Hi Dr. Barchas–
I have a seven-year-old St. Bernard. He is very
healthy! With the weather getting warmer, I am
concerned about keeping him cool. The heat really
seems to bother him. When I let him inside he
pants so hard that I am worried he is going to either
pass out or have a heart attack!
So far, I’ve started limiting the amount of time
he’s outside. I took him to the groomer and had
him shaved. I’ve even started giving him dog ice
cream as a treat in the evenings. Nothing seems
What else can I do to help him? I’m really
concerned about his reaction to the heat this
Flower Mound, TX
There is no doubt about it: Saint Bernards were not bred to live in Texas. I am not surprised that your dog is having some trouble with the heat. Over time, he should be able to acclimatize and do well in your climate (I have seen Saint Bernards thriving in steamy, tropical countries). Unfortunately, it could take the beter part of the summer for him to get used to the heat. Until that time, you will have to be careful to prevent overheating and hyperthermia.
You have already taken several steps that I would recommend. I am strongly in favor of keeping him in an air conditioned location during the hottest portion of the day. Whenever he is outside, ensure that he has access to shade. Never leave him in the car on a sunny day, even if it isnt hot.
All dogs should have access to drinking water at all times. This is especially important if overheating is a concern. Shaving your dog will help to prevent overheating, but remember that it will increase his risk of sunburn.
One thing Im afraid that I cannot sign off on is the use of ice cream to cool him. Ice cream (even doggie ice cream) can contribute to weight problems, and dogs that are overweight are more likely to suffer from heat stroke. Instead of ice cream, I recommend that you offer ice cubes for him to lick.
Finally, for me there is nothing more refreshing on a hot day than a plunge into a cool swimming pool or the ocean. If you have a pool (and you are willing to let the dog swim in it) he may enjoy it as much as I do. Two caveats: do not leave him in the pool unattended, and do not force him to swim–it should be his choice.
If you are cautious and continue to exercise common sense, it is very likely that your dog will do well over the summer.