Expert: Dog days of summer call for extra hydration for pets

The “dog days of summer,” characterized by hot, sultry weather, are a time to pay special attention to hydration for dogs and other domestic animals, according to Jean McGhee, who along with her husband owns several Hollywood Feed pet supply stores in DeKalb County.

A good rule of thumb is to provide .6 to 1 ounce of water per pound of bodyweight each day, said McGhee, who added, “In times of high stress, activity, or heat, your pet’s body uses more water and therefore may need some extra.”

She said some pets are more susceptible than others to heat-related illness. “Brachycephalic pets (smoosh-faced) like pugs and bulldogs, overweight pets, or elderly animals are at high risk as their respiratory systems are somewhat compromised. Dogs don’t have many sweat glands, so their main cooling apparatus is through panting. I recommend keeping a cooling towel to place on the ears, armpits, belly, and feet if your pet is getting overheated. Replace the towel often so that it doesn’t start to retain heat and get them to a well-ventilated area,” McGhee recommended.

“It is best if you can put them on a grated surface so that water doesn’t pool under the body and start to retain heat. If the pet is showing signs of heat stroke and doesn’t improve within 10 minutes, take them to your veterinarian. Rubbing alcohol may be applied to the foot pads to dilate pores and potentially increase cooling. Ice packs are generally not recommended and can cause additional damage,” she continued.

“The easiest way to tell if your dog is dehydrated is to gently pinch the skin on top of the head,” according to McGhee. “If it stays up instead of springing back to normal, your pet may be dehydrated. Other clues that your pet needs water can include excessive panting, dry nose, dry or sticky gums, and lethargy.”

She said there are many fun ways to increase moisture in a pet’s diet. “Dogs and cats are both made to get a significant amount of water through their food. You can do this by using a wet or fresh diet, by adding a topper like a bone broth, or by adding water to a meal,” she said.

McGhee cautions that pet parents shouldn’t give ice on a hot day. “Offering ice water or a frozen treat can be a great way to keep pets cool in the summer if done safely. However, if your pet is currently showing signs of heat stroke such as excessive panting, then water should be cool, not cold. Ice water in this situation could cause a shock to the animal’s body, which could be hazardous. Bringing the temperature down gradually helps to avoid risks of vasoconstriction, which could cause further complications,” she said.

Outside, a thirsty pet may drink from whatever water it finds, but McGhee said clean water is always best. “Puddles and lakes can be full of harsh bacteria that can cause digestive upset or even more severe infections like giardia and leptospirosis. When indoors, fountains can help encourage your pet to drink and provide continuously circulating filtered water.”

A hot pet may enjoy cool water, she said, adding, “If indoors or in a cool environment, go for whatever your pet likes best. Cats are natural predators, so they sometimes prefer water that is closer to body temperature. The same theory can help get picky felines to eat their dinner by adding a bit of warmed broth or water.”

McGhee advised, “Unless you are house-training or your veterinarian has recommended limiting water, water should be available at all times. For young puppies during potty training, offer water with or right after a meal. This way they will be ready to do their business right afterwards when you take them outside. Be sure to offer water again every few hours before going outside and with enough time for them to eliminate before bedtime.”

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