UPDATED MAY 2017
In the previous post, I wrote about keeping your dog comfortable while relaxing and sleeping, so let’s move on to keeping them cool while on the go. When the weather warms up, we naturally get outside more often with our dogs, but before you do, you’ll want to make sure they stay cool so they can safely enjoy the longer days of summer.
As with all physical activity, make sure your dog is in good health, and know your dog’s individual limit’s before heading out for an extended outdoor adventure. It’s always better to err on the side of caution with this, you don’t want to have your dog suffering from heat exhaustion 10 miles into a grueling hike, you’ll be 10 miles away from help, and have to find a way to get your dog medical attention, fast.
Always use good judgment before taking a dog outside in the heat. If there’s no shade for miles, and it’s 90° out, you and your dog might be better off taking a beach or pool day instead. If you still insist on going out into the extreme heat, just leave your dog at home.
When the temperatures are warm but manageable, and as long as you’re properly prepared, going outdoors with your dog can be a fun and rewarding experience for both of you. Here are a few products to help your furry friend get started on a summer outdoor adventure:
If you have a short or medium haired dog, these vests can be a great investment. They are easy to use, are rechargeable, and will keep your dog cool for hours. Most of the companies that make these, claim that they work on all dogs, but based on how they cool the dog down, I believe the thicker the dog’s coat, the less effective the vests become. These vests use the power of evaporation to draw the heat away from your dog’s skin, and into the surrounding air. The closer the vest is to the dog’s skin, the more effective it becomes. When there’s an inch or more of hair between the vest and your dog, I can’t imagine it would work very efficiently.
So let’s say you do have a short or medium haired dog, how do you use these things? Using the vest is actually really easy, just soak it in water, ring it out a little so it’s not dripping wet, and then secure it to your dog, that’s it! After wetting the vest, the cooling effect should last for at least an hour or two. If you’re outdoors in a cooler environment, or often walking in the shade, it can last even longer. If you plan on going hiking through areas with bodies of water like rivers and lakes, these are great because every time you come across water, you can dunk it in, and it will recharge the vest for a few more hours. If you’re going someplace without water, you can use a spare water bottle to re-wet it when it starts to dry up.
So what if you have a long haired dog? I came across a company called RPCM Cool Vest that makes a removable ice pack holder that straps onto the dogs belly so the ice packs can have almost direct contact with the skin. They are primarily used for service and military dogs working in the heat, but if you frequently exercise with you dog during the summer, it could be worth checking out. They are a little pricy ($129), but they are supposed to work for a couple of hours before needing to be either refrozen or replaced with fresh ice packs.
As the weather heats up, air temperature is not the only thing that rises. As dog owners, we sometimes forget that we have the luxury of these wonderful things called “shoes” which help protect our feet from the hot asphalt and sidewalks during the summer. Unfortunately, dogs don’t have that luxury. A dog’s pads are much tougher than our own feet, but even they have their limits. When it’s 90° outside, the temperature of the ground can be well over 100°. If you are going to be outdoors walking your dog during the middle of a hot day, you probably want to consider some type of boot or shoe to keep their pads from getting burnt. Ruffwear makes some high quality dog booties that not only help keep your dog safe during the hot months, but also provide great traction for any type of outdoor adventures you might find yourself on. The bottoms are made with Vibram, the same material found on many human shoes that are made specifically for outdoor activity. I have a pair, or technically two pairs I guess, for Sierra that we use when doing bikejoring or long hikes across rough terrain. If you live in a climate that actually snows during the Winters, these boots are also great at keeping the salt along the roads from hurting your dog’s pads.
Wether you live somewhere it snows, or the sunny beaches of California, this product is great to have on-hand. Because this blog is about the summer, we will stick the advantages Musher’s Secret has for the hotter months. When you know you’re going out somewhere the ground is hot, you can rub this on their paws ahead of time and it will help create a barrier between the pads and the ground. It won’t do much if you are walking for miles at a time, but for short hot walks, it will help your dog stay more comfortable. For the longer walks, the dog booties are going to be the better option.
Another use for Mushers Secret during the summer months is for healing rough and cracked pads. It’s basically like chapstick for a dog’s paws. If you use it often enough, your dog will have softer, healthier pads. My wife makes fun of me, but once a month I give Sierra a “paw-a-cure” by applying a thick layer of Musher’s Secret to her paws and then covering them with disposable booties for a few hours so it doesn’t rub off. When I take them off, her paws go from rough and scaly to soft and healthy. Her pads remain soft even after a few days of normal walks and exercise. I haven’t seen the manufacture advertise this method, but I can tell you from experience, it works wonders. I will also do a paw-a-cure right before and after we go on a long, activity filled, vacation. This reduces her risk of pad injury while out on the trails, and repairs any damage done when we get back.
If you and your dog plan an adventure to the great outdoors, and the weather is less than ideal, there are still some other ways to ensure your dog stays cool and hydrated while on the trail. In a situation where you want to hike, use a dog backpack, but also want your dog to stay cool, the dog backpack itself can help you out. The night before you go out, freeze two water bottles. Before you head out the next morning, put them on either side of the pack closest to the dogs skin so the bottles in the backpack will help cool them down instead of warm them up. I personally us the Ruffwear Palisades Backpack, it comes with two platypus style water bottles that maximize the surface area that touches my dog’s back and sides, so it works out great. From my experience, the frozen bottles usually last for a few hours before completely thawing, and when they do, you now have ice cold water for your dog to drink. Just make sure you also pack some water for your dog to drink on the first half of the hike while waiting for the frozen ones to thaw. Also, make sure you take at least twice as much water as your dog usually drinks on a normal hike when heading out into warmer weather.
This is a good idea to have on hand if you normally exercise for long stretches, but is even more important when you do it in the middle of summer. Just like humans, it’s important to replace the electrolytes in your dog’s system when you are on a long adventure. This will keep their system working properly, help muscles heal, and keep them energetic for longer stretches of time than just water alone. You can find dog electrolytes in a few different forms:
1) Powder – You can pre-mix the powder with your dog’s water before heading out, so it’s ready to go when you stop for your first water break.
3) Sport Drinks – If you leave home without the power, you can also use a sugar free sports drink like Gatorade or Powerade in a pinch. They are not quite as healthy for your dog as the powder, but it’s a good way to get some electrolytes back into your dog.
Portable Water Bowls
For the quicker walks under 4 miles or so, this easy to carry water bottle holder can be shared between you and your dog. Just unclip the bowl, push it open, and pour the water in. The collapsible bowl comes with a carabiner that easily clips to a belt loop or backpack to keep it out of the way when you aren’t using it. Don’t let the size fool you, as long as your dog’s tongue isn’t wider than the opening of the bowl, they will be able to use it. You may have to re-fill it more with a larger dog, but the bowl works for all sizes.
For the more ambitious outing, you’ll need to pack a little more water, and possibly a bigger bowl. This is were the dog backpack comes in handy. You can throw in multiple water bottles, extra treats, and the frozen bottles I mentioned earlier. With this much water, you’ll be good to go for a 5 plus mile hike. If your dog is to small to carry the pack, you’ll just have to take a backpack yourself to store the extra water. The bowl above made by Kurgo, is a good option to carry with you whether you or your dog is wearing the pack. It zips open and close which is nice when you need to stick it in a pocket or backpack and don’t want to get everything wet. It also has a snapping loop on the top which will allow you to clip it to a belt loop or a backpack. Another popular option is this second portable bowl from Kurgo. It is made from food grade silicon and you can crunch it up and stick it in a backpack or pocket as well. If you need to fit the travel bowl in an awkward space, this one is more flexible and will do the trick.
Getting outdoors during the warmer weather is a great way to bond with your dog. As long as you take the right precautions, it can be an enjoyable experience for everyone. In the next section, I’ll discuss how to keep your dog cool while at home, but also offer some basic advise on the signs and symptoms to look for when you think your dog might be suffering from dehydration or even heat stroke.