Warm Weather Dog Care

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GENERAL CONSIDERATIONS

A dog is happiest if allowed to live and grow up in his owner's home receiving needed love and companionship. Forcing a dog to live a solitary, outside life can lead to boredom. A bored dog is often a problem dog, prone to barking, chewing, or other misdeeds.

The dog is social by nature and does best when a part of an active life, as a member of the family unit. Being alone is an unnatural condition for a dog, which needs to socialize. Humans constitute the primary social companion, replacing the dog pack for attention.

Many dogs, except toy breeds, young puppies, dogs with very short haircoats, and sick or old dogs, can adapt well to outdoor living if they are supplied with necessary food, care, shelter, and attention. All dogs should be maintained at comfortable temperatures, with clean feed and water, and in clean surroundings.

If a decision is made to keep the dog outside, special considerations must be made before purchasing or building a shelter. The dog's size must be taken into consideration:

The ceiling should be 2-3 inches taller than the height of the tallest part of the dog when sitting. The interior should provide 36 square inches of floor space for every inch of the dog's height, from the point of his shoulders to the ground. (Example: a dog 20" tall needs 720 square inches of floor space, 20" X 36" = 720 square inches.)

The shelter should be protected from wind, with the door facing east or south. The entrance should be off-center so the dog can curl up in the corner, protected from precipitation and drafts.

A nesting box, to hold bedding, should be provided in the protected inside corner of the shelter. The roof should be able to be raised to allow warm weather ventilation and cleaning. Extension of the roofline, over the entrance, provides an area shaded from the sun and protects the entrance during inclement weather. During extremely cold weather, the entrance should be covered with a baffle or canvas flap.

The roof should have some pitch to provide drainage. It should be situated on a high, well-drained yard location. It should have clean bedding at all times. A bag made of ticking stuffed with shredded newspapers, straw, cedar or pine shavings, can be regularly emptied, washed, and renewed with fresh stuffing material.

The shelter can be constructed from a wide variety of materials, such as exterior plywood, wooden barrels, hay or straw bales, crates, etc. When finished, the interior must allow the animal to sit, turn around, and lay down. The animal must be able to remain dry and warm on the inside and escape direct rays of the sun on the outside.

The shelter is for sleeping and escaping weather extremes - it isn't to live in. The interior should provide a comfortable sleeping area protected from drafts. Don't make the mistake of building it too large, as this won't allow the dog's body heat to keep the air surrounding him warm.

The color of the animal's shelter is also important. A dark shelter absorbs heat in winter, but is deadly in summer. A light-colored shelter reflects summer heat, but won't absorb heat in winter. Use a medium color, such as green, or consider having a roof that is reversible -- black on one side for winter and white on the other for summer use.

An outdoor shelter should be raised above the ground on a platform or runners to avoid dampness or a heavy rain runoff. The shelter should be cleaned at least once each month, while the surrounding area or kennel should be cleaned daily, or intestinal parasites and microorganisms may flourish and cause disease.

Dogs must have fresh, cool water, which is changed frequently. Common problems include: using small, unanchored, and easily-tipped containers, metal containers left in the sun until the water is too hot to drink, and frozen water.

Burying the dog's water container halfway into the ground will keep the water cooler and make it less likely to be spilled. Solutions to prevent spilling include: anchoring a 5-gallon plastic bucket to a fence, stake, or shelter; placing a bucket inside an old milk bottle basket for stability, or inside two sports car tires. Whenever possible, locate the water in a shaded summer location and in a sunny winter location.

If the dog isn't kept in a fenced yard - the preferred outdoor situation - it should have a large run or kennel (at least 4-6' wide and 8-12' long), as well as daily exercise with its owner. If the animal is kept on a chain or similar device - never encouraged as it may make the dog aggressive - the length should be at least 12' long, with swivel snaps on both ends to prevent tangling and knotting.

A dog should never wear a 'choke chain' except for periods when it is receiving training. A proper restraint device for normal use would be a suitably-sized leather or nylon collar or harness with its snap ring and buckle in good repair. All dogs should wear a dog license, rabies vaccination tag, and microchip at all times.

Special precautions insure the animal can't tangle its chain or rope around trees, posts, and yard swings. Make sure the animal can't dig under or climb over fences, or fall from porches, stairways, or elevated patios, as HSU responds, each year, to several such reports of hung and hanging dogs.

WARM WEATHER CARE

If you decide to keep the dog outside, provide him with good shelter and shade, then stick with your decision. A house dog by day and outside at night, or vice versa, is hard on him, as inconsistencies weaken his resistance and leave insufficient opportunity to adjust to outside weather extremes.

Under normal circumstances an animal's body maintains a constant temperature by keeping a balance between heat gained and heat lost. If this heat-regulating mechanism is disturbed, a number of conditions can result: heat exhaustion, heat cramps, heatstroke, and sunstroke.

Unlike man and many other animals, dogs' sweat glands are not well developed, so less moisture evaporates from the skin; dogs lose heat primarily through the vaporization of moisture when they pant. When this system begins to fail, body temperature rises, the circulatory and respiratory systems are overtaxed to the point where permanent central nervous system damage or death may occur.

Heatstroke is a condition in which an animal collapses because the environmental temperature and humidity have increased beyond the point its body-control mechanisms can maintain a normal body temperature.

Symptoms develop when an animal has been kept closed up in a car, pen, house, or cement-floored cage without shade, adequate ventilation, or water.

The common response in dogs to rising temperatures is an increased breathing rate, which causes an increased water and carbon dioxide loss. Prolonged exposure to high temperatures and humidity or improper ventilation overtaxes the dog's heat-dissipating mechanisms and places an extra burden on circulatory and respiratory systems. These conditions are favorable for the onset of external heat stress.

Dogs are naturally able to tolerate a wide variation in temperature. When the dog's internal temperature exceeds 104 degrees, a breakdown in the body's equilibrium begins. Permanent damage to the brain may develop when the critical temperature rises to about 108 F.

Signs and complications of heatstroke include: failure of the circulatory system, damage to heart muscles, swelling in the brain, acute kidney failure, breakdown in the ability of the blood to coagulate, and widespread tissue destruction. The dog may pant excessively, slobber from the mouth, have a rapid, but weak pulse, hot and dry skin, elevated body temperature above 108E F., red mucous membranes, pale gray lips, and massive and sometimes bloody diarrhea. The animal will vomit, collapse, and finally sink into a coma and suffer respiratory arrest, resulting in death.

In Utah, the weather can be mild in the morning, but can change quickly and bring heavy rains, winds, and hail. If the dog doesn't have adequate shelter available, it will suffer these extremes of weather unprotected until the owner returns.

Working pet owners are usually aware of shade conditions when they leave for work, but do not consider that with the sun's movement, the shade may disappear, leaving the dog exposed to the sun. Shade should be provided in kennel runs and yards. Trees planted around the kennel provide excellent shade cover in summer. Hard plastic or fiberglass panels placed over part of the run provide shade, but in heavy snowfall areas the panels must be removed and stored during the winter to prevent damage or collapse.

Another good shade material is a perforated plastic fabric which can be stretched over a portion of the top of the pen. This blocks the heat of the sun, but still allows ventilation, where a solid cover would hamper air movement. The fabric is easy to store in winter.

Investigations