Keeping Dogs in the Tropics: What to Know

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Dogs are remarkably adaptable animals that can acclimatize to most temperatures. However, keeping a dog in the tropics requires some special knowledge.

Imagine walking around in the 30-something degree heat with a fur coat on all day. Or worse, with two fur coats! The best kinds of dogs for a scorching tropical climate are those with a single coat, or better yet, no fur at all.

Many breeds of dogs originate from warm climates and will be more genetically suited to tolerate hot temperatures, such as the Afghan Hound from Afghanistan or the Chihuahua from Mexico.

chihuahua-dog
A Chihuahua is well suited for warmer climates. Image: Ann-Marie Blomma

Dogs with longer muzzles are generally more comfortable with high temperatures. Long muzzles can process warm air and cool it down by the time it’s breathed in.

In addition, perky ears are more suited for the tropics, while droopy ears like those of Cocker Spaniels trap heat and inhibit airflow.

While not exhaustive, some breeds that are suited for life in the tropics include:

    1. Chihuahua
    2. Australian Cattle Dog also known as a Blue Heeler
    3. Afghan Hound
    4. Yorkshire Terrier
    5. Chinese Crested Dog
    6. Airedale Terrier
    7. Great Dane
    8. Pitbull and Staffordshire Terrier
    9. German Shorthaired Pointer
    10. Italian Greyhound
    11. Schnauzer
    12. Poodle
    13. Maltese
    14. Bichon Frise
    15. Weimaraner
    16. Labrador Retriever
    17. Kelpie
    18. Doberman Pinscher
    19. Border Collie
    20. Visla

Northern breeds like the Spitz, Alaskan Malamute and Siberian Husky are likely to have a miserable time in the tropics, so think twice before getting a double-coated dog bred for cold climates.

Imagine being bred for sub-zero temperatures and being made to live in the very opposite!

siberian-husky
Siberian Huskies are ill-suited for life in the tropics. Image: Milano Negro

Special Requirements for Keeping Dogs in the Tropics

1. Water, water, water!

When the temperatures rise, water consumption goes up dramatically.

Having fresh drinking water available at all times is crucial to a dog’s health. Use plenty of dog bowls placed at different spots throughout the house. Remember that certain areas can be in the sun in some parts of the day, which will heat up the water in the bowl especially if it’s behind glass.

When going on a hike or other physical activities, double the water you think you might need for yourself for your dog – of course that will also depend on the dog’s size.

Dehydration is a potentially dangerous condition that, if left unchecked, can have severe consequences. Symptoms of dehydration include:

    • Lethargy and loss of energy
    • Loss of appetite
    • Excessive panting and drooling
    • Vomiting or diarrhea
    • Sunken, dry eyes
    • Dry, sticky gums
    • Loss of elasticity in the skin

An excellent way to check for dehydration is to pull up some skin between the shoulder blades gently. If the skin springs back into place when you let go, your dog is well hydrated.

If the skin takes a while to fall back into place, your dog might be dehydrated.

2. Time the walks

walking-dog-in-forest
Use shady forest trails if available where you live. Image: Stephen Goldberg

While it might be tempting to head out during all hours of the day, it’s best to time long walks for the early morning or evening.

Even short walks on hot pavements or asphalt can burn sensitive paw pads and cause severe pain. Test the temperature by placing the back of your hand against the ground for seven seconds. If you struggle to hold your hand to the hot ground, it’s too hot for a walk.

Try sticking to grass trails and avoid scorching concrete or asphalt wherever possible. The general rule of thumb is if it is too hot for you to walk barefoot, it is definitely too hot for your dog!

3. Heatstroke

dog-panting
Watch closely for signs of heatstroke, the most common heat-related sickness in dogs. Image: Miriams-Fotos

Dogs regulate their temperatures by sweating through their paws, noses, and panting. Heatstroke happens when they are no longer able to regulate their temperature. Breeds with thick fur and short noses like Pugs are more likely to suffer from heatstroke.

Watch your dog closely in hot weather for symptoms of heatstroke such as:

    • Drooling excessively
    • Rapid heart rate
    • Excessive panting
    • Red gums
    • Lethargy and weakness
    • Excessive thirst
    • Vomiting or diarrhea
    • Staggering or collapsing

If you suspect heatstroke in a dog, visit a veterinary medical professional immediately. Heatstroke is a potentially fatal condition if left untreated.

4. Apply sunscreen

Just like us, dogs can suffer from sunburn too, especially with breeds with short hair. Dogs cannot use sunscreen meant for humans as they often contain ingredients that are toxic if ingested.

Check with your vet about the availability of sunscreen for dogs and test the product on a small patch of your dog’s skin before applying it all over the body.

Sensitive areas like the nose, lips, ears, and belly often get sunburned, especially if you have to be out and about during the hottest times of the day.

5. Use damp rags or towels

Dogs will cool themselves from the paws and belly. Keeping their paws wet or placing a damp blanket or old towel for them to lie on is an excellent way of helping them regulate their temperature.

Their ears are particularly sensitive to temperature. Keeping the tips of the ears hydrated will also help cool your dog down.

6. Never leave your dog in the car

dog-in-car
Temperatures in the tropics make it dangerous to leave a dog in a car. Image: Erik McLean

A car is a heat-absorbing metal box that can reach dangerous temperatures. Even with the windows partly open, temperatures in a car can skyrocket to 50°C within minutes.

When it is 32°C outside, it takes approximately 10 minutes for the car’s interior to hit 43°C, and 30 minutes to reach 54°C.

In many areas, leaving a dog in the car is illegal, and you could be charged with a crime. If you notice a dog kept in a parked vehicle on hot days, you can try to help locate the owner or call local authorities.

7. Regulate outdoor time and exercise.

Avoid extended exercise periods and walks from 10 am to 5 pm. Dogs in hot weather need way less exercise, and of course make sure to bring plenty of fresh water when going out for a walk.

Avoid running and stick to brisk walking instead unless your dog is highly active and needs a good run.

8. Play with water. A LOT!

dog-on-bali-beach
Take your dog to the beach, if allowed, whenever you can. Image: Artem Beliaikin

Having a cheap kiddy pool, large bucket, or sprinkler system can keep your pooch happy and wet. Even hosing your dog down every few hours will significantly ease discomfort, especially during the hottest times of the day.

Take a half day off when you can and go hang out at the beach or lake if dogs are allowed. Bring an umbrella to build your own little picnic spot out of the sun and be sure to stay hydrated.

Swimming is an excellent way to exercise your dog without risking dehydration and exhaustion from the intense heat. Nothing beats spending an unbearably hot day in the water! When introducing your dog to water, start slow and monitor the response.

A dog that is a weak swimmer can swallow mouthfuls of contaminated water and suffer gastrointestinal upsets. You can use a doggy life jacket for extra security and peace of mind, especially if spending loads of time in the water.

9. Provide constant airflow

dog-lying-down
Good crossflow ventilation helps to keep your dog cool. Image: Pexels

Blasting mist-spraying industrial-sized fans will go a long way into encouraging airflow around the house and outdoor living spaces. If your house is not air-conditioned but has louvers, ensure they are open to provide crossflow ventilation.

In tropical climates, being in the sun can significantly exacerbate dehydration and other heat illnesses, so if your dog likes to hang out in the garden, ensure there are some shady spots where you don’t mind the dog laying.

10. Dog cooling products

There are a variety of products such as cooling mats, jackets, and collars available on the market, but check out customer reviews first to ensure they really work and are not just a gimmick.

Some studies have shown that dogs wearing a cooling vest with rechargeable packs can help maintain a comfortable body temperature, even during activity.

11. Keep hair trimmed, not shaved!

dog-having-hair-trimmed
Most dogs enjoy a trip to the salon for a hair trim. Image: Mylene2401

Brush your dog’s coat regularly to remove dead hair and dander that often get trapped in the coat.

While it is okay to trim down long-haired dogs, never shave down to the skin. Dogs need their coats to insulate themselves against heat, catch the breeze and have a functioning cooling system. In addition, shaving their coats down exposes their skin and leaves them vulnerable to skin cancer and sunburn.

12. Flea, tick, and preventative medication

dog-scratching
Keep an eye out for excessive scratching or body rubbing. Image: birgl

Hot, humid climates are breeding grounds for fleas, ticks, worms, and other pesky critters. Fleas and ticks are found year-round in tropical climates, multiplying quickly and are extremely difficult to get rid of if left unchecked.

When fleas bite, they can cause irritation and dermatitis in dogs. When infected dogs scratch their bites, they can damage their skin and cause infections.

Tick-borne diseases can have serious health consequences not only for dogs but for humans. These nasty buggers can cause Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Lyme disease, Anaplasmosis, and Babesiosis.

Bites can be hard to spot, but just because you don’t see them doesn’t mean they aren’t there. Symptoms of a flea or tick bite include:

    • Excessive scratching
    • Rubbing the head or body against furniture
    • Shaking the head
    • Excessive chewing, licking, or grooming, often to the point that the skin becomes raw and inflamed

Keep up to date with all medications like flea, tick, and heartworm. Check with your veterinarian on the optimal ways of dealing with infestations.

So now you can see that keeping dogs in the tropics is not that difficult but there some important things to remember and a few things to avoid. Follow these simple guidelines and you’ll have a happy dog enjoying life in the tropics as much as you do.

 

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