by Barry B. Burtis D.V.M.
We now seem well into the “dog days of summer”. These days are the most hot, humid and hazy days of the season. In our part of the world these days come during July and August. The name comes from the ancient Greek and Roman belief that Sirius, also known as the Dog Star, was responsible for the hot weather. Sirius, one of the brightest stars in the night sky, is located in the constellation Canis Major. In ancient times Sirius rose just before or at sunrise. Hence, the belief that somehow the Dog Star must be responsible for the weather. These days probably most people believe global warming must be responsible.
Regardless of the cause of these days, anyone who has a dog knows they certainly are not days favoured by dogs. Influenced by a canine’s compromised ability to deal very well with heat, they usually much prefer cooler temperatures. With hot days dogs usually become much less active, their appetites decline and a dog owner must guard against a number of serious health threats, associated with too much sun, that can harm their pet.
As we move into August, there are some things to do to try and help keep your pup cool. Flat-faced breeds such as pugs, Pekingese and bulldogs are most susceptible to heat related dangers like heat stroke. For them, it may be best just to plan to stay inside near the air-conditioning on the hottest days. Half an hour, in 30 degrees Celsius temperatures, can be fatal for brachycephalic (short-nosed) breeds. With dogs who love water, swimming and similar outside activities, other plans will be necessary.
Keeping fresh water readily available, whether at home or away, is always most important.. This may require packing an extra water bottle for your canine companion, if it’s accompanying you for a walk on the beach or a hike in the park. It is important that you both stay well hydrated. There are great little fold-up nylon bowls that can be taken along for offering a drink to your pet.
When going out to enjoy the summer sunshine, for most people, preparing with a protective application of sunscreen is an automatic response. For sunburn susceptible individuals or breeds, considering the same protection for a dog is a good idea. The ears, nose, underbelly or other thinly haired areas - especially in dogs with pale-skins or light coloured hair - are most at risk for sun damage. These are the places where sunscreen should be used. There are pet sunscreens available, but a baby sunscreen with a SPF of 30 or greater works well. Sports-type sunscreens, because they are waterproof, may be recommended for some dogs.
Sadly, heat stroke continues to be a common pet emergency in summer. Although one would hope that it would no longer be necessary to do so, people seem to need constant reminders to not leave their pet in cars. Cars in the sunshine reach incredibly high temperatures in minutes. A pet left in these conditions will soon be a victim of this life-threatening environment. Dogs who play on the beach, jog on the sidewalk or engage in other similar activities on warm days without access to shade are also in danger. Signs of heatstroke include continuous panting, dark red gums and weakness or collapse. A pet showing these signs should be cooled down with water (not ice or very cold water) and veterinary help sought for them.
Finally, if your dog loves swimming or wading in the water, it’s a good idea to give them a quick rinse or shower afterwards. It is also very important to make sure that their haircoat and their ears are dried completely. A quick brushing of their hair will make sure no damp areas remain at the skin surface. A place that stays wet is a good place for hot spots or skin infections to develop. Remembering these few tips will help ensure both you and your pet can enjoy the summer days ahead. Barry Burtis is a local companion animal veterinarian. Past Pet Tales can be found at www.baycitiesanimalhospital.ca