By Tracie Korol
The perfect spring weather of late is soon to take a sharp turn toward sultry, steamy and mean. We’ll dress down, move slower and drink more iced tea.
When our body temperature rises, because of a hot environment or because we have been exercising, we perspire. It’s fairly obvious. Damp armpits, the wet stripe down the back or a drippy upper lip. Sweating is our way of regulating our temperature; we have sweat glands over most of our body’s surface. Sweat provides a film of moisture over the skin, which evaporates and then cools.
Not so with dogs which why you have never seen your Best Friend with sweaty pits. A dog’s sweat glands are located around its footpads. Ever notice when your dog is overheated, you’ll occasionally see a path of damp footprints across the kitchen floor?
The primary mechanism that a dog uses to cool himself, however, involves panting with his mouth open. This allows the moisture on his tongue to evaporate and/or drool on the floor. The heavy breathing also allows moisture in the lungs to evaporate, too. Despite being sweat gland deficient, dogs have an uncanny ability to vaporize large amounts of water from their lungs and airways, carrying heat away from the body.
Then, there’s that “covered in fur” component. In reality, fur serves as a sort of insulator or barrier between the dog’s insides and his outsides, not unlike the glass vacuum bottles in old-time thermoses. When it’s cold, fur holds body heat in and in summer acts as a barrier to oppressive heat. However, in our steamy summers, once an elevated temperature is built up in the body, fur gets in the way of allowing the body to regulate.
So, does that mean you should shave old Barney for the summer? No. Shaving pets for the summer can actually predispose them to sunburn, skin cancer and to heat exhaustion/heat stroke. Full coats act as insulation against the sun’s rays and their effects. Coats that are kept well-brushed and mat-free allow for good air circulation through the hair, which in itself can actually have a cooling effect. If you’re not much for dog maintenance know that matted, unkempt hair coats stifle air circulation and do little to help cool the body. In other words, daily brushing is a must during the hot, summer months.
At kennel, I would break out a Furminator to thin the coat of my Chow friend, Willy, when he visited in the summer. His mom hated doing dog maintenance; this WAS her son’s dog, after all. Willy loved the attention plus I received great satisfaction filling a garbage bag with orange undercoat. Win/win. By not shaving him we also avoided the embarrassment a full-coated dog feels when most of him is de-nuded save for the silly little puff on the end of his tail.
How to manage a heavy-coated dog in a Lowcountry summer? Save longer walks for evenings. Consider applying pet-specific sun block to thinly covered areas like the bridge of your dog’s nose, the tips of his ears and his belly. Also, keep in mind that dogs with thin coats, as well as those with white or light-colored coats, are especially at risk for sun damage.
Or, keep it simple: If it’s too hot out for you, it’s too hot for your dog.