramic bowls will keep the water much cooler than stainless or plastic. Some have suggested placing the water bowl on a cooling mat (ingenious!). Also, there are water bowls that you insert into a base that has been frozen. This chilled water bowl says it keeps the water cold for 8 hours! And here is a great write-up on the Coolin’ Pet bowl. It reads that water will stay cool for 15 hours!

Ice sculptures and freezable toys are very effective and really fun for your dog. I’m sure you have seen people freeze a bucket of water with treats and/or dog toys inside. What a great idea! Dogs would have so much fun licking their way to the treasure inside! There are lots of freezable toys available too. I love this “Chilly Bone” from Chewys. You just wet it, freeze it, and give it to your dog. It would be soothing for dogs that are teething too. Doggie popsicles are good too, as is ice in general, but please read this article by the AKC about the possible dangers of giving your dog ice cubes.

Install an outdoor fan

There are many outdoor fans specifically designed for dogs and kennels. I would suggest mounting fans up away from the dog for safety reasons. Not only because of the fear of cuts from fan blades, but because of the danger of electricity in your dog’s play area too. Make sure the plugs and cords are not within your pup’s reach. Bladeless Dyson fans are particularly safe and very effective. If your walk your pet in a stroller like we do, there are stroller fans too. Evaporative clothing and fans are the pawfect combination to keep an outside dog cool in the summer.

A couple more heat relief ideas

During the hottest part of the day, generally from 10:00 AM – 3:00 PM, limit the amount of time you have your dog outside on a walk. Cut your summer walks short to limit exposure, or walk in the mornings and evenings when it is (hopefully!) cooler. Pick a shady route whenever possible.

And when it is really hot – like the weather we have had recently – bring your dog inside. At Camp Holiday Barn, safety is our utmost concern. We closely monitor the temperature and humidity outside, taking into account the various dog breeds and body types (i.e., short-nosed breeds, heavy-coated breeds, etc.) represented in each playgroup. Our Campers are only allowed outside in the heat for limited periods of time for potty breaks.

We hope that understanding the different methods of cooling can give you the knowledge you need to keep your pup safe and cool when the temperature rises. And remember, when it’s too hot to leave your dog outside, we have great indoor, air-conditioned playrooms for them at Camp Holiday Barn!

NOTE: Our references to third-party websites should not be construed as an endorsement of the products mentioned. Holiday Barn Pet Resorts does not endorse, promote, or ensure the safety or use of any product named herein. We recommend you thoroughly research the safety and efficacy of all products before purchasing.

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