Summer is here to stay, and with the new season comes a new set of responsibilities for pet parents. Just as humans need sunscreen and extra hydration as temperatures spike, four-legged family members often need to adjust routines to beat the heat as well.
To that end, Dr. Eric Mueller, DVM, shared his expert advice on optimal exercise plans, ideal weight management tricks and tips for keeping Nash and Spike safe this summer.
Dr. Mueller is the owner and operator of Noah’s Bark Mobile Veterinary Services in the Atlanta area, and has partnered with Royal Canin on their “Fight the Beg” campaign.
What is the “body condition score”?
The body condition score goes from one to nine. One is extremely emaciated, and nine is extremely obese. Most healthy dogs run at about a four to a five. Some dogs run a little more slim, others run a little heavier – but a four to a five looks like good muscling in the shoulders, and in the hips. You want to be able to run your hand over the dog’s rib cage and feel the ribs.
If you cannot feel your dog’s rib cage, your dog is overweight. Likewise, if you can look at the dog and see the ribs, chances are the dog is underweight. It’s always very important to talk to your vet to make sure what a healthy weight is for your pet.
What’s the best approach for maintaining a healthy summer weight for pets?
I honestly don’t think it’s a good strategy to start managing your pet’s weight in the summer. I think you need to start in the winter and fall. Summer is actually the most dangerous times for obese pets, they’re more likely to overheat and have heatstroke. It’s something you really need to be proactive about and start thinking about in the winter and fall months.
How can pet parents ensure their four-legged friends are getting enough exercise?
When you talk about exercise, there’s no cookie cutter way to do it, no “one size fits all.” Every dog, depending on their age, breed and condition needs to have a different exercise program. There’s a lot of brachycephalic, like bull dogs and shih tzus — they can’t breathe, ventilate and dissipate heat as well as a longer-snouted dog.
It’s not ideal to run and jog with them in the middle of the day — or hike with them in high altitudes. I never recommend concussive activity, meaning hard-running movements that can put pressure on the joints when dogs are growing.
You always want a dog to be about a year old when you get into concussive activity because you don’t want to damage any joints, things like that.
How can owners keep their pets safe through the summer?
The obvious thing is, you don’t leave your pet in a hot car, unattended, everyone knows that, but still, people do it. There’s lots of other things that people really don’t think about. We saw a dog one time that had heat stroke because he was on a slip lead. He had free roam in the backyard but he was on a slip lead. He got tangled in a lawn chair and got tangled and it prevented him from getting to his water bowl and he had heat stroke and he almost died so never tie your pets up in a yard. Make sure they’re fenced in and have shade and water.
It’s very important if you have a pool and a dog or a cat that there’s stairs or a ramp on each side so it lessens a chance of drowning. Another thing people don’t think about it is walking or running your dogs in a hot summer day on asphalt, or pavement.
We see a lot of second-degree burns on foot pads because of that. People don’t realize we have shoes and they don’t, so they’re out running their dogs on the hot concrete and at the time the dogs don’t feel it but later they will develop large burns and blisters on their feet — so it’s very important that they’re running on gravel or grass or in the morning or at night time.