As always, we had a fabulous time at Woofstock this year. It was great catching up with some of the Bullmarket French Bulldog puppies (yes, they’re all ‘puppies’ still to me – even the three year old ones!) and their owners, and meeting new French Bulldog friends. I missed Ashleigh and Friday, but as you can see from the photo, he managed to keep himself entertained none the less.
Not all was well this year, however. Almost everyone who lives in the Toronto area has heard the horrific news of the couple who left Woofstock with their Lab mix and then left him locked in the car while they shopped at Vaughn Mills Shopping Mall. The dog, a Chocolate Lab named Charlie, died of heat stroke.
This was the first year that I saw French Bulldogs and Frenchie mixes who were suffering seriously from the heat. In one case, I intervened when I noticed a pied French Bulldog puppy who was obviously in the first stages of serious heat stroke. While I’m sure her parents were left with the impression that I was an interfering busybody, I’d rather they dislike me than hear later on that their dog had died.
I’ve discussed before how to prevent and treat heatstroke, but the simple fact of the matter is that, by the time your dog is actually in first stage heatstroke they are already well in distress. Heatstroke is a killer that operates on several levels, including traumatic organ failure, and the effects on internal organs have begun by the time we see external signs. Worst of all, once a person or an animal has experienced heat stroke, they are left more susceptible to future, progressively more serious occurrences.
First, let’s address why all dogs are at risk for heat stroke, and why flat faced breeds like French Bulldogs are at increased risk.
For humans, the primary way our bodies regulate temperature is through sweating. Contrary to popular opinion, dogs do sweat, but do so mainly through the pads of their feet. When those feet are in contact with hot pavement, as they were at Woofstock, this is an ineffectual method of cooling. The primary method dogs use to control body temperature is through panting, which works like a heat exchange, removing hot air through the body with exhalations, and moving cooler air over the moist tongue and back into the body. Dogs with short muzzles have less space for cooling, so do an inefficient job at doing so. Elongated palates and tight nares make this even more difficult for brachycephalic dogs, providing an obvious reason for why it’s so important to pay attention to good breathing as a corner stone of a responsible breeding program.
Logically, then, our best bet is to keep our dogs cool enough that they never get into distress at all, and there are a few tools, many of them simple and inexpensive, that we can use to manage our French Bulldog’s body temperature.
See more after the cut – long entry, image heavy.
The first is to help to provide an artificial method of ‘sweating’ for our dogs, via a Cool Coat. A cool coat is a jacket that wraps around our dogs, and is kept moist by applications of water. This allows heat to dissipate from your dog’s body, just as sweat on the surface of our skin does for people. The moist coat wicks heat away from the body surface, which in turn draws heat from the internal organs, effectively keeping the dog cool from the outside in. Most cool coats are made of chamois material, which you soak thoroughly in water to activate, and which then stays moist for up to three hours. To keep the coat’s action effective, you re moisten it with cool water.
The best designed coats have a piece which wraps under the dog, cooling their belly as well as their back. This is the most efficient method of cooling organs as well as skin.
De Huffard, of Designs by De, makes beautiful custom cool coats that are reasonably priced. Best of all, if you order a custom cool coat from her using our store, she has agreed to donate a portion of the sales from each coat ordered back to French Bulldog Rescue.
NOTE: Do NOT put a cool coat on a dog in active heat stroke! The coat will act to trap the overheated air from the surface of the dog’s body, similar to a sauna, and impede its ability to evaporate. Instead, soak the dog down repeatedly with cool – not cold – water. Cool coats are meant to prevent heat stroke, not alleviate it once it has occurred.
In a pinch, if you don’t have a cool coat handy, you can use a makeshift cool coat with a natural cotton terry hand towel. Soak in water, and drape across your dog’s back and underneath their belly. If you don’t have a towel, a white cotton child’s sized t shirt can be soaked in water and put on the dog. Be careful with t shirts, though – moisture evaporates from them fast, and then your dog is simply wearing a piece of fabric which is making it more difficult for heat to evaporate from their body. Re soak towels or t shirts every twenty minutes or so.
Misters and Spray Bottles
To reactivate cool coats, or for general cooling purposes, pick up a spray bottle of the type you’d use for plants – you can get them at the dollar store. Tuck it into your belt, and mist or spray your dog frequently, to keep their coat damp. Spray the top of their head, too – it helps to cool their breath and to keep their brain cool.
At shows, I’ve seen people using the pump actions misters that you would use to spray chemicals on plants. Buy a new one – don’t reuse an old one! – mark it “Water only”, then carry it with you to ring side or to special events. It provides a fine mist in a regular pattern, without soaking your dog more heavily in one area over another. You can also buy personal use misters, which come with a clip meant to attach to your belt, and which are more practical for day to day use.
No Frenchie friendly summer time yard is complete without a wading pool. Keep it filled to just a few inches deep, and more adventurous Frenchies will pop in and out as they feel the need. Dump out the water every few days, and clean the pool with some vinegar and water, to prevent algae growth and to get rid of filth tracked in by Frenchie feet. Be prepared for dirty dogs – mine like to dip into their pool, then roll in the dirt. Eventually, they start to look like they’ve been breaded with tempura batter.
If you want a pool you can take with you to outside events with your dog, Gaurdian Gear makes a portable, collapsible pet pool. Madge tried one of these out at Woofstock, and gave it two paws up, although I should note that the sides are too high for the average French Bulldog to jump in and out of without assistance.
Gel Pet Cooling Pads
Dogs which are particularly susceptible to heat enjoy the effects of a gel cooling pad, which wicks heat away from internal organs while they lie on it. A cool belly is a cool dog, and you can get good quality cooling pads for as little as $20.
A soaked cotton terry towel on the ground can also serve as a low cost alternative to a gel pad.
K&H and several other companies make an orthotic pet bed that also acts as a cooling pad. If you’ve ever slept on a water bed that wasn’t fully heated, you know how efficient it is at drawing heat out of your body. These pet beds act in the same manner, drawing heat away from your dog via a cooled chamber of water.
I’ve made these myself, using the pillow portion of an old fashioned air mattress. Fill with a 1/2 inch of water, and slip inside the cover of a heavy duty pet bed, so that it will next to the pet’s skin under the exterior cover. In case of leaks, use the home made versions outside only, or in areas where water won’t cause damage if it escapes.
Elevated Pet Beds
When the temperature inside the house gets muggy, my dogs stop sleeping on their beds, and start sleeping on the cool tile floors. If your house is carpeted, it can be difficult for your dogs to find a cool place to lie. An elevated pet bed allows air to circulate around your dog, while also keeping them off the ground. A good elevated bed should be able to be hosed clean, making it suitable to outside use. Coolaroo makes a good one that’s also affordable.
Access to Drinking Water
In hot weather, dogs and people alike require access to an unlimited supply of fresh, cool drinking water. I take a dog dish and a large bottle of our drinking water wherever I go, so that the dogs can always have a drink. Pick up an attachment you can add to your own water bottle, and your dog can get a drink on the go.
Exercise When It’s Cool
This is a fairly simple rule – exercise your dogs only during the cool parts of the day. Evenings and very early mornings are best, or cool and overcast days. You might mind a bit of rain, but your Frenchie will appreciate the cooling affects of it on their skin, so don’t rule out a short walk in a summer shower.
When you make plans to attend outdoor events, make sure that there will lots of shady areas available, and bring your hot weather kit with you – water, water bottles (enough to recharge cool coat), cool coat, mister and cool pad or cotton towel to provide cooling area for your pet to lie on. Make note of water sources at the event.
Most importantly, when in doubt, SKIP IT! If it’s ninety degrees out and your dog doesn’t do well in the heat, why are you bringing them? They’re obviously not going to enjoy an event where it’s too hot for them to even breathe, and there’s no festival, picnic or Doggie Event in the world worth risking our dog’s well being.
Finally, never ever underestimate how hot it gets inside of a parked car, even in “just a few minutes”. If you want visual proof, check out this video, which shows a pan of cookies baking inside of a parked car!