Tips for canine health & safety
during the heat of the summer
I am providing URLs for information ONLY, I do not necessarily endorse the specific product or company.
I. Don't Rely on Your Dog's Instincts
Do not make the mistake of believing your Kerry is smart enough to self regulate and instinctively know how to best deal with the heat. Experience has shown me this is just not so; Heddy will gladly sit in the direct sun midday until I command her into the shade or air conditioning. None of my 3 will drink water voluntarily - I must coax, and often command, them to drink. Also many dogs will run themselves to the point of collapse, along the way they're having fun, they just don't know when to stop. As a responsible owner it is up to you to make the educated decisions to safeguard your pet.
II. The Most Important Two Rules
NEVER leave a dog unattended in direct sunlight or in a car even for a moment.
One study reports that when the outside temperature is 78 degrees F, a closed car will reach 90 degrees F in five minutes, and 110 degrees F in 25 minutes.
Always have fresh cool water available for your dog.
Since dogs cannot shed their coats and they do not sweat, they pant away a lot of moisture during warm weather and must have constant access to fresh water.
III. Shade and Shade Cloth
If your dog is going to be outdoors for any length on time be sure that there is plenty of shade available. If your property does not have trees that offer shade, consider constructing a temporary structures to provide adequate shade protection. Unless you have a shade structure it will be impossible for a dog to be outside during the midday hours when there is no natural shade.
One solution is constructing a canopy of knitted Shade Cloth, available from your local garden center of home improvement store or on the web. Shade Cloth is a very durable, UV stabilized fabric, which resists tearing, fraying, stretching, and sagging. It screens out solar energy, and, depending on the grade of cloth you purchase, has a shade factor of from 60 to 85%. The interlocking woven design of the fabric is porous, allowing hot air to escape creating a cool cushion underneath and allows precipitation to drain though. It also does have the problem of lofting in winds of solid canvas fabric.
IV. Drinking Water
Always carry water with you if away from the house with your Kerry - we always carry a small thermos of water as the gurls will not consider room temperature water - ever. I think it's important to always provide filtered water. There are many inexpensive home filter products like the Brita filter that are very effective, seehttp://www.brita.com/002i.html . Also don't forget to toss stale water left sitting in the bowl and wash the bowl thoroughly. Evaporation concentrates heavy metal minerals which can build up to toxic levels.
a. Electrolyte Concentrate
Also consider having on hand Pet-Lyte a natural supplement that comes in a liquid electrolyte concentrate, recommended to help keep your pet hydrated. Available from <http://www.naturespathinc.com/pet.html>.
b. Warning: garden hoses are NOT a safe source of drinking water
It is NOT advisable to give your dog drinking water from a garden hose. Standard vinyl garden hose has substances in it to keep the hose flexible. These chemicals, which get into the water as it goes through the hose, are not safe for humans or pets.
There is now one type of hose on the market is made with a "food-grade" plastic that is approved by the US Food and Drug Administration and will not contaminate the water. Campers with recreational vehicles should use this type of hose when hooking up to a drinking water tap at a campsite. Please check the manufacturer's label to see if a hose is drinking water safe.
Even if the hose is labeled "drinking water safe" or "Food grade" it is not a good idea to drink from a garden hose, as there's no way to tell what's inside the hose. The outside thread opening at the end of the hose could be contaminated, covered with chemicals or germs or bacteria from a previous use, dirt, insects, rodents, and yard chemicals.
There is also the risk that chemicals or poisons can be sucked back into the hose, through backflow, and then re-released. Here's a common example. You're going to spray weed killer on your lawn. You hook up your hose to the sprayer that contains the weed killer. If the water pressure drops at the same time you turn on the hose, the chemical in the sprayer may be sucked back into the drinking water pipes through the hose. This would seriously pollute the drinking water system. You can prevent this problem by using an attachment on your hose called a backflow-prevention device.
Be safe, only offer your Kerry filtered water! If water from a garden hose is not safe to drink, it is NOT safe to bathe your Kerry. Water is absorbed through the skin into the bloodstream.
c. Outdoor licking spigot
Does you Kerry like to play with his water bowl, soak his feet in the bowl or tip it over and use the bowl as a soccer ball? If you worry that your Kerry will be left without water on a warm day consider attaching a licking spigot or faucet waterer to an outdoor faucet that your dog has access to. You attach the licking spigot to the faucet, turn the faucet on, and water is dispensed ONLY when your dog licks the spigot. Be sure the faucet is in the shade so the spigot does not become searing hot and burn your dog's tongue. You can easily train you dog to use the faucet by coaxing him, covering the licking spigot with a treat like peanut butter - as he lick the peanut butter off he learns that he will get a drink of fresh water. The Lixit Faucet Waterer is available from various catalogs, try Omaha Vaccine (800.242.9447 or <http://www.omahavaccine.com>) where it is only $5.79.
V. Summertime Eating
a. Liquid Treats
If your dog is not a voluntary drinker (as none of mine are), be sure to add extra water or soup stock/broth to their food at mealtimes and/or offer liquid treats during the day (chicken or beef stock or broth, buttermilk or goat's milk are favorites in our house). Homemade soup stock is always better than store bought (which can be loaded with sodium) and easy enough to have available. Ice cubes, made by freezing beef or chicken broth in an ice cube tray, are great summer treats which helps hydrate your pet.
Don't forget cooling fruit treats (especially melons, apples, pears, kiwi). If your dog likes citrus, remember that to remove the peel as it is poisonous. Fruits contain a lot of water and many dogs enjoy them - they're a great solution for hydrating your pet. Remember to give fruits 30 minutes away from other food for best digestion. Blueberries and other small fruits with skin might not be able to be digested and go through the system without breakdown. Be sure to check your dogs stool to be sure these fruits are being assimilated.
c. Reduced activity = reduced consumption
In extreme weather your dogs are probably spending time more time indoors in air conditioning and getting less exercise than usual. Many dogs will have a reduced appetite and leave food in their bowl - but if you have a chow hound you may want to reduce the amount of food you feed and/or prepare "lighter" meals during the hot weather.
VI. Exercise and Paw Protection
a. Avoid exertion in the heat
Avoid mid day exercise - exercise early in the mornings and/or after things cool down after sunset. Avoid strenuous exercise and limit vigorous play sessions to cool, dry days.
b. Cooling off
After a walk even in the morning or late nighttime my gurls get hot and pant and I often immediately rinse them off with cool water, especially their underside and genital area for more effective body cooling.
c. Avoid asphalt
Consider the temperature of the surface that you are asking your dog to walk on. Asphalt can be searing hot - try to find an area that allows your dog to walk on grass. If you have no alternative, consider doggie booties, see <http://www.rei-camping.com/dog_hiking_gear.htm> or <http://www.neopaws.com/shoes.html>. Another product which helps protect paw pads from heat is a special wax like Shaws Paw Wax, which protects your dogs' paws from gravel, asphalt, ice, snow, roads treated with salt, and all hard surfaces.
d. Removing tar
To remove tar from footpads, rub them with petroleum jelly and then gently wash with mild soap and water and rinse thoroughly. Never use kerosene or turpentine to remove tar.
e. Avoid exposure to lawn and garden chemicals
Many of the insecticides, herbicides and fertilizers we use to keep our lawns and gardens beautiful may be harmful or even toxic to a pet. Thyroid dysfunction has been linked with exposure to these products. Dogs and cats pick up residue on their paws after running over the treated area and become ill after licking it off their paws. If a pet tends to eat grass, freshly sprayed lawns present an additional threat. Do not use these products in areas where you plan to exercise your dog, and beware that the green lawns of a country club most likely have been treated - so try to avoid.
VII. Hot, Dry Climates: Keeping Your Pet as Cool as Possible
a. Mister systems
If your dog has to be outside for any length of time, and you live in a hot dry climate - consider installing a mister system. These systems are very effective for humans and pets alike, and depending on the humidity can cool up to 30-40 degrees F. They are widely used here in the desert at restaurant terraces and patios, on golf courses, and residences on patios, or to cool the perimeter of homes in order to reduce energy bills. They come in all different levels of quality and cost (I see affordable systems at the home improvement stores). If you are not familiar with these systems see http://www.mecsystems.com/cooling.htm for a description.
b. Evaporative coolers
Evaporative Coolers or swamp coolers are effective in hot dry climates, and much less expensive to operate than air conditioning. We purchased several small portable units from the local home improvement center, appropriate for cooling one room, for under $100 (with a good portion of that rebated by the power company) and they are very effective at certain times. If you are not familiar with evaporative coolers see the description at http://www.homedepot.com/
c. Cool coats
A more affordable and portable solution is a cool coat. A cool coat is a light terry cloth coat - in a horse blanket design, which is saturated with water, wrung out and then put on the dog. By evaporation the dog can be cooled up to 20 degrees. Wet cool coats can also be refrigerated for extra cooling power.
If you can sew, a cool coat will be an easy project. The most basic design is to cut two arm holes in a towel, if the armholes are in the correct location they will hold the towel in place over your dog's back as well. If you're a more advanced seamstress, you can fashion a coat in horse blanket style using Velcro to close at the chest and a belly belt - in my opinion the horse blanket style is more comfortable for the dog as there is no friction at the armhole.
If you'd prefer purchasing a cool coat, Noah's Suitcase 401/647.4500 (who donated coats to last years USKBTC raffle) has them available by mail. REMEMBER cool coats are not effective in high humidity.
VIII. Keeping Cool Anywhere
If your dog is restricted to a small area (in a crate or run) or has a favorite spot to snooze, they'll feel more comfortable with the improved ventilation created by a fan. Consider spoiling your dogs and buying a fan for each dog's use. Even in air conditioning my gurls love to sit in front of a fan, and they jockey and jostle for position. I highly recommend the Vornado brand (<http://www.vornado.com/>) - my experience in extreme heat has shown that these "air circulators" ARE superior to mere fans and are worth the extra expense. I have purchased these at a discount at our local Costco.
b. Indoor doggie doors
My husband, grew up in the heat of Memphis, and as a result hates air conditioning. He prefers a fan or evaporative cooler. I insist that our bedroom and study are always air conditioned for the gurls. I have considered installing a doggie door for the gurls so they can do their patrol of the entire house yet have access to the air conditioned rooms whenever they want. So if you air condition only a section of your house, consider installing a pet door between the air conditioned and non-air-conditioned sections.
c. Tile Floors
My gurls seem to like the tile floors when it's hot. 90% of my house has tile floor and for the hot weather I pick up and store my area rugs so that more cool tile is available to them. Libby loves to sleep in the bathroom and recently discovered the shower stall - I always leave the door to the shower stall open for her.
d. Frozen water bottles and cool mats
I know that some people fill plastic bottles with water and freeze them and put them inside crates to help keep their pets cool. I have also seen gel mats at dog shows that you freeze and insert into a liner to be used as a crate mat, see http://www.neopaws.com/cooler.html. Although I haven't tried either, both sound like reasonable solutions especially for a dog who is restricted to a crate.
IX. Summertime Fun and Outdoor Activities
a. Warning: warm weather = open doors
During the warm weather doors and windows are open more often. You should plan ahead and take precautions to keep your dog from escaping and running free where he can get in harm's way. A good solution are baby gates, which let the cool air in yet keep your dog safe. Be sure the gate is tall enough so your Kerry can't jump the gate to greet the neighbor's cat.
b. Beach safety
If you take your dog to the beach to cool off, remember that running on sand is strenuous, and dogs can easily pull a tendon or ligament. Remember - don't allow your dog to drink sea water.
c. Warning: corn cobs
Corn Cobs create a real risk for dogs at picnics. Please be sure to dispose of, properly wrapped, in a secure receptacle. Since they are often loaded with butter - they're especially attractive to dogs. However as the dog gnaws on these tasty treats, the cob can easily break apart and be swallowed. Swallowed pieces of cob can lead to intestinal obstruction or blockage, which left untreated will lead to death. Signs of intestinal obstruction are vomiting, dehydration, and distension of the abdomen. If you suspect an obstruction, seek immediate veterinary attention.
Dogs CAN get sunburn, especially on their ears and around their noses, so if your dogs has pink skin or white hair or if your Kerry has any shaved patches, apply sun block 30 minutes before exposure.
e. Car window shades
Car Window Shades are very important for car rides, whether for a short drive to the park or across the country. You can purchase them inexpensively in car parts stores.
While we're on the road, we use see-though mesh shades for the back window and both back side passenger windows.
When we pull over for a rest we use a foil covered bubble wrap cover for the front window and side window covers.
f. Personal Flotation Devices for dogs
If you are planning to spend any time around the water, at the lake, or on a boat (row boat, paddle boat, canoe, motor boat or sailboat) and would like your Kerry to be by your side, your Kerry should be wearing a Personal Flotation Device. Victoria Kniering researched canine PDFs and likes the Fido Float, available at Petco, see <http://www.fidostuff.com/fidofloat.htm> . She prefers this device because there is a zipper on the back from neck to tail, the two nylon webbing handles which allow you to reach down and lift up the dog from the top (ie pluck him/her from the water). The fabric on the belly area is an open mesh so they don't get really hot and there isn't heavy material that can get in the way of their paddling comfortably. Also there is a reinforced collar that won't allow them to nose dive...it keeps their heads up like any good kids floatation device would.
g. Safety in pick-up trucks
It is very dangerous, and in some states illegal, to drive with a dog in the back of a pick-up truck. Not only can flying debris cause serious injury, but a dog may be unintentionally thrown into traffic if the driver suddenly hits the brakes, swerves, or is hit by another car. Dogs should ride either in the cab (in a crate or wearing a seat belt harness designed for dogs) or in a secured crate in the bed of the truck.
h. Danger of swimming pools
If you have a swimming pool to which your dog has access, always exercise caution. I personally know of at least a half dozen dogs who were good swimmers, enjoyed the water and swimming in the pool, who drowned in their own pools. I never allow my gurls to have unsupervised access to the yard/pool.
i. Fun in kiddee pools
An inexpensive plastic kiddee wading pool is a safe and cool alternative for many dogs. Remember to have the pool in a shaded area. My Heddy loves to dive underwater in her pool for rocks and balls, she loves wading and splashing around. Molly and Libby think she's crazy!
j. Fun with lawn sprinklers
Many dogs like to run through the lawn sprinklers to keep cool. Many Kerries enjoy playing with the Holy Cow sprinkler, see <http://www.galaxymall.com/gift/allcowrelated/cowstuff.html>.
If you must use a garden hose to fill a kiddee wading pool or to allow your dog to play with a lawn sprinkler, use only a "food safe" hose and follow the following safeguards:
- Always keep the end of the hose clear of possible contaminants.
- Never submerge the hose in buckets, pools, tubs or sinks (mixing cement, garden chemicals, or anything else).
- Never use spray applicators with this hose for dispensing lawn or garden chemicals.
X. Grooming, Pests and Parasites
a. Short Summer trim
Let's not discount the value of keeping your dog in a tidy short summer trim. There is no excuse for any dog EVER to have an unkempt coat with mats or be carrying around excessive hair - especially in the heat. Also keep in mind that the coat acts as insulation, and it is not advisable to shave your Kerry down to the skin, but it is preferable to leave a short, tidy coat.
Grooming is an opportunity to check for other summertime threats; ticks and foxtails.
If you live in an area prone to foxtails, check your pet often, especially between the toes and in the ears. These barbed seeds of dried weeds can cause internal damage after working their way into the skin.
b. Lycra bodysuit
If you're forced to restrict your dog's activity in the summer, because of foxtails, burrs or other stickers, consider a lycra bodysuit which protects against burrs, stickers, flea, ticks and other biting insects, from K9 Top Coat, see <http://www.k9topcoat.com> (you'll see pictures of several Kerries in the testimonials section).
c. Know your local pests and other hazards
Most parts of the country have some sort of poisonous snakes around. Bites by poisonous snakes require immediate veterinary attention. Many stinging and biting insects are also out during the warm months. Yellow jackets are attracted to protein, and will visit picnic sites or investigate animal feces. Their buzzing and flying pattern can stimulate your dog's prey drive. Red Fire Ants are a problem in some areas, including parts of southern California and California's Central Valley. Africanized bees, also known as killer bees are a problem in other areas. Insect bites can cause anything from mild irritation to severe toxic reactions, which may not manifest for several hours after the bite. Any abnormal behaviors, especially problems breathing, should be reported to a veterinarian immediately.
d. Seek your veterinarian's advice of keeping your pets safe and healthy
Insects, especially fleas, ticks, and mosquitoes, also carry a wide variety of diseases, many transmissible to humans. Fleas can carry tapeworms and the plague, ticks can carry Lyme's disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and mosquitoes can carry heartworm which can be fatal in both dogs and cats - just to name a few. Use only flea and tick treatments recommended by your veterinarian, and check with your veterinarian to see if heartworm is a problem in your area and if your pets should be taking heartworm prevention medication. Some over-the-counter flea and tick products can be toxic, even when used according to instructions. Consult your local veterinarian about the best way to keep your dog safe from pest and parasites and prevent the disease in your area of the country.
XI. Heat Stroke CAN Kill, Don't Let Your Dog be a Victim
Remember that heat and humidity are more stressful for puppies, geriatric dogs, dogs that are overweight or out of condition, and dogs with chronic illnesses.
a. Heat stress
Informed dog owners know about hot cars, and many people have heard of "heat stroke" or "heat exhaustion." However, the most common - and very dangerous - heat related condition is heat stress. Heat stress is the first stage of heat stroke or exhaustion. The rate of breathing gets fast and hard enough that the CO2 percentage gets out of whack - which further affects breathing rate.
Keep in mind the rule of thumb that bird hunters use to protect their precious pointers, setters, spaniels and retrievers: when the temperature exceeds 80 degrees and there is no breeze, to avoid heat stress, don't play fetch, run with your dog, call your dog to run a distance to you, or otherwise engage your dog in aerobic exercise.
Any time a dog's tongue is all the way out, purplish and engorged, and the breathing is fast and hard, suspect heat stress and cool the dog off by:
#1 removing the dog from the hot area (take it inside, for example, or at least into the shade) and
#2 plunge the front paws and forelegs into an ice-and water bath.
Bird hunters use 5 gallon plastic buckets for this. Dump a grocery store bag of ice in and fill with water. Lift the dog under the brisket and just plunge the legs and feet in - even for a moment. Dogs are able to exchange a lot of heat through the paws and legs. This method does not shock the circulatory system like trying to plunge the dog's whole body into cold water does. DON'T LET A DOG DRINK THE ICE WATER which will probably cause them to regurgitate and lose valuable fluids and electrolytes.
#3 offer room temperature water after cooling the dog
#4 don't work the dog for at least 2 days after heat stress occurs
b. Heat stroke
If your dog is panting, drooling, and has a rapid pulse he may be overheating. Heat stroke begins with rapid, frantic noisy breathing, The tongue and mucus membranes become bright red, saliva is thick and dog may vomit.
Immediately immerse the dog in cold water - if that is impossible hose down with cold water from a garden hose (that means draining out the warm standing water in the hose for several minutes) and seek IMMEDIATE veterinary care. Dogs can die from heat stroke!