Cooling coats have become a popular ‘practical accessory’ for use in warm weather, and especially with the recent heat wave, I’ve seen more and more of them!
Overheating is a big problem for dogs. They don’t have sweat glands like we do, just a few in their paw pads, so aren’t as efficient at cooling themselves down through sweating as us skin-bags!
For dogs, their main cooling ‘system’ is panting. They have a huge supply of blood vessels to their tongue, and they are able to flatten their tongues out, making them wider and flatter, to allow for a greater surface area. When they pant, they breathe in through their nose and then force air out through their mouth, over their big tongue! This cools the blood in the tongue which then circulates through the body, bringing down the core body temperature. Cool huh??
However, there is another trick that some dogs have, and it’s in their coat. We look at dogs with long coats and pity them in this heat – a big hairy jumper in this weather can’t be much fun. These coats, however, play an important role in cooling the dog!
These coats are called ‘double coats’ and have two layers. They have the undercoat which in winter is thick and lies close to the body keeping the dog warm, and the outer coat of ‘guard hairs’ that protect the dog against all elements – protecting him from the ice as well as sunburn (and even from injury from scratches and scrapes).
In the summer, the dog sheds his undercoat so he is just left with the outer coat of ‘guard hairs’. Cool air can circulate through the looser guard coat, close to the skin but the guard hairs prevent exposing the skin to the sun’s rays.
(This is why people are often advised against clipping double coated dogs too short in summer. When you shave that outer coat of guard hairs, the air flows over the shorter guard coat and the sun’s rays can penetrate thinner patches, double coats also don’t grow back the same as single, short coats so you risk damaging the dog’s coat for future growth.)
So cooling coats, where do they leave us? Don’t they sound like a great idea?
They do… until you consider the way that very clever double coat works. The dog sheds the thick undercoat so that there’s nothing heavy covering the skin, and airflow can move through the coat. How can you get airflow through a jacket?
In addition, if the jackets do cool the dog down, is it fair to fix it to the dog, so he has no choice? There are alternatives that allow the dog to choose when he needs to cool off.
Finally, in a study looking at core body temperatures of racing greyhounds, cooling coats were tested on a number of dogs against a control of dogs who ran without the coats. Rectal temperatures taken post-race revealed that the dogs wearing the cooling coats had a significantly higher core body temperature than those who ran without the jackets.
Now, I’m not saying that if you have a cooling coat and have seen that your dog appears more comfortable when wearing it, that you ditch it now! However rather than rushing out to buy one to cool your dog, I suggest the following:
- Firstly, ensure that you have groomed your dog and if you have a double coated dog, help strip out any undercoat that hasn’t come out naturally, this will really help.
Some dogs don’t naturally shed their undercoat for one reason or another – so it’s important to give them a hand.
- Lay a wet towel down for your dog to lie on, or over your dog briefly, if it is clear your dog is overheating. Allow them to move out from under it and don’t hang it over your dog for too long. Leaving it on the ground allows for your dog to choose when to use it
- A wet bandana or a special cooling bandana (they contain crystals that hold water and stay cooler for long) around your dog’s neck will keep him cool on the move without restricting airflow to his body and skin.
- Allow them to stand in a shallow pool of water to cool their paws down (cool paws will help keep the dog cool!)
- Walk early morning and late evening – not in the midday sun (you shouldn’t take your dog out at the warmest point of the day even with cooling gear)
- Keep to the shade
- Provide plenty of drinking water but be aware of water toxicity and don’t allow your dog to over drink.
We’d love to see your dogs enjoying the weather and keeping cool! You can comment on the blog or share to our social media!
Greyhound study: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fvets.2016.00053/full