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Joan Merriam: Keeping your dogs cool

Joan Merriam
Columnist

Summertime, and the livin’ is easy …

Or maybe not, if it’s 106 degrees and you’re forced to wear a 2-inch-thick fur coat…and hat…and fur boots…and muffler…24 hours a day.

In other words, if you’re a dog.

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.

We “dog people” know that nothing beats canine companionship in the great outdoors or on vacations — so have fun with your pup, stay safe and enjoy your sunshine adventures!

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. 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 Patrick Stewart. Your groomer should leave at least an inch of fur, and never shave close to the skin, which can not only lead to sunburn (yes, dogs can get sunburned!), but also painful ingrown guard hairs.

Most veterinarians and pet authorities strongly oppose shaving a dog’s fur in the summer months, because the coat helps acts as insulation from both hot and cold temperatures. Brushing your dog regularly to remove the dead coat is all you need to do to keep him comfortable in the hot weather.

Other professionals believe that shaving can be appropriate for double-coated breeds or those with thick fur that were bred for cold northern climates. 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.

Ultimately, it’s your decision—but keep in mind that sunscreen can be an important ally in protecting against sunburn and skin cancer. Dogs with light-colored noses and areas of pale skin, plus those with hair loss from allergies, disease, hot spots, or recent surgery, are most in need of pet-specific sunblock.

Many dogs love nothing better on a hot summer day than a dip in the pool…or lake…or river…or even 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.) Just keep in mind that some breeds like bulldogs, boxers, pugs, dachshunds and basset hounds are generally unable to swim due to their anatomy and facial structure.

Others just don’t know how to swim — no, swimming isn’t “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 strong currents, tides and surges, underwater hazards and icy water temperature.

You can also help your pup keep his cool with a special cooling collar. Some of these are meant to be filled with ice, and some contain special polymer beads that absorb and hold water.

Try hot-weather pet treats like chilled fresh fruit: bananas, apples or berries are safe and most dogs love them, but avoid fruit like cherries or peaches unless you pit them first — but NEVER feed your dogs grapes, as this fruit is highly toxic to them and can lead to sudden kidney failure.

You can also buy frozen dog treats or make your own by blending fruit with yogurt, peanut butter, and a little honey, and freezing them in ice cube trays or paper cups. And don’t be afraid to give your pup ice cubes or chips: it’s a myth that ice is dangerous for dogs, although dogs with smaller or weak teeth can potentially suffer a crack if they eat ice.

No matter what, remember that the risks of hyperthermia (overheating) are very real and potentially deadly for your dog. Always follow these rules:

Don’t leave your dog outdoors in hot or humid weather without adequate shade and water.

Don’t exercise your dog during the heat of the day.

And NEVER leave your dog in your car on a summer day. When it’s only 85 degrees outside, a car’s interior can climb to 120 degrees in just 20 minutes.

We “dog people” know that nothing beats canine companionship in the great outdoors or on vacations—so have fun with your pup, stay safe and enjoy your sunshine adventures!

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 joan@joanmerriam.com. And if you’re looking for a Golden, be sure to check out Homeward Bound Golden Retriever Rescue .


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