Joan Merriam: The heat is on |

Joan Merriam: The heat is on

Joan Merriam
Summer is here and while it is important for humans to protect themselves from the sun and heat, it is equally important to keep your four-legged friends protected as the heat effects them differently.
Photo by Alvin Balemesa on Unsplash

Everyone knows what happens around here during July and August: those good ole’ summertime sizzling temps. This is when we close the shades at 10 a.m., when our air conditioners and ceiling fans work overtime in an attempt to keep the house even marginally livable, and when the siren song of cooling waters lures us to the shore of the nearest lake or river.

Our dogs can suffer in the heat just as much, if not more, than we do — yet there are some things you can do to keep your furry pal more comfortable when the mercury rises.

Dogs in coats

Because our dogs stay fur-clad year-round, we often assume that the kindest thing we can do for them is to give them a summer shave. After all, who’d want to wear a fur coat when the thermometer is nearing 100 degrees?

Turns out, your dog might! The controversy of shaving versus not shaving your dog has been around for decades, but let’s take a look at some facts.

First, keep in mind that unlike us, dogs don’t sweat through their skin: the only way they get rid of excess heat is by panting, or through the pads of their feet. Removing their coats does nothing to help them “cool off.”

Secondly, knowledgeable veterinary experts and the ASPCA discourage a complete down-to-the-skin shave, unless there’s a valid medical reason. Just like a baby’s tender skin that’s never seen the sun, a dog’s skin has always been protected by a thick coat of fur. Shaving exposes that ultra-sensitive skin, leaving it vulnerable to sunburn, injury, and insect bites and stings.

It’s also never a good idea to shave a double-coated dog.

Double-coated breeds have two layers of fur: the long guard hairs of the outer coat, and the soft, downy undercoat. Examples of double-coated dogs includes “Arctic dogs” like the Akita, husky, Newfoundland, and Bernese mountain dog, as well as golden and Labrador retrievers, Australian shepherds, chows, Pomeranians, and many types of terriers.

In summer, double-coated breeds shed their soft undercoat (usually leaving huge puff-balls of fur all over your house), allowing air to circulate through the guard hairs, which in turn protect your dog from sunburn.

After a double-coated dog is shaved, what grows back first is the fuzzy, warm, blanket-like undercoat: that’s what he naturally sheds during hot weather, but now you’ve just encouraged it to grow back during the very time it should have been shed. Not only that, the longer guard hairs can grow back with a different, rougher texture.

In extreme cases, shaving a double-coated breed can even lead to long-term hair loss.

Does that mean you shouldn’t even clip your dog in the summer? Some experts say it does no harm, while others insist we should leave our dogs “as is.”

There’s no disagreement, however, that keeping your dog’s coat brushed during the summer removes any excess un-shed hair, and on double-coated breeds, can help get rid of that “blanket” of undercoat.

Ultimately, the choice about whether or how much to clip your dog is between you and your veterinarian or professional groomer.

Water, water everywhere

I can’t overstate the need for dogs to always have a supply of cool, clean water to drink. If your dog stays outside during the day, make sure the water bowl is in the shade; you might even think about using a larger container and adding a block of ice.

If you have the space, why not outfit your deck or yard with a shallow, hard-sided kiddie pool for your pup to splash in? I don’t recommend inflatable pools, since the vinyl is easily punctured by a dog’s toenails.

Speaking of pools, never leave your dog alone near an in-ground pool. Not only could she drown (no, not all dogs are good swimmers), but she may panic if she can’t figure how to get out.

If you’re going boating, think about fitting your dog with a flotation device. Accidents can happen, and a dog out in the middle of Lake Tahoe can easily become hypothermic and drown, even if he’s a great swimmer.

Other ways to cool your pooch

Frozen doggie-popsicles can make a wonderful treat for your dog when temperatures rise; make them yourself by freezing low-sodium broth, or buy them commercially.

Many people swear by cooling vests, collars, and mats, which are filled with special non-toxic gel that retains coolness for long periods of time.

If your yard is barren of shade, string up a tarp or shade screen. Better yet, keep your pooch inside — preferably in an air-conditioned room — when it’s hot. Take walks or play during the cool morning or evening hours.

If your dog must walk on hot pavement, think about outfitting him with paw protection boots. Remember: if the surface is too hot for your bare feet, it’s too hot for your dog’s paws.

Finally, never, EVER leave your dog in a car. When it’s just 85 degrees outside, your car’s interior can reach over 100 degrees in just 10 minutes in the direct sun — and in 30 minutes, it can hit a scorching 120 degrees. Bottom line: either take your dog with you when you leave the car, or leave him home. Period.

Next month: some “cool” places to get away with your dog in the August heat.

Joan Merriam lives in Nevada County with her Golden Retriever Joey, her Maine Coon cat Indy, and the abiding spirit of her beloved Golden Retriever Casey in whose memory this column is named. You can reach Joan at And if you’re looking for a Golden, be sure to check out Homeward Bound Golden Retriever Rescue.

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