Let’s put this in perspective: animals like you and me, we’ve got sweat glands for days. Mammals have not one but two types of secretory skin gland. The eccrine gland, the one tasked with heat regulation, is basically all over the place in our bodies—the palm alone boasting something like 370 sweat glands per square centimeter. That’s a lot of cooling power.
Dogs? Well, their “palms” are pretty much the only place they have sweat glands. This fact, come late summer, may well provoke a question in a kind-hearted canine caretaker like yourself: How do I help my dog stay cool?
We posed this question to our friend Cheryl Meyers, DVM, a Seattle-based relief veterinarian and friend of Invisible Fence® Brand. Here’s her 5 principles of hydration for our differently thermoregulated companions.
Calculate your dog’s water/weight ratio. Ok, so most days you don’t need a calculator. You “follow your nose” and manage to keep yourself and your dependents fed and nourished. No sweat. But on a sweltering day loaded down with activities, the scientific method might make the difference between a mild case of dehydration in your dog and a moderate-to-severe one. Luckily, calculating your pet’s water-to-weight ratio is easy.
Generally, dogs require 1 cup of water for every 10 pounds of body weight. But keep in mind that a hot, high-activity day could move the threshold of safety to twice that volume.
If you’re staying in the shade with a 20 lb. shorthaired Dachshund, two or three bowls (4-5 c.) of water will get you through the day just fine. But for a day-hike with a 50 lb. Lab-Husky mix? Think about packing a collapsible bowl and a gallon of spring water before you hit the road. “The goal,” Dr. Meyers reminds us, “is constant access to fresh, cool water in and away from home. If traveling or hiking, bring an extra water bowl or collapsible container and offer it at least every 15-30 minutes.”
Be a student of canine behavior. The second precaution you can take is to familiarize yourself with your dog’s self-cooling rituals. Dr. Meyers says to be mindful of a tipping point with panting: “Dogs have limited sweat glands, mostly in the pads of their feet, and so cool themselves on a hot day by panting. If panting is not enough to cool them, their body temperatures can rise to dangerous levels leading to heat stroke. If your dog starts to pant excessively, seems weak with sudden loss of energy, or is confused or stumbling, provide a cool location and cool water immediately. If signs don’t improve within 5-10 minutes, seek veterinary attention.”
Know her unique limitations. Inborn cooling strategies like panting and seeking shade can be further frustrated by genetic, temperamental, and other handicaps: “Risk factors include being a brachycephalic breed (short nosed dog such as pugs and bulldogs among others), being overweight, thickly furred dogs, dog with a history of respiratory disease or dogs that love constant, vigorous exercise.”
Don’t wait for a sign. Still, relying too heavily on physical signs of dehydration can be a risk in and of itself: “Early signs of dehydration (less than 5% of body weight) are actually not evident by observing your dog,” says Dr. Meyers, “which is why it is important to try to prevent it in the first place. It isn’t until a dog is more than 5% dehydrated that you may see signs such as tacky gums or the ‘skin tenting’ effect (where the loose skin over the shoulders is gently pulled up and released). At 7-10% dehydration, you may see the eyes sunken in. At greater than 10% shock can set in, which is a medical emergency.”
Remember to play slow. So much for the precautions. What’s one “positive” thing I can for my dog this summer? “As temperatures warm up during the summer,” Dr. Meyers counsels, “remember it can take weeks for your dog to acclimate. Always provide plenty of water, good ventilation, access to shade, and gradual increases in activity/exercise.”
If you’re looking for some of the best places in town to take your pup for some play AND shade this summer, here are our favorites. Remember: Dogs must meet all guidelines and maintain current vaccinations (Rabies with Tag Number, DHLPP & Bordetella) to utilize the off-leash areas. And, no children under the age of 12 are allowed in dog parks. Click here for more info on CharMeck’s dog park rules. And don’t forget their water!
Davie Dog Park at William R Davie District Park
4635 Pineville-Matthews Road
South Park Region
Davie Dog Park is our favorite dog park in town. It’s huge with tons of trees for shade AND places to swim. The PAWfect park!
Barkingham Park at Reedy Creek Park
2900 Rocky River Road
North Park Region
Inside Reedy Creek’s nature preserve with acres of trails for walking, biking, even fishing, Barkingham Park is the dedicated off leash area for your dogs roam free.
Swaney Pointe K-9 Park at Ramsey Creek Park(Lake Norman)
18441 Nantz Road
Cornelius, NC 28078
North Park Region
Swaney Pointe is divided into two sections so that dogs can play with others their own size – we love this!
1201 West 4th St.
Central Park Region
The separate fenced in areas for big dogs and little dogs will make you feel a little more secure if you’ve got a smaller dog, and it’s right off I-77, which makes it easy to get to.
Ray’s Fetching Meadow at McAlpine Creek Community Park
8711 Monroe Road
South Park Region
Located on Monroe Road, Ray’s Fetching Meadow is a huge fenced-in area for dogs of all sizes. There’s also plenty of seating and shade for you to relax and watch your pup play.
9500 Bellhaven Boulevard
North Park Region
Up in Northwest Charlotte, this is a large park with lots of trees and an open area for pups to get all their energy out.
Special thanks to Dr. Cheryl Meyers.