Beware Not the Ides of March but the Dog Days of Summer 

The “horse latitudes” consist of regions around the equator where the sea is often becalmed and sailors sweat it out without even the slightest breeze. They are so named because, dying of thirst, sailors threw horses overboard to conserve water. Or so the story goes.

The “dog days of summer” don’t limit themselves to one spot on the globe; they occur almost everywhere. Even in Alaska, temperatures can reach 90 degrees, and in Siberia, it can get almost that hot. In the northern hemisphere, the worst of the heat is in July and August. And the “dog days” can kill their namesakes, even if the origin of the phase doesn’t have anything to do with that awful outcome.

According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, “This period of sweltering weather coincides with the year’s heliacal (meaning ‘at sunrise’) rising of Sirius, the Dog Star. Sirius is part of the constellation Canis Majoris — the ‘Greater Dog’ — which is where Sirius gets its canine nickname.” It notes, “In ancient Greece, Egypt, and Rome, it was believed that the dawn rising of Sirius in mid-to-late summer contributed to the extreme weather of the season. In other words, the ‘combined heat’ of super-bright Sirius and our Sun was thought to be the cause of summer’s sweltering temperatures. The name ‘Sirius’ even stems from Ancient Greek seírios, meaning ‘scorching.’”

Now imagine this: As unbearable as sweltering temperatures can be for us, envision enduring summer with your entire body encased in an impermeable coating that seals all that heat inside you and prevents your skin from perspiring or “breathing.” Dogs do not have to imagine this — it is their reality. They are like combustion engines, and their open-mouth panting is how they work to expel the heat inside them that makes them miserable. No wonder they seek out tiled floors indoors and, when outside, dig for a cooler spot to lie down in.

The worst-afflicted dogs are the flat-faced, almost noseless breathing-impaired breeds (BIB), like bulldogs (French, English or any other kind), Boston terriers, pugs and Pekingese. These dogs have been bred to be unnaturally small “lapdogs” — portable, if you will — with tragically obstructed windpipes and nasal passages that drastically restrict their ability to breathe normally. Because they are in respiratory hell, they huff and puff, their tongues lolling out of their mouths. These poor dogs suffer with every wheeze and on every walk but particularly in hot weather.

What can we do? All dogs must be kept cool. Keep water handy, do not allow exertion on hot days and walk dogs on grass if possible and at cooler times of day. It’s vital to be vigilant to discomfort that can turn into heat prostration. Use the 5-second test before you walk a dog on pavement: Press your palm to the surface and see if it is uncomfortable for you. If it is, it’s too hot for your dog’s paws. And we can turn our own noses up at any attempt to sell us a dog without a natural face. Breeding BIBs is already banned in some countries, and let’s hope one sunny day, it’ll be banned here, too.