Commentary: Keeping your dog’s cool
August 15, 2013
Summertime, and the livin' is easy. …
Or maybe not, if it's 106 degrees and you're forced to wear a 2-inch-thick, floor-length fur coat — and hat — and fur boots — and muffler — 24 hours a day.
In other words, if you're a dog.
During these "dog days" — July through August when Sirius, the Dog Star, rises at approximately the same time as the sun — our canine companions can suffer from the hot weather even more than we do.
But there are some things that can make these summer days more comfortable for the dogs in our lives.
Let's start with the most controversial: shaving your dog.
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First of all, the term "shave" is a bit of a misnomer: We're not talking about the kind of haircut that leaves your dog looking like a member of Blue Man Group.
Generally, your groomer should leave at least an inch of fur and avoid shaving close to the skin, which can not only lead to sunburn (yes, dogs can get sunburned!) but also painful ingrown guard hairs.
Many vets and pet authorities say that shaving can be appropriate for double-coated breeds or those with thick fur, as these dogs were bred for cold northern climates and simply aren't as well adapted to our hot western weather. They also point out that like people, older dogs are less able to regulate their body temperatures, so a summer cut can help in that regard.
Other experts and professional groomers strongly oppose shaving a dog's fur in the summer months because they feel that the coat acts as insulation from both hot and cold temperatures. They insist that brushing your dog regularly to remove the dead coat is all you need to do to keep him comfortable in the hot weather.
Ultimately, it's your decision, but keep in mind that whether or not your dog is shaved, sunscreen can be an important ally in protecting against sunburn and skin cancer. Dogs that have light-colored noses and areas of pale skin pigmentation are most in need of sunblock.
You'll also want to apply sunscreen if your dog has hair loss from allergies, disease, hot spots, recent surgery or radiation.
While you can purchase sunscreens created just for pets, baby sunscreen is also an option, but if your dog likes to lick her fur, make sure you use pet-specific sunscreen to avoid toxicity.
Many dogs love nothing better on a hot summer day than a dip in the pool, lake, river or even a puddle. If your dog is one of those water lovers, you know it's one of the most fun-filled ways for him — and you — to stay cool. (OK, not the puddle but everything else.)
There are a few precautions to keep in mind, however. Some breeds like bulldogs are unable to swim because of their shape.
Others don't know how to swim — no it's not a "natural" for every dog — which means they can drown just as easily as a human who can't swim.
If your dog is older or has a disability, consider a canine life jacket. And remember that rivers, streams and the ocean hold special dangers in the form of currents, tides and surges, underwater hazards and icy water temperature.
Just to be on the safe side, consider taking a course in pet CPR through your local Red Cross chapter.
Another idea is using a special cool collar. Some of these are meant to be filled with ice, and some contain special polymer beads that absorb and hold water.
You can also help your pup keep his cool with hot weather pet treats.
Try chilled fresh fruit like bananas, apples or berries.
Blueberries, cranberries, raspberries, blackberries and strawberries are safe, and most dogs love them, but avoid fruit like cherries or peaches that contain pits unless you pit them first.
You can buy frozen treats ("Frosty Paws" is one brand), or you can make your own by blending fruit with yogurt, peanut butter and a little honey and freezing it in ice cube trays or paper cups.
No matter what, remember that the risks of hyperthermia (overheating) are very real and potentially deadly for your dog.
Keep in mind these rules:
1. Never leave your dog outdoors in hot or humid weather without adequate shade and water.
2. Never exercise your dog during the heat of the day.
3. If it's too hot for you to walk barefoot on the pavement, it's too hot for your dog to walk on it.
4. And most importantly, never leave your dog in your car on a summer day, even in the shade. When it's only 85 degrees outside, even with the windows cracked, a car's interior can climb to 120 degrees in just 20 minutes.
One final note: August is "Adopt a Homeless Pet Month," so if you're looking for a new furry companion, be sure to visit the Nevada County Animal Shelter or one of our local animal rescue groups, like AnimalSave or Scooter's Pals.
Joan Merriam lives in Nevada County with her golden retriever, Casey. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you're looking for a golden, check out Homeward Bound Golden Retriever Rescue.