Helping Your Canine Exercise Partner Weather the Dog Days of Summer

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • I just got back from taking the dogs for a walk this morning. Even at 6:30 a.m., you could tell that the rest of the day was going to be a scorcher and the high humidity was going to make it feel a lot worse.  As the temperature increases and the desire to exercise outdoors increases, we need to take precautions to ensure that dogs -- who often are the exercise companions most excited about going for a walk or run -- are able to handle the heat.   

    The Houston Chronicle ran a recent article on exercising with dogs that provides some important tips. Watch for signs of heat stress when you’re outside with your dog. These symptoms can be heavy panting, weakness, confusion, vomiting, and diarrhea. Although dogs need a good diet and two hours of exercise a day to have optimal health, the summer heat can decrease the options for working out with your dog. “To beat the heat, change up your normal routine,” wrote reporter Tammy Portnoy. “Take your dog out for a jog or walk or to the dog park at the coolest times of the day, either first thing in the morning or later in the evening. Or consider taking your pup to work out in an indoor, air-conditioned location or a puppy-friendly pool.”

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    Be sure to give your dog opportunities to drink a lot of cool clean water when outdoors. Noting that dogs don’t sweat, Portnoy wrote, “Their moisture comes from their mouth and they get dehydrated quickly when panting excessively. If you are thirsty, your dog probably is, too.” You may want to carry a portable dog bowl as well as a large container of fresh water so you can offer drinks easily and often.

    While taking my dogs to a dog park (which they love), I’ve noticed that there is a shallow pool in the part of the park designated for small dogs (which mine are). My dog Noel will immerse her legs into the pool, but won’t go any further, obviously fearful of getting in over her head. “Most dog owners don’t realize that dogs don’t automatically know how to swim, or don’t pay attention when bringing their dogs to the beach or lake,” Portnoy wrote. You need to be careful about water hazards, such as jellyfish, undertows and drinking salt water when you and your dog visit the beach. Even at dog parks, you need to watch out. I spoke recently to a friend who took her dog to the dog park and let her dog swim in the water feature. A day later, the dog seemed to have gotten an infection which my friend credited to the fetid water in the dog park.

    Another issue to think about when playing with your dog in the heat of summer is the type of surface the dog is on. “Pavement, metal or tar-coated asphalt get extremely hot in the summer sun,” said Dr. Janet Tobiassen Crosby of “Harder to remember is summer heat and our dog’s feet. Their pads are tough and they walk on them all year round in all kinds of weather. Unlike the obvious wounds such as lacerations, foot infections fungal, bacterial or foreign bodies, such as cheat grass), burned pads may not be readily apparent to the eye.” Signs of burned pads include limiting or refusing to walk, licking or chewing at the feet, pads darker in color, missing part of pad, blisters or redness.

  • If you dog burns its foot pads, you need to focus on keeping the area cool and clean. Dr. Crosby advocates flushing the pads with cool water or using cool compresses as soon as you notice the problem. “Get the dog to a grassy area or if possible, carry him,” she said. Upon returning home, take your dog to the vet in order to determine if there are deeper burns, blisters or the possibility of infection.  

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    Also, be aware of walking on hard surfaces (especially dark ones) that have absorbed the summer heat, especially if you have a dog that’s low to the ground. I found that my older miniature schnauzer, Zoe, who is especially tiny, will get tremendously overheated when we walk later in the day. I figured out that she was being bombarded by the reflective heat off of the pavement as well as the heat that had been absorbed by the hard surface all day.

    Exercising outdoors is a great perk of summer. But be sure to take proper steps to make sure you canine exercise buddy stays safe.  That way, both of you can enjoy the great outdoors in a healthy way.

Published On: June 15, 2010