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The Dog Days of Summer

After coming inside from a miserably sweltering potty walk with my pup, I am wondering if it could possibly get…

After coming inside from a miserably sweltering potty walk with my pup, I am wondering if it could possibly get any hotter outside. Maybe so. We are in the dog days of summer. The dog days of summer run from July 3rd to August 11th this year and mark the hottest days of summer.

Admit it – do you really know what “the dog days of summer” is all about? I knew it had to do with hot summer days. That was the easy part. But what in the world did it have to do with dogs?

There are a lot of superstitions about the dog days of summer, mostly referring to hot temperatures and soaking rains. But some people really believe that it is a period that can bring fever, catastrophe, war, disaster, bad luck, drought, turmoil, and a change in the behavior of animals. I think I just heard the theme from the “Twilight Zone” in the background…

Myths and Beliefs About The Dog Days of Summer

Before we get into why these hot days are associated with dogs, let’s delve into some of the fascinating – and often crazy – beliefs about the dog days of summer.

1) Snakes go blind during dog days. This idea has to do with the cloudy lubricant that covers a snake’s eyes when it sheds its skin. That is a true fact. The lubricant really does affect the snake’s vision, but it doesn’t happen necessarily more during the dog days of summer. Some believe that the snake is more likely to bite during the dog days of summer, and if it does, you just might die! Oh my…

2) The morning dew is poisonous to open wounds. This idea may have its roots in Appalachian folklore. But, as it turns out, research shows that there are organisms in the dew that will enter a pore or sore and cause problems. There are plenty of anecdotes by people who have been the victim of poisonous morning dew. But does it happen just during the dog days? Well, the dew is cooler and heavier in the morning during this time of the year, but aside from that, I don’t know how poisonous it is.

3) Dogs and men go mad during the hottest days of summer. I get that. I kind of go a little mad myself when I go outside and melt. The Farmers Almanac tells us that in ancient Greece and Rome, the dog days were believed to be a time when dogs and men alike would be driven mad by the extreme heat.

4) Some civilizations have associated the dog days with disease. There is some basis of truth to this. Bacteria love warm, moist environments (typical of the dog days of summer). Science Daily says a new study suggests that the dog days of summer may well be the “bacterial infection” season. Their findings suggest these bacteria illnesses may be 46 percent higher in the summer than in the winter.

Historically, polio is linked to the dog days of summer. It is well documented that polio was primarily a disease of the summer months. The disease was much more prevalent during August than at other times of the year. Though no one really knows why, it is likely that warm, moist weather favored transmission of the disease. In the epidemic years of the 1940s and the 1950s, community swimming pools and other public areas were closed during the dog days of July and August.

5) The Crossville Chronicle, a newspaper in Crossville Tennessee, tells us there is an old southern lore that the dog days are the time when “haints” (or ghosts) are more active. It says that women would wash walls with vinegar, water, and Pine-Sol to keep the haints away. Plus, they believed that you should wear your socks inside out, wear a cross around your neck, and wear your baseball hat backward to avert all bad fortune from the haints. (So that’s why people wear their baseball hats backward!) Also, you need to paint your porch ceiling blue because it looks like water, and haints are not able to cross water.

Are you laughing? I am.

6) In the book, “How the Dog Got Its Days: A Skeptical Inquiry into Traditional Star and Weather Lore,” by folklore scholar Eleanor L. Long, “The “dog days” are considered a time when “all liquids are poisonous, when bathing, swimming, or even drinking water can be dangerous, and a time when no sore or wound will heal properly.” Wow, that’s scary. She really didn’t expand on “why” in the book, but my guess is because of the increase in bacteria during the warm summer months.

7) You may as well not go fishing either because fish go deep in the river during the dog days and refuse to eat. This is true! Fish go deeper because the water is so hot near the surface. They also are not as likely to bite.

8) If a dog eats grass during a dog day morning, we can expect rain before the end of the day.
Who knows? If anyone witnesses this phenomenon, let us know!

9) And there’s this poem:
“Dog Days bright and clear
Indicate a happy year;
But when accompanied by rain,
for better times, our hopes are vain.”

Aside from the fact that it’s just too hot for dogs, why would they name this particular period “The Dog Days of Summer?” Why not just “The Sweaty Days of Summer,” or “The Crazy Days of Summer?” Why dogs? Some may think that the reason for the “dog” in “The Dog Days of Summer” is because our dogs are so worn out from the heat, panting a lot and behaving sluggishly. The reasoning has its roots in astrology, and this is where “dogs” come into play.

The Dog Star

Sirius is known to be the brightest star in the sky. It is nicknamed the Dog Star (ah-ha!) because it’s the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major (which means “greater dog” in Latin). It’s super bright because it’s one of the closest stars to our sun. Forbes says Sirius is a blue giant star that’s twice the size of the Sun, 25 times the luminosity, and only 8.6 light-years distant.

During the dog days, Sirius rises in the east at the same time as the Sun and sets in the west at sunset. The ancient Romans believed the star was so bright that it added heat to the sun and caused us to have hotter temperatures in the summer. That is actually not true, though. The summer heat is caused by the Earth’s tilt towards the northern hemisphere causing a direct angle to Earth during this time frame, causing longer, hotter days. But that’s beside the point…

Anyway, the Romans also believed that Sirius was a sinister light, bringing drought and plague to us “frail mortals.” Drought? Could happen. Plague? Maybe. (See #4 above.). Sinister? Doubt it. And I’m not sure how frail we are. 

In every myth, there is some truth. I just made that up and thought it was so astute of me, but as it stands, Michael Scott, the alchemist (not the dude on “The Office”), said it first, “At the heart of every legend there is a grain of truth.” Yes, it is hotter during late summer, and yes, it can presumably bring drought and illness.

Do The Dog Days of Summer Involve Dogs?

Well, kind of. It may sound like a stretch, but it’s important to mention. Although we have logically separated fact from fiction and now realize that “The Dog Days of Summer” technically has nothing to do with the four-legged variety, there is something we should be aware of during this time of the year that could affect our dogs.

There is a higher risk of dogs contracting leptospirosis during the dog days when bacteria is abundant. In August 2019, we published a blog called “What You Need to Know About Leptospirosis.” If you recall, leptospirosis is a nasty bacterial disease that affects dogs. Interestingly, leptospirosis bacteria prefer cooler weather, but there is an increase in the disease during the late summer. What happens is the “lepto” bacteria hangs out and grows in damp cool areas, and then shows up in full force when it’s hot outside. The now well-nourished bacteria is swept into or released from the ground in streams, creeks, lakes, rivers, and ponds that our dogs love to swim in and drink when it’s hot outside.

Humans can become infected with Leptospirosis, especially when temperatures are high. According to the CDC, the bacteria enter our bodies through the eyes, nose, mouth, skin cuts, or abrasions when we come in direct contact with infected urine, body fluids, or tissues of infected animals. We could also get it by ingesting food or water contaminated by leptospira.

Fortunately, there is a vaccination for leptospirosis. I had my dog vaccinated for it last month. I encourage you to do the same. Better safe than sorry, right?

Staying Safe and Healthy during the Dog Days of Summer

You probably do not need to worry so much about poisonous morning dew, nor do you need to wear your socks inside out. But when it is extremely hot outside, you really do need to be careful. Here are some tips for you and your pup to stay safe and healthy during “The Dog Days of Summer.”

  • Stay hydrated. Drink bottled or filtered water. Make sure your dog has plenty of fresh, cool water, as well.
    • Have your dog vaccinated for Leptospirosis.
    • Walk your dog during the coolest times of the day: early morning or late evening.
    • Know the signs of heatstroke in your dog and learn how to treat heat-related emergencies.
    • Make sure you and your pet stay in the shade as much as possible if you need to be outside.
    • Head inside for air conditioning breaks!
    • Be aware of both the temperature and the heat index. The heat index is the temperature the body feels when the effects of heat and humidity are combined. If the heat index goes above 75, it is dangerous for your pup.

Regardless, stay safe but try to enjoy these warm days. You may reconsider just how miserable you were come January, statistically the coldest month in Virginia! Brrr!

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