Shea Cox
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Keeping Dogs Safe in the Summertime

This morning, as I watched my partially bald dog Dharma bask in the sun’s rays, I was reminded of the risks that the sun and heat can pose to our pups. It has prompted me to discuss a few sun tips to help keep our dogs safe- while still having fun- this summer season.

Despite all that fur, it’s important to be aware of the risks of sunburn in your pet. Dogs, especially those with short hair, white fur, and pink skin, can easily sunburn, and this can be just as painful for your dog as it is to us. Limit your dog’s exposure during peak sun hours (between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.) and apply sunblock to the ears and nose 30 minutes before going outside. Products available to protect dogs from sunburn include vests that block ultraviolet rays and pet-specific sunscreen made with ingredients repellent to dogs to keep them from licking it. If you are unsure that your sunscreen is pet-safe, double check the label to make sure it doesn’t contain zinc oxide (Desitin) or salicylates (aspirin); these can be toxic if licked off and ingested in large amounts. Stomach irritation can also occur if excessive amounts are ingested, so be careful about putting too much on in an area where they can lick it. If your dog has lupus or pemphigus (a condition that results in a crusty appearance to the nose), consult with a dermatologist before putting sunscreen on his or her nose or before letting outside.

While out at the beach, it is imperative to always have a fresh water source available and offer it frequently. If your dog gets thirsty, he may begin to drink the only available water, which is often salt water, and this can lead to toxicity. A few gulps of salt water won’t harm your dog, but watch for vomiting and early neurological signs of salt poisoning such as dullness and depression.

Scan the water and sand for jellyfish. Be aware of sea lice that can cause itchy red bumps on dogs. Salt can be irritating to paws and skin, too. Rinse salt water and sand from your dog’s coat after swimming. Always clean and dry ears after a swim. Water that remains in ears, especially from a dirty lake, can result in a bacterial ear infection.

Running on the sand is strenuous exercise, and this can easily lead to heat stroke. A dog that is out of shape can also easily pull a tendon or ligament, so keep a check on your dog’s activity. Hot sand (and pavement) can blister delicate pads that are new to these hot surfaces.

For dogs who enjoy the sport of boating, just like people, he or she should always wear a life jacket. Make sure that the life jacket fits properly and let your dog get used to having it on while swimming before going deeper into the water.

If you have a breed that is predisposed to eye problems (such as a Pug or Shepherd), you may want to consider Doggles to help protect their precious peepers.

And finally, never, ever leave a dog unattended in your vehicle in the summer months. Heatstroke and death can occur within minutes in warm temperatures and we have already treated several cases of this in our hospital over the past 2 weeks!!  You can read further about heatstroke (what and what NOT to do) here

I hope these tips help keep your pets safe during these upcoming summer months!

Have a doggy sun-proofing idea? Please share!



Veterinarian Shea Cox has enjoyed an indirect path through her professional life, initially obtaining degrees in fine arts and nursing. She later obtained her veterinary medical degree from Michigan State University in 2001 and has been practicing emergency and critical care medicine solely since that time. In 2006, she joined the ER staff at PETS Referral Center in Berkeley and cannot imagine a more rewarding and fulfilling place to spend her working hours. In her spare time, she loves to paint, wield her green thumb, cook up a storm and sail. Her days are shared with the three loves of her life: her husband Scott and their two Doberman children that curiously occupy opposite ends of the personality spectrum.

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Submitted by Charlene | June 20 2012 |

I have a very strong memory from childhood of a black lab dying from heat stroke on a 100 degree day. It's imperative to not only protect them from heat and exertion when they're working and playing, but also not leave them outside in extreme heat conditions. Today where I live it's 110 degrees.

My black Australian Shepherd wears a cooling jacket and protective boots when it's hot and we're going to be out in the sun for any length of time. The cooling jacket also keeps her cool in the car, and shields her from sun coming in the window.

This is the jacket: http://www.ruffwear.com/Swamp-Cooler-Dog-Cooling-Vest-Sun-Protection-Pre... It requires a fair bit of water to stay cool, so we always carry an extra bottle of water just for the jacket when we're out hiking for a few hours.

And the boots: http://www.rei.com/product/767904/rei-adventure-dog-boots

For more moderate temperatures something like this might work well:

People who own blue-eyed dogs should also consider shielding their eyes from the sun if they're out alot. Blue eyes in dogs are more prone to cataracts and degenerative conditions, just like ours are. I've known people to teach their dogs to wear doggy visors or hats to shade their eyes, and/or use doggles/sunglasses.

An ounce of prevention can prevent a lot of vet bills.

Submitted by Rachel Tatum | June 20 2012 |

Thanks for the information about blue eyes. I have my first blue-eyed dog (an Aussie mix from rescue) and will be much more careful about protecting his eyes from the sun.

Submitted by Shea Cox DVM | June 21 2012 |

Great addition with the cooling jacket for hot weather, Charlene! Thanks for your helpful comments! Here's to a safe summer :) Shea

Submitted by DEE | August 12 2012 |

I have a 3 month old blue merlr chihuahua and i was to be carefull bringing him out into the sun. What can happen to him if he is outside for about 5-10 min?

Submitted by Shea Cox DVM | August 29 2012 |

Hi DEE~ being outside for that time is not a problem at all. In fact, dogs should be outside, running and playing! The point of the blog is to be careful about excess (like anything in life, right?! :). Just like us people, pets need sunshine as well to process vitamin D and keep the body healthy. You don't have to keep your baby inside on a sunny day, just be cautious that too much of a good thing can pose problems. Hope this helps!

Submitted by Sloan Cunningham | June 19 2013 |

I notice you don't mention - perhaps a whole different chapter! - people who shave dogs thinking it helps them stay cooler http://www.veterinaryinsider.com/public/Thinking-About-Shaving-Your-Dogs...

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