Welcome to Junuary... where the only predictable thing about Oregon's weather is that it's completely unpredictable! Cold rain and hail one day, temperatures threatening to break 100 degrees the next day. It's enough to make any Oregonian's "summer" wardrobe choices made early in the morning seem almost regrettable by the end of the day, and make any pet owner exasperated with worry during the hottest part of the late afternoon.
As a dog walker, I'm prepared for whatever weather we have. I've always got rain gear (when I know there's a chance for rain) and my thinned-out Floridian blood means that the hotter days don't really affect me much. But, for our four-legged canine friends, we have to be a bit more careful. If your dogs were raised in the Pacific Northwest, they may not mind the rain; if they’re hesitant, it’s likely because you're hesitant. But, if your dogs seem bothered by the rain—whether it's a bit of drizzle or full on thunderstorm—there may be some science behind their reactions. A general search for "Why do dogs dislike rain?" revealed several probable causes, ranging from "storm anxiety," to things that may actually physically affect dogs, like "changes in barometric pressure, static electricity, the crack of lightning bolts or just the sound of wind and rain" (www.vetstreet.com/our-pet-experts/why-does-my-dog-refuse-to-go-out-when-its-raining). The most common answer, and the one even Tweeted by famous dog whisperer Cesar Millan, was that "dogs don’t like rain because the sound is amplified and hurts their very sensitive ears," which makes sense... scientifically. Dogs are capable of hearing higher frequency the humans, and the over a dozen muscles in their ears help them focus their hearing on things we humans can't even hear! However, if your dogs are reacting to YOUR reaction to the rain, it's entirely possible to retrain them with positive reinforcement so that they don't care if their paws get a little wet. In addition to walking WITH your dog in the rain (versus just letting them outside in the backyard by themselves), purchase rain gear for your pets to help them stay dry, carry an umbrella large enough to cover you both, and reward your dogs when you return home for a good, albeit wet, successful walk outside. Make drying them off fun, too. And give lots of treats! On the opposite end of the crazy Junuary weather is the extreme heat! It's not unheard of for temperatures to reach up to the upper 90s... sometimes even breaking 100 degrees! While all pets run the danger of heat-related injuries, certain flat-faced breeds are more susceptible to heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Owners of these brachycephalic dogs can help their dogs breathe easier and stay cooler through an elective nasal surgery that can help increase air movement in the nose. Short of nasal surgery and helping your dog maintain a healthy weight YEAR ROUND, however, there are other precautions you can do to help keep your dog safe during the hotter days of summer. In fact, I employ many of these "tips" during my walks with clients' dogs!
Walk in the footsteps of shadows. Find shaded walkways, sides of buildings, anything with overhangs that provide shaded protection from the sun's direct rays.
Keep it short. Save longer walks for early morning and late evening. Quick, shaded relief for afternoon potty breaks work best for hotter days. There are plenty of indoor play options to provide your pups, if it's exercise they need.
Stay in the grass. Pavement gets hot! Most of dogs' sweat glands are located around their foot pads, so help them stay cool with a walk in the grass. Additionally, hot pavement could potentially burn those sensitive little pads on their paws!
After your walk, make sure your pups have access to air conditioning or a fan. Refresh their water bowls with cool (NOT cold) drinking water.
Monitor dogs closely. Signs of heat stroke include: uncontrollable panting, rapid heart rate, foaming at the mouth, depression, lethargy, agitation, vomiting and/or loss of consciousness. Tongue and gums initially can beg bright red, then as the pet gets worse, become progressively blue or gray. Check capillary refill time by raising your dog's lip, pressing on the gums lightly, removing your finger, and counting how quickly until the pale spot pinks up, which should be 1–2 seconds.
In the most unfortunate event that your dog exhibits signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke, take immediate action!!!
Get dogs out of the sun and, ideally, into an air conditioned building.
Lay dogs on a cool surface, like tile flooring, and put a fan on them.
Safely restrain pets, muzzling ONLY if absolutely necessary, to monitor core body temperature, using a rectal thermometer.
Use rubbing alcohol on the pads of dogs' feet to help quickly bring down their body temperature.
Place cool—NOT cold—wet towels over the armpit and groin areas. Don't completely cover dogs with the towel, as it could trap body heat.
While temperatures of 103–105 degrees and above is considered high, it's important that you don't "over-cool" dogs all at once. However, once the rectal temperature drops to 103 degrees F...
Transport dogs to the veterinarian or emergency animal hospital.
I know I've mentioned it before, but it's worth mentioning again... buy and familiarize yourself with emergency pet care procedures BEFORE an emergency happens. I recommend the Pet Emergency Pocket Guide, but there are lots of other great products out there too. In addition to carrying the spiral-bound emergency pocket guide with me on ALL of my pet visits, I also have two wonderful apps on my iPhone: Pet First Aid by the American Red Cross and APCC by ASPCA. Whatever weather Junuary decides to throw at us, keep your pets safe! There will always be plenty of moderate days for playing fetch in the park or hiking along all the wonderful trails that the PNW has to offer. We may be nearing the "dog days of summer," but don't let your beloved pets fall victim to avoidable summer-related heat injuries.