We all know that dogs die in hot cars. This is because dogs are not great at regulating their body temperature and can be overcome by heat frighteningly quickly. Permanent organ damage or even death can happen in a matter of minutes.
If we travel to hot climates or as the summer temperatures soar to record highs, even in Britain, how can we make sure that our Furry Friends stay comfortable and safe?
How Hot is Too Hot for a Dog?
This is not a straightforward question, since it will depend on the conditions and the individual dog. As with cold, if YOU are uncomfortable your dog probably is too. Remember that they are walking barefoot and wearing a fur coat! Test the temperature of the pavement or beach with the back of your hand to make sure that it is comfortable for your dog to walk on.
Dogs do not sweat, their primary cooling mechanism is panting, although they can lose some heat through their pads, nose and ears. However, if it is very hot and humid, no amount of panting will keep the dog cool enough.
Short-nosed dogs such as pugs and bulldogs suffer more in the heat because they cannot cool themselves as effectively by panting. Dogs adapted to cold climates, such as huskies, struggle to adjust. Older or overweight dogs will also suffer more in high temperatures.
Signs of Heatstroke in a Dog
If your dog is panting heavily, dribbling, gets lethargic, wobbly or collapses, you need to act quickly, since heatstroke can be fatal within minutes. Once your dog is showing signs of heatstroke, lasting damage could already be done, so it is definitely worth avoiding.
What to Do If Your Dog Overheats
- Move them immediately to a cool place, out of the sun, preferably with some air movement.
- Wet them down with cool (not icy) water. (Water that is too cold will make the problem worse, as it makes the blood vessels in the skin constrict. This actually causes the core temperature to rise still further, as the blood can’t then get to the skin surface to lose heat.)
- Contact your vet immediately.
10 Ways to Keep A Hot Dog Cool
1. Hydration – Hot Dogs Need Water!
Like humans, dogs need to drink more when it is hot. Make sure that your dog ALWAYS has access to PLENTY of cool, clean drinking water. Add ice cubes if you like. Don’t forget to take lots of water with you on walks. We always carry a lightweight, collapsible silicone water bowl. If you part fill a bottle and freeze it on its side, it will keep the full bottle of water lovely and cool for ages!
If you feed dry food, you could consider soaking it or adding some wet food, which is less dehydrating.
2. Paddling Pool
Being part poodle, a water retriever, our dogs love water. In our first year, we took a paddling pool with us for them to splash around and cool down. They seemed to view this more as an oversized drinking bowl, however…!
In our more minimal present, we simply fill one of our plastic storage boxes with water and use it as a dog wading pool – or bath!
Shade should always be provided. If you have ever wondered why trees and shrubs provide cooler shade than a brolly or tarpaulin, it’s because the leaves remove some of the sun’s energy to photosynthesise! (Photosynthesis is the process by which plants convert carbon dioxide into food and oxygen by harnessing the sun’s energy!)
Do note that like a sundial, the movement of the sun may make shade less effective at certain times of the day.
4. Cooling Vests, Collars & Mats
There are many cooling vests, collars and mats on the market. Some of these contain gel crystals which once wetted, stay cool for hours or even days. It is important to make sure that a cooling jacket fits well, does not make the dog wet and does not chafe. Click here for reviews of cooling vests from reputable suppliers.
We haven’t tried any of the cooling vests or collars although we have heard that they are very effective. For us it is a cost – and four more things to carry – so we have our own solution. We imitate the effect of a cooling vest by wetting the dogs down, covering them with a wet microfibre towels or providing a wet towel for them to stand or lie on. You could even refrigerate the wet towel if you like. We tried a hot water bottle filled with cool water, but they didn’t really take to cuddling up with that!
We bought a cooling mat when they were puppies, which they didn’t lie on. They chewed it until the liquid came out! As such, make sure that any cooling products contains non-toxic materials. Ethylene glycol, a common anti-freeze which you may find in gel packs etc, is EXTREMELY toxic to dogs and is to be avoided at all costs!
5. Circulate Cool Air
Open windows and vents to allow air to circulate. We bought a small, light 12V fan from Amazon – it has been indispensable!
We have dismissed caravan air conditioning units. They seem bulky, expensive – and we are concerned as to whether most Continental site electricity supplies would cope with their power consumption if we did invest. The microwave is a no-no on on many sites and we were recently told that it was no wonder that we fused the electrics by using our water heater, even though it was on the lowest wattage setting! On that basis, we are not sure that feeble site electrics in Europe will be up to powering aircon in temperatures over 100ºF!
Looking at reviews, the cheap air conditioning units which blow air over iced water, rather than employing a refrigeration system, do not appear to provide sufficient cooling to combat European summer temperatures.
If any of you have any experience or advice on caravan aircon, I would be delighted to hear! Please let me know in the comments section or on The Travelling Cavapoos Facebook page.
6. Frozen Treats
Our pups enjoy licking and chewing on ice cubes. Doggie ice cream is available commercially, or there are lots of recipes for home made frozen dog treats on the internet. Click here or here for some frozen dog treat recipes. You could also consider putting your dog’s Kong or other toy in the freezer so that it cools him as he plays.
Please do not give dogs human ice cream. It often contains ingredients, such as the sweetener Xylitol, which are toxic to dogs.
I am sure that someone has already invented Pupsicles, although if not, I’ll give you that one. I am sure it would sell!
- Don’t Overdo It – try to exercise GENTLY,
- Exercise in the Cooler Parts of the Day – such as morning and evening.
- Shade – try to find walks that are shady.
- Head for the Hills – temperature falls by approximately 10°C for every 1000m of altitude in dry conditions, so a hike in the mountains will be cooler than a hike at sea level.
- Water – If your dog likes water, walk by a river, lake or the sea so that they can cool off.
- Swimming is good exercise, although do be aware of safety hazards such as tides, currents, submerged obstructions or pollution in the water. (Blue green algae – cyanobacteria; the clue is in the name – is toxic to both humans and dogs.)
- Make sure that your dog doesn’t swallow too much water while swimming, which can lead to water intoxication or bloat.
- If they have been in the sea, be sure to rinse off salt, which can dry and irritate the skin.
As mentioned at the beginning of my blog, test pavements, beaches etc. with your hand. If a surface burns the back of a hand pressed against it for 30 seconds, it will burn pads. Mark actually walked around Ljubljana in his bare feet to make sure that the pavements were not too hot for our puppies’ paws!
Boots are an option, but as stated in Winterised World Wide Walkies we have not found doggie boots very effective at remaining conjoined with doggie paws!
If exercise is out of the question, keep your dog mentally stimulated with games – or take the opportunity to top up their training or teach them tricks indoors!
It may surprise you to know that your dog’s coat plays a great part in keeping him cool as well as warm. It traps an insulating layer of air next to the skin. (Think of Arabs in the heat of the desert wearing their long, all-enveloping robes – it is exactly the same principle.) As such, it makes sense not to trim their coat too short – and definitely don’t shave them! A clean, well-groomed coat, with all mats and dead hair removed, will work as intended. It will help your dog to regulate temperature and will also protect the skin from sun damage.
9. Sun Protection
Dogs can get sunburn too! As with humans, it is painful and can lead to the same long-term complications, such as skin cancer. The best advice for everyone is to stay out of the sun, particularly between 11-3pm when the UV exposure is greatest. This has worked well for us and our four Fur Babies.
A. Do Dogs Need Sunblock? – Doggie sunblocks are available and are essential for hairless dogs, such as the Chinese Crested. Sunblocks might also be helpful for pale-coloured dogs with pink skin, which are more vulnerable to sunburn. Noses, ears and other areas with not much fur, like the delicate skin between the hind legs, are particularly at risk, as are any bald patches if your dog is losing hair.
Don’t be tempted to use human sunblock, since it can contain ingredients such as zinc oxide and para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA) which are toxic to dogs. Test for sensitivity on a small area first and apply sunscreen only to fur-free, exposed areas.
You could also consider a breathable doggy vest to protect from sun without resorting to the use of chemicals. Equafleece has an excellent range of summer and winter dog suits.
We don’t use sunblock, we simply stay out of the sun and take an umbrella, sarong or a small festival tent to provide shade and sun protection when we’re on the beach.
B. Do Dogs Need Sunglasses? – Needless to say, ‘Doggles‘ are available, popular – and even come with prescription lenses! However, unless your dog has an eye condition, I personally do not think that doggie sunglasses are necessary. Dogs are less likely to develop age-related UV damage, such as cataracts, as they have a shorter life-span than humans. Cataracts in dogs are usually a consequence of diseases such as diabetes. Most breeds also have some natural sun protection (deep set eyes, heavy brow and dark fur around the eyes – the purpose of the dark line below a cheetah’s eyes is thought to prevent glare and act like sunglasses!) Doggie sunglasses? I will leave it for you to decide!
10. Can Dogs be Left Safely in a Caravan in Summer Temperatures?
This was the question that we asked ourselves when we initially bought the caravan. Since a caravan contains a much larger volume of air than a car and has a reflective white coating, we thought that it might be a safe place to leave the dogs while Mark and I nipped off for a quick windsurf or cycle together. We couldn’t find the answer.
Aside from our worries about the dogs being stolen form the caravan or making a noise that would disturb other campers (lots of campsites prohibit leaving dogs on site unattended), I think this photo from our thermostat when we left the caravan in Verona in August neatly answers the question!
And, like leaving dogs in a hot car. Without any form of air-con – it is A BIG RESOUNDING NO!
And even if you do have air-con – what if the power trips?
Have a happy and safe summer in the sun! Please share my blog with any dog owners whom you think might benefit from this advice.
For further doggie travel tips, see the World Wide Walkies Wuff Guide to Travelling with Dogs.
Do you want to catch up on our travels over the last three years? They are now immortalised in print!
- Year 1: Fur Babies in France – From Wage Slaves to Living the Dream
- Dog on the Rhine – From Rat Race to Road Trip
- Dogs ‘n’ Dracula – A Road Trip to Romania (Forthcoming)