Whenever I have talked about keeping dogs cool in hot weather, I have always mentioned how badly my Indy fares in summer months. But how Border Terriers cope in hot weather varies from individual to individual dog. Some Borders still enjoy their walk in warmer weathers, some others, like my Indy, get totally deflated. No matter what breed though, it appears that all dog like a good daily sunbathing session, whenever there is a bit of sunshine – even when it’s a shy sun in the colder parts of this planet. But why do dogs sunbathe? And, most importantly, can dogs get sunburned?
Do dogs like hot weather?
My initial answer to this question would be a neat NO. Dogs’ body temperature is higher to start off with, so if you are hot, your dog is likely to be twice as hot.
But, as we know, dogs do like to please. And if they see that there is fun going on in the family, because the human children are squirting each others with the garden hose, you will find that you dog will want to join in.
Likewise, if you have a trip to the seaside, of course your dog will perceive that it is fun time at the beach, and will wear that ‘fun hat’ too, regardless of whether it’s hot or not.
If I hadn’t learnt better by now, I would say that my Indy looks very ill in warmer weather, displaying all the alarming symptoms you should watch in a dog that you suspect may not be feeling too good. He will become almost lethargic, sleepy, withdrawn. In other words, he looks like energy has been drawn out of him.
Nor does it help the fact that, being an older dog, he cannot be easily persuaded to have walks earlier in the morning or later in the evening – when it’s bed time, it’s bed time, no matter whether it’s dark out there, or still bright and sunny.
But not all Borders are like him. Whether a Border, or indeed any other dog, can cope with hot weather, and how, very much depends on the individual dog. Age, skin and fur colour, and yes, breed can all play a role in how more or less well your dog will cope in higher temperatures. But individual reactions create a variable just like with humans.
Indy, a dog of habits
I know of Borders that find solace in water activities, such as splashing out in the paddling pool with the children of the family. I have in fact witnessed with my own eyes Borders quite happy to have a little swim in the local brook, whilst having their afternoon walk.
Again, my Indy does not do water very easily. Which means the only way to keep him cool is by trying to ventilate our house, and to create shaded areas. Or by keeping his sleeping area cooler too – for Indy we use the Cooling Mat, which he has now learnt to use as a sitting mat, albeit on firm floor.
In other words, my Indy has always been a stickler for habits. And in his older age, he is making it even clearer than ever what he wants, how and when. If there is a pack leader in our household, I am afraid to say it has to be him and nobody else.
Indy loves sunbathing
Yet, at the same time, my Indy absolutely loves to fall asleep in the sun. And even in a sunny winter day, he will try to find his sunny spot in the house to curl in and have a restoring snooze.
In fact, I understand this is quite common not only amongst Borders, but with all other breeds too.
So, why fall asleep in the sun when dogs can be so sensitive to hot weather?
Sun as source of vitamin D
We humans may find sunbathing fashionable. Some of us find it good ‘for their bones’, as my mum keeps saying about her cervical osteoarthritis. Some are actually advised by their doctors to keep exposed to the sun to allow their body to absorb more vitamin D.
Vitamin D in dogs becomes more of a necessity.
I have recently read (courtesy of Puppyleaks.com) that for dogs vitamin D is seen as a pro-hormone, just like for humans. In lay terms, they do need vitamin D to absorb calcium, and get the most of the needed intake through food. But like in the human body, their body manufactures vitamin D as a result of direct exposure to sun rays.
Interestingly enough, we human absorb vitamin D when exposing to sunlight through our skins – by chemical reaction, the vitamin D is passed to our various organs and bones through the blood stream and converting to calcium. With dogs, the process takes longer, as the absorption of this vitamin is slowed down by the presence of fur. The ingestion of vitamin D in this case takes place orally, when you see your dog licking his or her fur.
Can dogs get sunburned?
With our Indy, we have noticed that instinctively, when enough is enough and it gets too hot for him, Indy will go back indoors, straight into the kitchen for a big drink of fresh water (and we make it even fresher by using Vet Aquadent).
But, just as with humans, yes, dogs can get sunburned. And the fairer in complexion they are, the more likely they are to get burned by stronger sun rays.
Dangerous areas for dogs are a lighter nose, the inside of their ears, exposed pink skin under the tummy, and of course their paws. And it appears that dogs with lighter fur are more at risk. Indy, for instance, ticks all the boxes of the most at risk dog, as he has light and short fur and exposed pink skin under the tummy. And his shorter legs keep his tummy closer to the ground, where it can be hit by reflective sun rays, which are equally harmful. In fact, at times I blame myself for his cancer, as I never thought of looking for protective sunscreens remedies before it all happened. And like in humans, sunburn can cause skin cancer in dogs.
So, what to do if you fear your dog may have got sunburned?
Natural remedies to relieve sunburn in your dog
First rule is never to apply human remedies, as they may prove toxic on your dog.
A good relief for dogs’ burns can be found in aloe vera. You can use a natural organic aloe vera cream, with no additional ingredients, and spread it over the affected part: under the paws, in the tip of cracked ears, and on scolded skin. Or, if you have an aloe vera plant in your garden, you can squeeze the natural gel out of its leaves and apply it on the affected sore area.
Another effective remedy is witch hazel, equally good for humans and dogs for its antiseptic properties. Again, you want to aim to use an organic product for your dog, or one specifically created for dogs. For Indy I use Petkin Itch Stick Skin Care Gel, which combines all of these ingredients, soothing and promptly healing the soreness in your dog.
Alternatively, you can opt for canine products freely available on the market. My favourite of all times is Dr Harvey’s Healing Cream. Not cheap, I’ll admit, but it’s a miracle cream, as described by one of the Amazon customer who left a review. And that’s how USA manufacturers describe their product:
“Dr. Harvey’s Organic Healing Cream is a combination of healing herbs in a base of organic shea butter. This cream is used for minor skin irritations, hot spots, rashes, cuts, sunburn and itching and much more. This “go to” first-aid cream, has helped thousands of dogs, cats and horses to heal rapidly. The cream works rapidly to promote the healing process. It is gentle and completely non-toxic so that if an animal licks the cream it will not harm them. We even have bird breeders using this cream on our feathered friends. We keep this cream in every cabinet at home and at work. It will quickly become a very special friend in your home, kennel or office.”
How to prevent sunburning in your dog
The main thing is to try and limit your dog’s exposure to the sun (courtesy of Natural Dog Health Remedies) Which can be quite difficult, as your dog may sneak to the garden whilst you are in the other room. Indy is very good at that, as he is equally very good at finding sun traps in the house.
In this case, you may have to take alternative measures, such as applying a sunscreen product on your dog. But there are a lot of sunscreen protecting products on the market, from sprays, to wipes to lotion to moisturisers – all equally effective, and all helping in reducing the damage of sun rays on those more persistent dogs.
Has your dog ever got sunburned? Have you ever had to use sunscreen products? Leave your comment below to share your experience, or if you would like to make alternative suggestions.