Here at My Pet Nutritionist, we have clients and followers from all over the globe, but most of the team is based in the UK and we’ll admit, the changing climate gets us a little hot under the collar with the risks posed to our canines. So, here is our ultimate guide to summer living with canines.
It’s seen world over, no matter when their Summer arrives, we are bombarded with images or stories of dogs suffering with heat stroke. For some it is fatal. Sometimes it’s obvious how the dog has succumbed, other times, well-meaning owners just haven’t realised the true impact of certain exercise on their dog in the heat.
So how do we deal with the heat? How do we keep our dogs exercised and stimulated?
Firstly, we need to get a handle on heatstroke.
As you may, or may not, know; to cool themselves, dogs pant. They don’t sweat like us humans (they do have some sweat pads in their paws, so if they are stressed, you may notice sweaty paws at the Vets). But when panting isn’t enough to maintain the status quo, their body temperature rises. If this isn’t corrected quickly enough, it causes problems.
Symptoms of Heat Stroke
Factors that increase risk of heatstroke:
Prevention is better than cure, so here are our top tips:
- Firstly, only walk your dog at the coolest times of the day. Even if this means getting up earlier and going to bed later. It may also be necessary to shorten your usual walk, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.
- Ensure free access to fresh filtered water at all times,
- Check the temperature of the pavement – if you can’t hold your hand to it, your dog can’t walk on it.
- Keep your dog inside, even out of the garden at the hottest parts of the day. Put fans on or air con if you have them!
- If you have a sheltered spot in your garden, consider setting up a dog pool. Remember to change the water regularly though!
- Consider investing in cooling mats or cooling jackets.
It is almost instinctive to want to take our dogs near water on a hot day, but like everything in life, that too has its risks.
Blue/Green Algae - when in doubt, just stay out!
When present in water, there is an unmistakable hue. Blue/Green Algae thrives in warm, nutrient-rich water and will form “blooms.” It naturally occurs in lakes, ponds, canals, rivers, and reservoirs around the world. They are a type of bacteria, known as cyanobacteria, which can produce toxic chemicals that are harmful to the health of people and animals.
When ingested, it can cause vomiting, diarrhea, respiratory distress, weakness, lethargy, and seizures. It can also be fatal.
Blue/green algae is often found in water where there is a film or scum like appearance. Country parks sometimes have warnings up, or their websites will identify any recent blooms so it’s always worth checking sources before heading out.
Aside from the assumed risk of drowning in water, for dogs who play and retrieve a lot in water there is also the risk of water intoxication. This is when your dog has ingested far too much water for their body to handle. Initial symptoms include vomiting, lethargy, and abdominal distention. Further symptoms include weakness, coma, seizures, and ataxia. Be mindful if your dog swallows water when they are retrieving and keep their time in the water to a moderate level.
Whilst you may not be at the beach, we’re talking about all bodies of water that may have fast and strong currents. It could be a rip at the beach or simply a fast-flowing section of river. Before you let your dog venture into any water, watch it for a few minutes. Watch the flow, watch for any white water as this will help you figure out any underlying currents. You need to be sure the water is safe and that your dog is capable of swimming in it. Smaller dogs or less able pooches may struggle with even the slightest of currents, so again, when in doubt, just stay out!
There is always a risk of water borne nasties, especially in stagnant pools of water. So:
- Opt for fresh and flowing water where possible,
- Don’t allow your dog to drink from the water source, provide fresh water from home/a bottle,
- Rinse them off when you get home,
- Watch for any changes in health or behaviour over the next couple of days.
If your walks are shorter, or even not existent on some days, then brain games are a great way to keep your dog settled.
Ideal for both food and toy orientated dogs, you can hide either high value treats or toys around the home or garden. At first, hold the treat or toy out in front of your dog and allow him to watch you where you hide it. Encourage him to find it. Praise him when he does, giving him the treat or allowing him to play with the toy. Repeat and as he finds the treasure, label the behaviour; for example, “hunt.”
Start with hiding the treasure in easy to access places, eventually moving to harder to reach locations.
Providing your dog doesn’t destroy his toys as soon as look at them, we can teach him the names of them. Start with one toy. Throw the toy and encourage him to retrieve the toy. As he brings you the toy, label it; “chew,” “ball,” “rope” etc. Praise and reward him. We know that dogs learn from the consequences of their behaviour – if they experience a positive consequence, they are more likely to repeat said behaviour.
Repeat with this toy only, consistently labelling it with its name. Eventually, add in another toy to the task. Throw the toy you have already labelled onto the floor with another toy. Ask him to retrieve the toy you have labelled. Praise and reward when he succeeds. Repeat the above with his range of toys, introducing one name at a time. You should get to the stage where he will confidently retrieve a toy by its name from a whole line up!
Moving on from “Name That Toy,” once you are certain your dog is confident in the naming of his toys, when he retrieves the toy to you, hold your hands over a chosen storage box for his toys only. Remove your hands just as he lets go, so it drops into the storage back. Repeat. Label the behaviour as he drops the toy into the storage box “tidy.”
A perfect game for those scent followers or sight-hounds. Find three plastic plant pots to start off with (you may use more in future, but let’s not run before we can walk). Introduce one plant pot to your dog and let him sniff it. Place a high value treat under the pot, let your dog watch you doing it. Encourage him to knock the pot over to get to the treat. Praise and allow him to eat the treat when he gets to it. Repeat. Label the behaviour “search” or another appropriate command that fits. Once you are confident your dog understands what he needs to do to get to the treat, introduce a second pot. Place a treat under one pot only. They will either have to watch where you place the treat or follow the scent with their trusty noses. When he gets the right pot, praise, and reward. Repeat. Introduce a third pot and repeat again.
Find a muffin tin, some tennis balls and some high value treats (or part of the daily meal allowance).
Put some high value treats into the holes in the muffin tin and place a tennis ball over the top of the treat, it should sit in the hole of the tin. Your dog needs to move the tennis ball to get to the treat.
This game suits food-orientated pooches; toy-orientated pooches may just run off to play with the tennis balls. which isn’t the aim of the game! Brachycephalic breeds may also struggle to move the balls around, so a cake tin (with shallow holes) may be better suited. In this case, don’t place a tennis ball over every hole, leave space between so their shorter muzzles have room to manoeuvre.
You can also spend some time perfecting some new commands or party tricks!
With a treat in a closed hand offer it to your dog. He will instinctively sniff at it and likely try to nibble at it. Withhold the treat. Continue to hold the treat until your dog turns away or stops showing interest. As soon as he turns away, offer the treat. Your dog learns that when he ignores the good thing, something good happens anyway. Label the behaviour when he turns away or ignores it. You progress by asking for the behaviour before he ignores it, then rewarding once he has carried out the behaviour. You can further progress by offering a treat in an open hand or even offering something on the floor and asking your dog to leave it!
Place a treat in between two fingers on your hand. Offer a flat palm to your dog, he should instinctively want to sniff at the treat, and therefore touch your palm. Label the behaviour as soon as he carries it out and release the treat. You progress by offering a flat palm without a hidden treat, and then reward from the other hand as soon as your dog touches your palm. Slowly reduce how often you treat; treat twice and withhold a treat the third time for example.
You may want to use slightly larger treats for this one so your dog can see them coming! You can train the catch in a few different ways. Firstly, dropping a treat directly over your dog, secondly an underhand throw slowly and finally a dart throw, as close to their mouth as possible. Food-orientated dogs tend to pick this one up very quickly, if your dog prefers toys, then train the catch with a ball first and then move to treats. Label the behaviour as soon as your dog catches the item and repeat. To really challenge your dog, see how smaller you can make the treats for him to catch. This takes coordination and focus!
Whether you want to weave around your body or some equipment in the garden, the approach is thee same. Hold a treat in front of your dog’s nose and lure him around your legs or thee equipment. If you are weaving in a figure of eight through your legs, it’s helpful to have two treats, one in each hand so you don’t have to worry about swapping the treat as you swap legs (and drop accidentally during the swap). Label the behaviour as it is being performed and reward when it is completed. If your dog is reluctant at any point, then reward any behaviour in the right direction, so if you make it around one leg, reward it. If you make it around one cone, reward it!
Again, you are luring this behaviour. With your dog in front of you, hold a treat in front of his nose. Lure him around the back of you and then through your legs from behind. Once your dog has his head through, ask him to sit so he is just peeking through your legs. This is more of a challenge with a large breed, especially if you are short. You may need to encourage the sit a lot sooner so as he walks through your legs, he doesn’t take you out! Label the behaviour as it occurs and reward it!
Place a ball in front of your dog. Beachballs are great as they are light in weight. Wait for your dog to investigate and touch it with his nose. Reward as soon as he does to mark the behaviour. Repeat. As your dog touches it, because it’s so light, the ball will naturally move. Label the movement, push-ball. Repeat. Progress to encouraging your dog to move the ball further and further. You can do this by withholding the reward until the push has lasted a little longer. Once your dog has got the hang of it you could offer different balls; smaller, bigger, heavier or lighter.
- Provide opportunities to chew, for example, raw meaty bones and stuffed tracheas!
- Slow feed (providing this isn’t a source of stress for your dog).
- Offer meals on wooden boards,
The warmer weather can be such a worry for dog owners – but there are things we can do to keep our pets safe. Here at My Pet Nutritionist, we want to support your dog’s health from a bird’s eye view, so as always if you feel we can support you on your journey, then check out our services.
Thanks for reading,