Senior Dog Swimming
It’s summer, and it’s pretty darn hot out there. I’m trying hard to stay cool, and my dogs are, too.

When it’s hot, hot, hot outside, it’s especially important to protect senior pets from temperature extremes. Older dogs can be more sensitive to hot weather than their younger peers and may fall victim to heatstroke more quickly than younger animals.

How do you know when your dog is a senior? It varies by individual, of course, but generally we consider small and medium-size dogs to be at the gateway of their golden years when they are 7, large breeds when they are 6, and giant breeds when they are 5.

Old Dogs Have Special Needs

We’re fortunate, though, to have all kinds of ways we can moderate the environment or make lifestyle changes to help our golden oldies stay comfortable when the mercury is rising. Here are eight ways to help your older pet survive the dog days of summer.

Enjoy the AC. Buster might have been fine outdoors all day when he was in his prime, but now it’s probably a good idea to make sure he has easy access to an air-conditioned environment. That’s especially true if he has heart or respiratory problems, is overweight or is a short-nosed breed such as a Bulldog or Pug (they are much less able to tolerate heat and humidity). Set the thermostat at a comfortable 76 degrees or cooler.

Soak up the shade. When he is outdoors, your pet needs plenty of shade, and a doghouse doesn’t cut it. (It gets hot inside.) Check out the way the sun moves through your yard so you know your pet always has a shady place to rest. If you don’t have trees to provide shade, set up a tarp or other overhead covering. If possible, use a fabric that’s treated to block the sun’s rays.

Chill his drinks. Cool water is a must. Throw some ice cubes into Buster’s water bowl, and change the water once or twice a day. Before you use a hose to fill the bowl, check the temperature of the water coming out of the hose. You’re better off using cold water from the tap.

Go for a swim. I bet your old dog still enjoys playing in the water or at least lying in it. Bring out the kiddie pool and fill it up to a safe level for your dog so he can get in some splash time. Or follow the example of a man I saw at a beach one day: He was throwing a bumper a short distance into the water and then helping his elderly Lab retrieve it. Made my heart sing.

Get up early. Walks are important for senior dogs, but if you’re used to going on a lunchtime outing or heading out right after work, you may want to alter your schedule as your dog gets up in years. Go early in the morning or wait until sunset when the heat isn’t shimmering off the sidewalk.

Dress for the weather. If you’re going to an event that will involve your dog working or walking outdoors — a nose work trial or a fun walk for charity, for instance — keep the heat at bay with pet clothing that has cooling features. Soak an evaporative cooling coat in cold water and put it on your dog. It can help him stay cool for hours. You can also moisten a bandana and place it in the freezer for a few minutes. Wrap it around your pet’s neck to help him stay cool. If you have any doubts about whether it’s too hot for your pup, use common sense. Take a rain check on outdoor events and spend some quality time hanging out in the AC until a cooler day comes around.

Serve cold treats. One word: pupsicles! Make your dog an icy treat that he can enjoy on a hot summer day. Freeze your dog’s Kong or whip up some simple banana and peanut butter frozen treats.

Sleep cool. People sleep better at lower temperatures, and I’m guessing pets are no exception. A number of special beds are available that will help your pet stay cool. If that’s not in your budget, place one or more of the gel packs sitting in your freezer inside the cover of your pet’s bed (where he can’t chew on it) for a little chill action.