Dogs love their daily excursions—they need exercise to stay physically healthy, and walks prevent boredom and the destructive behaviors that result from it. Dogs also need owners that know when it's safe to take them out.
Sure, you may see pictures of people walking their dogs when it's snowy and blustery or at the height of summer, but most dogs can't cope. And with extreme weather events on the rise, being cautious is a matter of life and death more than ever before.
Heatstroke kills dogs, and it doesn't take long for them to succumb, whether they're in a locked car or not—just 15 minutes of exertion or exposure to hot weather can be fatal.
Excessive panting, hypersalivation, and vomiting are red flags, and if your dog is unsteady on its feet and collapses, it's a sign that it requires urgent medical attention. The earlier a dog can get treatment, the better, but often, it's too late.
The key is to prevent these symptoms from occurring in the first place.
In frigid weather, dogs can get hypothermia or frostbite. Dogs without shelter can die within two hours of exposure to freezing temperatures. Canines usually have a body temperature of 100.5-102.5°F and hypothermia sets in when their temperature drops to 99˚F.
Symptoms include dilated pupils, muscle stiffness, confusion, pale gums, slow breathing and heart rate, and potential coma.
Giant dog breeds and those with thick coats tend not to do well when it's hot out. Be careful with flat-faced breeds with breathing difficulties and shorter muzzles causing less efficient evaporative heat loss, such as pugs and Frenchies. They're especially susceptible to overheating, as are overweight dogs weighing above 110 pounds.
Dogs with thin or lighter-colored coats can get a sunburn, and darker-colored coats absorb sunlight to a dog's detriment.
Keep an eye on breeds like chow chows, greyhounds, and golden retrievers.
Small and medium-sized dogs with less body fat for insulation can get cold quicker. Dogs with light coats reflect more sunlight and feel colder than their darker counterparts.
Age and general health are factors—puppies and elderly dogs can't thermoregulate as well as other dogs and struggle on hot and cold days. Watch out for your greyhounds and Xolos with thin coats.
Siberian huskies, for example, have proverbial ice in their veins. They have thick double-layered coats, are built for the freezing tundra, and can go on lengthy midwinter walks. But huskies aren't immune to the cold, so don't take yours out for longer than an hour.
It's not just genes that matter. If your dog is accustomed to a hot climate, warm days won't faze it as much. And if your dog is very active, it might produce heat that keeps it warmer than a sedentary dog during winter or puts it at greater risk during summer. You need to be in tune with your dog's normal behaviors and needs in order to care for it optimally.
In general, it's considered safe to walk your dogs up to 68°F (19°C) during warmer days. But if the thermometer goes any higher, you're veering into potential heatstroke territory.
Avoid strenuous activity up to 73°F and keep walks short. You're asking for trouble by going on walks when it's between 82°F and 90°F.
55°F (12°C) to 60°F is the sweet spot for walking and exercising with all dogs. But when it's 50°F, you'll need to be mindful of at-risk demographics.
Below 40°F, the exposure can be fatal. Don't consider temperature only. Wind chill and damp air can make pets miserable even if the temperature doesn't seem too low.
Bad weather spells can last a while, so look for indoor play parks and fitness clubs for canines in your area where your dog can run around and socialize.
During summer, swimming is an excellent substitute for walking, but keep your dog's preferences in mind—they're not all water babies, and dogs can drown. Check freshwater swimming spots for potentially toxic algae.
The more time your dog spends in the cold, the lower its body temperature will go. So, you're better off doing two short walks than one long walk on very hot or cold days.
Pick the right time of day to go out. Avoid early mornings and late evening walks during winter, and stick to those cooler timeslots during summer. Put dog shoes on your buddy's paws to protect them from anti-freeze, salt, and toxic chemicals mixed in with rain, or wipe your doggy's paws with a damp cloth or paper towel when you get home.
Dogs can get burned during cold weather because, just like humans, they want to be comfy and are attracted to heaters and fires, so be aware of potentially dangerous objects within and beyond your home.
Test the sidewalk by placing the back of your hand on the pavement for seven seconds. If you can't tolerate the heat, your canine bestie won't be able to either. Keep your dog leashed, pick a route with shaded spots, and carry travel bottles and bowls with a couple of ice cubes.
A pinch of salt in the water compensates for minerals lost during panting. Get your dog a dedicated towel for walks and swims at the beach. When it's done playing, let it lie down on the damp towel to cool down.
Check whether a haircut is suitable for your breed. And never dunk your pet in very cold water, as it can cause shock. A cool water hose should be fine, and you can prevent sunburn with vet-approved sunscreen or garments.
Keep an eye on your dog's reactions to the weather. If they just had an uncomfortable walk the day before, you might notice hesitation when you haul out the leash.
During and after a walk, look for signs of discomfort, such as shivering and holding up or licking paws. You know your dog best, so do your research for your region and trust your instincts.
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