Summer feature: How the heat can affect older dogs
30th May, 2023
Dogs can suffer fatal heatstroke within minutes. Unlike humans, dogs can’t sweat through their skin and so they rely on panting and releasing heat through their paw pads and nose to regulate their body temperature and keep cool. Imagine wearing a thick winter coat on a hot summer’s day and you’ll understand why dogs succumb to heatstroke so easily.
Signs of heatstroke in dogs include collapse, excessive panting, and dribbling.
If you suspect your pet is suffering from the condition, move them to a cool place, preferably with a draught, wet their coat with cool - not freezing - water, and contact your vet immediately. Once a dog shows signs of heatstroke the damage is often already done, which is why it’s so important to prevent it.
How to keep a dog cool and prevent heatstroke
Make sure your dog has access to clean water at all times, ideally a large bowl filled to the brim. Carry water and a bowl with you on walks.
On hot days, walk your dog during the cooler parts of the day, in the early morning and late evening
During heatwaves, restrict walks to early morning only. On very hot days the temperature is still too hot for dogs in the evening. Remember it is OK not to walk your dog every day during very hot weather – it's far better to be safe than take unnecessary risks.
Watch your pet for signs of over-heating, including heavy panting and loss of energy. If you recognise these signs when on a walk, stop, find a shady spot and give your dog water.
Never leave your dog (or any pet) alone in a car, even with the windows open
Make cooling tasty treats by making ice cubes with your dog’s favourite food inside or stuff a Kong and pop it in the freezer
Be particularly careful with short nosed dogs such as bull breeds, boxers, pugs, older dogs and puppies, and those that are overweight. These dogs can quickly get heatstroke in high temperatures, even on a leisurely stroll.
Signs of heatstroke in dogs
Excessive panting and dribbling
Collapsing or tiredness
Increased heart rate
Move them into a cool place and offer water
Wet coat with cool water (not freezing)
Call vet ASAP- even if your dog looks better
Exercising in the summer
As at all times of the year, by law your dog should be wearing a collar and tag with your name and address on it. It’s also a good idea to put both your home and mobile phone number on the tag so you can be contacted immediately if your dog wanders off.
Walk your dog at the cooler times of the day, either first thing in the morning or late evening
Dogs’ paw pads can burn on hot pavements. As a rule, if it’s too hot for your hand it’s too hot for their paws.
Woodland areas tend to be cooler during warm weather
If it’s too hot for the usual long walk, keep your dog mentally stimulated by doing some brain games instead. Refresh their basic training with some sits and stays or teach them new tricks.
Swimming is excellent exercise for dogs and a great exercise alternative to walking in the summer heat. But remember that not all dogs like to swim, so if yours doesn’t then don’t force them and never throw a dog into water.
Be wary of tides at the beach
Drinking salt water is likely to make your dog sick and isn’t very good for them. Bring fresh water with you to the beach.
Wash salt and sand off your dog’s coat after swimming to prevent it drying and irritating their skin
Be careful to avoid heatstroke on the beach
Watch out for currents in rivers
Check freshwater lakes, rivers, ponds, and canals to make sure they are clean before letting your dog dive in. Some types of algae, including blue-green algae, are toxic to dogs. If your dog swims in algae-contaminated water, contact your vet immediately.
Dogs can and do drown in rivers and the sea. If your dog has inhaled water, contact your vet, as they can suffer complications.
Don’t get yourself into danger while trying to rescue a family pet from the water. Get the RNLI’s advice and tips on safe dog walking by the coast. Please remember:
Keep your dog on a lead when you’re close to cliff edges or fast flowing rivers.
Don't go after your dog if they go into the water or get stuck in mud. Move to a place they can get to safely and call them – they'll probably get out by myself.
If you're worried about your dog, call 999 or 112 and ask for the Coastguard, or the Fire Service if you’re inland. Don’t put yourself at risk by going into the water after them.
Summer skin and coat
Pale-coloured dogs are vulnerable to sunburn, particularly on their ears, noses and sparsely haired areas. Sun damage can lead to skin cancer which may require extensive surgery – even amputation in severe cases. Sunlight can also make existing skin conditions worse, particularly if your dog has allergies.
The best prevention is to keep your dog indoors when the sun is strongest, between 11.00am and 3.00pm. Alternatively, pop a T-shirt on your dog and cover vulnerable areas to protect them. You can also apply a non-toxic waterproof human sunblock, or one specifically made for pets. If your dog’s skin looks sore, crusty, or scaly, call your vet.
Take care of your dog’s delicate paws. If the pavement is too hot for your hand, it’s too hot for their paw pads too. Instead, walk your dog at cooler times of the day to prevent their paws burning.
Grooming your dog is important in the summer months, especially for longhaired breeds, to get rid of matts and tangles. A tangle-free coat will protect your pet’s delicate skin and help to keep them cool. Plus, if your pet’s coat is dirty and matted then you run the risk of flies laying their eggs and becoming maggots. Some breeds may need their coats trimming to keep them comfortable. Ask a professional groomer for advice.
If your dog swims or paddles in the sea to keep cool, remember to rinse the salt water and sand from your dog’s coat after to avoid drying out and irritating their skin.
Creepy crawlies and other dangers
Pests that love to bite your dog come out in their droves in summer. Fleas and ticks thrive in the heat and can be a real nuisance to your furry friend.
Flea bites are annoying and itchy for most dogs, but if your dog is allergic to them then they can cause real discomfort and severe scratching, which can become infected.
Regular flea treatment is the only way to prevent these little critters – a one-off application won’t be enough. The most effective treatments come from your vet, so ask them for a recommendation.
If your dog has fleas you will need to treat your home as well to get rid of the eggs.
Ticks are spider-like, egg-shaped creepy crawlies that are common in woodland, grassland and heath areas.
Ticks carry diseases, so it’s important to remove any that attach themselves to your dog. This can be tricky, as you need to be careful not to squeeze the tick’s body, or allow its head to get stuck inside your dog. Twisting them off your dog is the best removal method, and pet shops sell handy tick-removal devices to make this easier. Ask your vet for advice.
A few dogs catch Lyme disease annually in the UK, following a tick bite, and people can get the disease too.
Lyme disease is serious, so if you live in an area with a deer or sheep population you should consider tick treatment for your dog, which should kill the tick before they can transmit the disease.
Be particularly careful abroad as ticks in Europe can transmit several serious diseases.
If you are bitten by a tick, contact your doctor. Wearing trousers and long sleeves when walking through tick-infested areas will help prevent bites.
Bees and wasps
Dogs love to chase buzzing insects but getting too close can be dangerous.
Most insect stings will simply cause your dog pain and irritation, but multiple stings can be fatal.
Dogs are also at risk when they snap at bees and wasps because this makes them more likely to be stung in the mouth or throat. Stings in these areas are hazardous because any swelling can block your pet’s airway.
Some dogs are allergic to bee and wasp stings, so watch out for signs of allergic reaction, including swelling and difficulty breathing.
If you think your dog has been stung multiple times, or is having an allergic reaction, take them to a vet straight away.
Adders are the only venomous snake in the UK, and while they tend to stay out of the way of humans and dogs, your pet may encounter one while exploring heathland, woodland, or sandy areas.
Adders can be dangerous to dogs if disturbed because they bite when threatened.
If you think your dog has been bitten by an adder, call your vet straight away. Dogs are likely to survive adder bites if they are treated quickly. If you can, carry your dog rather than letting them walk to stop the venom spreading.