According to the Weather Channel, the term “dog days of summer” goes back to Roman astronomers and the brilliant, blue-white star called Sirius, the “dog star.”
Typically, though, most folks think the term refers to those scorching, muggy days in August when it’s too hot to do anything but lie around like a dog in the shade.
Protection from the sun and heat are vital for pets, said two officials who work with animals.
Flemington Veterinarian Hospital Dr. Joe Morris and Cindie Rigdon, manager of Fort Stewart’s pet-boarding facility, explained why dogs have to take it easy during summer months. When ambient temperatures push 100 degrees and relative humidity exceeds 80 percent, most people and pets tend to stay indoors during daylight hours. Morris and Rigdon said cats and dogs that live outside depend on their owners to take care of them.
“First of all, you want to make sure your dog has plenty of cool, fresh water,” Morris said. “Change it at least three times a day. Leave a faucet dripping for your dog to drink from throughout the day. Shade is also extremely necessary for outdoor dogs.”
He said shade should be provided by something that doesn’t block air flow, such as trees, a tent or a tarp. Newer models of dog houses are double-lined and insulated, offering better protection than older, wooden dog houses that can make the heat worse.
“Dogs will sometimes dig holes in the ground as a way to get cool,” Morris said. “The deeper they dig, the cooler it is for them. You want to limit exercising your dog, too — maybe walk him in the cool of the morning and evening.”
Signs that a pet is overheating include excessive panting, difficulty breathing and vomiting. Morris said it’s better to prevent heat stroke than attempt to treat it, stressing that dogs often die from heat stroke. If an animal shows signs of heat exhaustion, Morris recommended getting it into shade or inside where it’s air conditioned and giving it plenty of cool, fresh water or showering it with cool water. Don’t use ice, he said.
Felines have a slightly different approach to heat.
“Cats cool off similarly to dogs, but they seem to tolerate the heat better than dogs,” Morris said. “They’re usually not limited by a pen and can find a cooler place to stay.”
The American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals recommends brushing cats more often during summer months and trimming the fur of long-haired dogs. They warn against walking a dog on pavement or hot sand during summer months.
The ASPCA, Morris and Rigdon all agree that pet owners should never leave their pet in a car during summer months.
Rigdon said larger dogs have more difficulty dealing with summer heat than smaller dogs. Also, dogs with dark coats struggle with summertime temperatures and humidity.
“Dogs really don’t sweat except through their tongues and feet,” she said. “That’s why you shouldn’t walk them on hot asphalt or beach.”
Rigdon said she’s noticed that dark-colored dogs tend to be the ones most often left for adoption at animal shelters in South Georgia. Sadly, she said, these are the ones least able to cope with Georgia’s hot summers.
She and kennel assistant Paula Berg recently led nearly a dozen smaller dogs on leashes to one of four shaded, outdoor exercise pens.
Berg said they do that seven or eight times a day for the dogs at their doggy day-care and pet-boarding facility, which is for soldiers, military retirees and family members. Because exercise sessions are limited to 15 minutes, she said they stay busy taking the dogs out and bringing them back inside. A baby wading pool sits in the shade of two of the pens for dogs to take a dip whenever they want.
For more information about Fort Stewart’s pet-boarding facility, call 435-8052. For more information about taking care of pets this summer, call a local veterinarian.