Keeping your brachycephalic doggo safe this summer

By Samantha Fergusson (Vet Nurse and bulldog mum)

We all know that when the heat comes, the danger levels rise for our dogs. Summer brings longer days, higher temperatures and of course more outdoor activities with our pooches. Heat stroke and hot concrete can be very scary but there is a type of dog that it is even more dangerous for our brachycephalic dogs. These include bulldogs, pugs, boxers, maltese, shih tzus, pekingese and Boston terriers and some cross breeds of these. Brachycephalic dogs have a shortening of their nose, meaning they cannot cool themselves down by panting as they cannot breathe or pant efficiently due to a condition called Brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome (BOAS for short). BOAS breeds have a hard time in the heat as not as much air passes through the opening as the long-nosed breeds. Having a compromised airway can be life threatening so we are here to give you some tips and tricks on how to best enjoy your summer with your smoosh faced pal.

I know the dangers of the heat myself as I have a British Bulldog (Daisy in the picture) and all her 4 years of life have been hard, especially in summer time. Here’s what I do to protect her against the risks of heat stroke and some ideas to keep her entertained in summer.

  • I avoid having her outside altogether. This is sometimes not an option for everyone, make sure you are always watching your brachy dog If they are outside and watch for increase in respiration rate/panting and bring them inside after they have been outside for 5-10minutes.
  • Water, it’s a no brainer. But making sure their water bowl is changed daily and is kept indoors out of the sun. I like to have ice cubes in my freezer and will quite often add them to her water bowl to keep the water nice and cold.
  • Exercising shouldn’t be done during the day when the temperature is warmer, instead opt for an early morning walk (before the sun rises) or a lovely evening walk as the sun goes down. These are often the cooler times of day and I have noticed we can walk a little longer!
  • Keeping weight off your brachy doggie is essential. Obviously with weight increase you have a number of health issues but if it’s hard for them to move then often enough it is hard for them to breathe. Keep them lean, this is important for all dogs too.
  • I avoid using a collar and I reach for her harness. This avoids any tension around her neck and trachea ensuring enough air can get down as their trachea is often smaller than other breeds. Whatever you do, do not use a choker chain on these breeds, as added tension can be fatal.
  • Aircon! Having a fan or aircon on inside can provide them a safe haven from the heat (not just for them but for us too!)
  • I like to get creative and make dog friendly ice blocks. Bananas, peanut butter (use peanut butter without xylitol) apples and wet dog food. These all freeze well and are a great alternative to normal dog treats during summer.

Obviously, it is hard to follow these strictly, and we understand that dogs will be dogs! So, here are some signs of heat stroke to watch out for:

  • Increase in panting
  • Laboured or noisy panting
  • Difficulty walking or slowing down of their walking
  • Vomiting

Keeping our very vulnerable smoosh faces safe this summer is vital. If you are worried about them at any point, try cooling them immediately. Towels soaked in water, fans and placing them in shallow cool water will help and contact us to bring them into the clinic as soon as possible.

It is also important to remember that this is not just for brachy breeds but also applies to all dogs, especially black coats, older dogs and pets with a compromised heart or lungs. As well as heatstroke as a potential danger during summer, hot concrete (including footpaths and roads) can get very hot. The SPCA has recommended that if you can’t hold the palm of your hand on hot concrete for longer than 5 seconds then it is too hot for your dog to walk on. Hot concrete can cause severe blistering of the paw pads and is not comfortable for them.

We love our brachycephalics but with owning one, there does come some risks and it is important to let your whole family know what to do to prevent, what to look out for and what to do should it happen to our loved ones. If you have any questions and want more information feel free to contact us, we are here to help you and your short nosed doggies stay cool this summer.