The first summer I walked the streets of Key West with Ozzy, he led me from one side of the street to the other, gravitating toward shady spots. I knew my dog was smart, but this really impressed me. He is a Shadowhunter, I thought. What a brilliant dog.
Then I realized that it wasn’t the shadow he was concentrating on, but the anole lizards moving in and out of the shadow. Ozzy is a standard poodle, a breed whose unfortunate dog show haircuts make people mistakenly think they are fancy fur accessories. Actually, they are true hunting dogs.
As a hunting dog with limited options in Key West, Ozzy has become obsessed with lizards, from tiny anoles to Cuban browns. And he knows where they like to hang out in the shade.
He may not be as bright as you thought, but he has the right idea. For anyone, staying in the shade and staying cool is a good idea during our hot summers. But it’s especially important for our puppies, who are more sensitive to heat than you think.
Dogs have a higher body temperature than humans and less ability to cool down. While we sweat through the pores, dogs’ sweat glands are confined to the nose and paw pads. Overheated dogs can only regulate body temperature through panting, which is very inefficient during hot weather and can lead to heat exhaustion, a potentially fatal condition that can lead to heat stroke and cardiac arrest.
Avoid overheating by modifying your dog walking routines. Think shorter walks and less intense activity. And be aware of how your dog is doing during the walk. Pay attention to panting and pawing. Sidewalks and roads can get very hot. Try to press your palms to the asphalt or sidewalks when walking with your friend. If it’s hot for you, it’s super hot for them. Keep their paws on grass or dirt when possible. And bring water, plus something for your pet to drink (small collapsible bowls and drinking/drinking cups for dogs are available at most local pet stores or online). And of course taking great walks early in the morning and later in the evening.
It goes without saying, but unfortunately it has to be mentioned: Dogs should never be left alone in a car, especially in hot weather. When it’s 85 degrees outside, a parked car will heat up to 102 degrees in 10 minutes, even with the windows open. And at 95 degrees, our average summer temperature in the Keys, a car will heat up to 120 degrees in 10 minutes.
If you take your dog with you on car trips, plan to take him to places where you can take him indoors. Many establishments in the Keys allow dogs. In addition to our outdoor restaurants, many stores and even chain stores like The Home Depot welcome well-behaved pets.
But taking your dog to outdoor events in the summer is not a good idea. As a person who has coordinated many large outdoor festivals, I’ve seen too many heat-stressed dogs walking on concrete and asphalt to think it’s fun for them. If you decide to take them, make it a short visit. Bring plenty of water for them to drink and try to keep them in the shade and on the grass.
Because Oz loves being with us, my husband and I sometimes take him for car rides during the summer, often to shady places to walk or short shopping trips where we take turns staying in the air-conditioned car. conditioner while the other goes shopping. It seems to be a Keys thing for pet parents to leave their dogs alone in the car with the air conditioning on, but The Humane Society warns that even that is risky, especially for an extended time. If you see a pet left alone in a car without refrigeration during hot weather, find the owner or call for help. Our police department is very aware of the dangers and takes this situation very seriously.
Many dogs love the water and many boaters love to take them along, but long days on the water can be very hot. If you don’t already have a covered area on the deck, consider setting up some shade for your dog. Cooling mats are an inexpensive and effective way for dogs to relax, and it makes a lot of sense to have them on board. In addition to lots of water, consider adding frozen treats, like “Pupsicles” (frozen cubes of chicken or beef broth) to the cooler along with your beer and fried chicken.
Here in the Keys we must realize that not only the temperature, but also the humidity can affect our pets. According to Dr. Barry Kellogg of the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association, animals pant to evaporate moisture from their lungs, which removes heat from their body. If the humidity is too high, they can’t cool down and their temperature will shoot up to dangerous levels, very quickly.
Some dogs are more at risk of heat exhaustion than others. Ozzy is a black dog, which means he can warm up much sooner than lighter colored animals. Very old, very young, or overweight dogs and animals that have heart or respiratory disease are at higher risk.
And some breeds, like boxers, pugs, shih tzus, and other dogs and cats with short muzzles, will have a much harder time breathing in extreme heat, so take extra care to keep them safe and cool.
Signs of heat exhaustion include excessive panting, glassy eyes, shortness of breath, dizziness, rapid heartbeat, excessive salivation, and lack of coordination. If your dog exhibits any of these symptoms, get him into the shade or air conditioning immediately. To help cool them down, apply ice packs or cold towels to the head, neck, and chest, or run cool (not cold) water over them. Let them drink small amounts of cold water or lick ice cubes. And if they continue to be distressed, take them to a vet as soon as possible.
The Florida Keys is a wonderful place to share with our dogs. But in the summer, we need to tweak things a bit so our fur-coated friends can be safe and happy. If you want to take them into town, go ahead and take them out for a drink indoors and out of harm’s way. Order a margarita or virgin pineapple for yourself and a bowl of agua fresca for your fur-covered friend. Chances are the waiter will bring it to the table before you order it. Lucky for us, and for them, we are that kind of dog town.