Labor Day weekend marks the end of summer for many folks but the warm temperatures of these “dog days” of summer persist well into fall. Until it begins to snow, your dog runs a risk of overheating during any outdoor activity. My dogs Haven and Beacon have over 400 miles of running and hiking on their paws this year, so I’ll share some of the lessons we’ve learned trying to keep cool and hydrated in the heat.
Whether human or canine, exercise generates heat in the muscles. We can sweat to evaporate some of that heat, but dogs aren’t able to sweat over much of their body. On top of that they’re wearing a coat of fur - whether it’s the spring jacket of a Greyhound or the winter parka of a Malamute, it keeps them warmer than the bare skin we’re sporting. Even if the temperature feels comfortable to you, it feels warmer to your dog. Personally I’m happiest at 60 degrees Fahrenheit while Haven and Beacon with their Labrador coats prefer 40 degrees. Many longer-coated dogs are friskiest in sub-freezing air! Another consideration is how acclimated you and your dog are to the heat. If you’ve been active all summer outdoors but your dog not as often, he won’t be as conditioned for the high temperatures so keep the activity duration shorter if this is the case.
Whenever you head out for a walk, hike, run, or other physical activity with your dog, remember to bring water. How much? Enough for you and for your dog. Running solo on a hot day I can easily finish off a 24-oz water bottle, so if I’m bringing Haven or Beacon with me I need to carry a second water bottle just for them! You may have heard the hydration advice to drink water before you feel thirsty. It’s very true and easy for a person to heed, but try telling your dog to drink when he’s not thirsty! Not gonna happen. Make sure that your dog has a chance to drink early in the workout. My dogs rarely drink before leaving the house, but will usually be ready for a drink within the first five minutes of running. By the way, that’s also great advice for the humans!
Some dog can be picky drinkers, so learn how they prefer to get their water. Haven loves to lap up the stream of water that’s dribbling from my water bottle, but Beacon ignores it. Sometimes if I shoot a hard squirt of water at him he will bite at it and get some water that way, but he usually doesn’t drink enough unless he can lap it up from a bowl or cup. As a result Haven is much easier to keep hydrated on longer runs unless I carry a collapsible water bowl for Beacon.
Or, I can plan my route to pass by a source of water so I don’t have to carry so much. Some downtown areas have water fountains where you can drink and fill your dog’s water bottle/bowl. Even more fun is finding access to a lake or river where your dog not only has an unlimited supply of drinking water, but he can also wade (or even swim) to cool off. I wouldn’t recommend that you drink from a lake or river! However, be wary of your dog using drainage ponds or water with significant algae or other contaminants that he might consume while drinking.
Signs that your dog is becoming very hot are a bright red tongue that’s hanging waaaay out of the mouth, some foamy saliva collecting on the chin, hanging back or walking very slow, or a very tired and lethargic expression in their eyes. If you see these signs be sure to slow things down and find your dog some water. Beacon, for example, loves to fetch so much that he would retrieve until he collapsed unless I force him to take “time outs” to rest a few minutes; otherwise he forgets all about drinking or even getting enough oxygen! Many dogs are just as driven as Beacon and you want to be careful with them.
Be prepared for recovery after the activity is over. You dog should have access not only to water but also a cool place to lie down. My dogs enjoy lying on a cold patch of exposed concrete in the basement and I’ll spoil them further by turning on a floor fan to blow on them. Usually I’m down there with them trying to cool off myself after a hot run! If you aren’t going home right away then at least find some shade outdoors or even some water for wading/swimming. Other options are air conditioned places like your car or even a local pet store if one is nearby. Beacon’s favorite way to cool down is for us to run cold water in the bathtub; he’ll hop in and lay down in the water while drinking from the faucet. Haven’s preferred method is when I fill up the kiddie pool in the backyard. As you can see in the photo she sure enjoys it!
The main idea to remember is that however hot you feel, your dog is feeling even hotter; if you’re thirsty, your dog is even more thirsty. And if you’re hungry, so too is your dog. Just like with people, a dog’s recovery from physical exertion can be aided by having something to eat afterwards. Any dog treat will do, but something with protein will be more beneficial. Haven and Beacon often get a dried bread crust slathered with peanut butter. Wait for your dog to relax until they’re no longer panting heavily before giving them food, especially if it’s sizable or rather sticky. Take care of your dog in the heat and he’ll be very tired, happy and healthy when the fun is done.
Photo: Amanda Schrauben