As we enter the “Dog Days of Summer” this weekend, it is important to protect your pet from the extreme heat. During the hottest days of July and August, dogs are at a far greater risk of heat stroke, dehydration, paw pad burns and sunburn.

Because dogs don’t sweat, they must rely on panting to maintain proper internal temperature and the extreme heat and humidity can overwhelm their ability to cool down. This overheating in dogs can lead to heat stroke. The condition is marked by excessive panting, difficulty breathing, increased heart rate, drooling, vomiting, stupor and/or collapse and can lead to organ failure, blindness and death.

Some dogs are at greater risk of heat related issues. Both puppies and elderly dogs have weaker systems to handle the heat. The heat can overwhelm obese dogs and those with other health issues. And brachycephalic dogs (flat- or short-nosed dogs such as pugs, boxers, bulldogs and shih tzus) are at greater risk because they don’t breathe as efficiently as dogs with longer snouts.

If your dog begins showing early signs of overheating, immediately move the pet to a cooler location inside with air conditioning or into the shade. You can rinse the dog with room temperature water, paying extra to the paw pads. Don’t use ice or cold water to cool the dog as that might lead to shock. Allow the dog to drink but don’t force it to. And if you suspect the dog is suffering from heat stroke, seek immediate attention with your veterinarian.

The most important step to prevent heat related problems is to make sure your pet has a ready supply of clean, cool, fresh water. Access to shade for outside pets is also key. Many dogs enjoy playing in the sprinkler or taking a dip in a plastic kiddie pool. A light, summer style haircut can help but be careful to not shave the coat to the skin as that can leave the dog susceptible to sunburn. And above all else, NEVER leave a dog inside a car where temperatures can reach over 140 degrees.

Summer doesn’t have to mean an end to playing outside with your pet. Exercising with your dog in the morning or evening can skip the most dangerous heat. Running along the shaded sections of the greenway can avoid paw pad burns on hot surfaces. Taking regular breaks in the shade and providing fresh water will allow your dog to enjoy plenty of play time.

Pet owners who are concerned about possible heat related issues can speak with one of the doctors here at Family Pet Health by calling 615-907-8387.