How to keep your dog cool when it's absolutely sweltering
sneak peak: 10 tips for keeping your dog cool in very hot weather
The UK has an amber weather warning in several regions for hot weather this weekend - the first, I'm sure, of many like it over the next few months. Summer is lovely but I'm already slightly dreading the 40+ temperatures we faced last year. Nobody, however, is dreading it more than my very heat-unresilient (?) dog. (On reflection, possibly there are people dreading it more than her, but for narrative effect I'm going to say she's dreading it the most. Out of everyone. In the world.)
My dog is a greyhound, a fact that will almost certainly not have escaped you if you know me even a tiny bit (because I'm relentlessly obsessed with her). Greyhounds are particularly ill-equipped to deal with hot weather, coming in at number five on the RSPCA's list of the nine dog breeds most likely to be affected by heatstroke.
The vast majority of breeds on the list are brachycephalic (flat-faced, which impacts their ability to breathe properly); greyhounds, in all their pointiness, are clearly not. For them, the risk is apparently likely due to the volume of muscle mass they have in relation to their body size, which means their core temperature can rise particularly high, or (and?) related to how little fat and hair they have, meaning they lack insulation against the heat. For context, greyhounds are believed to be four times more likely to suffer from heatstroke than labradors. My greyhound is black, which means she absorbs the heat even more.
All of which is to say... we need to keep our doggies cool! Here are a few ideas for how:
1. Walk early and late
Wake up early for a walk first thing before the heat has really set in, and another one late in the evening, because lunchtime walks are a no-go. Not only is the air hot and the sun beating down, but the pavements are also far too hot to be safe for fragile paws. If you can't comfortably keep your hand on the ground for five seconds, it's too hot for your dog and could burn their paws. Pavements will hold residual heat for a long time too, so early evening is still too soon - take the opportunity for a lovely picturesque stroll at dusk, and maybe even enjoy the sunset. The walks themselves should be a bit more mellow, don't go crazy running around - maybe leave the ball at home, and take a water bottle with you.
(1a. Booties - on a related note, you may want to consider some booties to protect the paws anyway, and as a bonus they can help you in winter when the salt that is sprinkled everywhere can be irritating to paws. If you have a greyhound and you find some that don't cost an arm and a leg and that actually work, please tell me.)
2. Hydration station
It's important your dog drinks water all the time, but particularly when it's very hot and they're panting a lot, producing saliva, and losing water that way. (Did you know the only way dogs can sweat is through their paws? You do now.) I have found that filling the water bowl with fridge-cold water from the filter jug (not joking) makes my dog drink much more water, and you can also add bits and bobs to take it even further. A capfull of whatever milk you drink (oat in this house) can make the water taste just a little bit more interesting. Sometimes I chuck a bunch of frozen peas in so she can fish them out and drink some water in the process, but be warned that water does go absolutely everywhere because they're basically trying to chew it, so it just spills out. Oh well, the sun is blaring in so it will evaporate soon enough.
3. Ice ice baby
4. Cool couture
You can go for a specific cooling t-shirt or bandana made of special technical fabric, or you can make do with tea towels and facecloths and whatever else you can fit into the fridge. Either way, soak the items in cold water, wring them out so they're not dripping but definitely still wet, and put them in the fridge for half an hour or so. Then just drape them over your hot dog, swapping them out when they start to dry or are no longer cooling. Note: the garments can have the opposite effect if they get too hot, instead trapping the heat in, so make sure you keep an eye on them and have a bit of a rotation system in place.
5. Cooling mats
Taking a similar approach, cooling mats are filled with a sort of gel (think of those squidgy cooling eye masks that go in the fridge) which you chill in the fridge and stay cool for quite a while. They act as a chilly haven for your dog to stagger over to and flop down on when they simply ~cannot~ with the heat.
6. Paddling pools (yes, really)
Yes, it's true, special dog paddling pools do exist. They're made of more durable materials and aren't inflatable, to avoid the fear of puncturing a hole in a crucial bit of wall. Fill it up with cool water (as long as there's no hosepipe ban) and add some paddling pool balls for extra interest, then teach your dog how to get in. They might just stand there ankle-deep, they might flop straight down and make themselves at home. Either way, if they aren't vibing it, you can get in yourself. Fun for all the family!
7. Throw shade
Dogs find it tricky to know when enough is enough. If your dog is lying in full sun, panting like crazy and boiling hot to the touch, get them up and make them go into the shade (and give them some water while you're at it).
8. Number one fan
The noise can be a bit disconcerting at first, but if you have an electric fan, try to help your dog make friends with it and realise that lying in front of it can actually be really nice. Try putting your dog's bed (or the cooling mat from tip five) in the path of the fan, encouraging them to stay there and build positive associations using treats.
9. Frozen food
Kongs, lickimats, dog ice cream, and just normal stuff but frozen are all great snacks for your dog in hot weather. Mine likes frozen cucumbers, frozen carrots, and frozen chopped up apples. If you have a kong or a lickimat, you can try mixing some yoghurt with things like frozen peas, blueberries, banana, and any other nice bits and bobs they enjoy (NEVER GRAPES) then letting it set in the freezer for a couple of hours until it's solid. Not only will it cool them down while they eat it, it will also make them use their brain which is particularly helpful if they're used to having a big walk in the middle of the day and need to use up some of their energy.
10. Shut out the sun, do do do do
When the weather gets quite so insanely hot, our homes heat up too, to the point that it can actually be hotter inside than out. Help your dog by making your home (or at least the room where they will sleep) as sun-proof, and therefore as cool, as possible. Pull the curtains shut, with the windows open (if the air outside is cooler than inside - if not, keep them closed), and keep doors throughout the house open so the air can circulate. Last summer, I filled my dog's bed with reusable ice packs for about half an hour before bed so it would be nice and cool for her to lie on.
Important caveat! You know your dog best, so if anything seems not quite right, speak to a vet.
The planet is falling apart in front of our eyes and these heatwaves are just one symptom of all the damage we're causing. Our dogs have played no part in making that happen, so the least we can do is try to minimise the impact it has on them! Let's keep them happy and comfortable until the weather returns to appropriate temperatures for going bonkers after a ball in the park.
*All photos in this blog post are mine. If you wish to use any, please ask my permission and credit me.*