How Dogs Will Be Affected by Climate Change - The Years Project

How Dogs Will Be Affected by Climate Change

By Anna Conkling

Owning a dog can reduce stress, anxiety, depression and encourage playfulness and exercise.  I have seen these benefits first hand, as someone who grew up surrounded by dogs. My own have provided companionship, someone to love, to play with, who comfort me when I feel upset. A world without dogs seems bleak. The instant joy of seeing a dog video or a brief, but loving encounter on the street would be gone. But as global temperatures rise, the wellbeing of man’s best friend may suffer.  

According to the World Meteorological Organization, July of this year was the hottest summer ever since recording-keeping began 140 years ago and The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies stated that extreme heat would only become worse as the climate crisis continues. A rise in temperatures will continue to make natural disasters such as tropical storms and heavy rainfall more severe. As extreme natural disasters worsen and spread diseases, not only will people suffer, but dogs will be significantly affected as well. 

Global Climate Report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, finds that 2019 was the hottest summer for the Northern Hemisphere on record since 1880. Dogs regulate their body temperature by panting, which allows them to release heat from their bodies and exchange it for cooler air. But dogs can only regulate their temperatures up until 90 degrees Fahrenheit before they become vulnerable to heat exhaustion or heatstroke. When a dog gets heat stroke, it can lead to damage to the brain, heart, and in some cases, death.

As global temperatures rise, the likelihood that dogs will reach the point of heat exhaustion faster increases. Because of this, dogs will not be able to stay outside alone for longer periods. It will require owners to keep a close eye on their dogs, even when they’re going on short walks. When a concrete slab is exposed to direct sunlight, it absorbs and stores a lot of heat and releases it slowly. Because concrete traps a lot of heat, it makes the slab very hot, which can lead dogs to burning their paws. When a dog burns its paw, it takes a long time to recover. Dogs burn off a lot of excess energy and genuinely love walks, but risks like heat exhaustion and burnt paws will make it hard for dog owners to make sure their dogs lead healthy, active lives. 

Natural disasters like floods and hurricanes and fires also pose a particular risk to pets, who are in danger of being abandoned or displaced–regardless of owner’s intentions. Some owners sadly don’t bring their pets along when asked to evacuate, but in many cases there simply isn’t time for owners to get their pets out of harm’s way when disasters strike suddenly. When Hurricane Harvey hit the city of Houston in 2017, hundreds of pets were displaced and some were even abandoned

The rise of the global average temperature will also create a breeding ground for parasites like ticks and insects like mosquitoes. Wetter, more humid environments, are perfect for ticks and mosquitoes. Ticks breed on their host and can spread diseases like Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Canine Bartonellosis that can cause heart and liver disease, and even death. Not only can ticks spread disease to your dog, but they can also jump species and infect humans. Lyme disease is spread to hosts through infected black-legged ticks, and commonly affects dogs. Lyme disease can cause inflammation in dogs’ joints, lameness, loss of appetite and in some rare cases heart and nerve problems.    

With wetter environments comes stagnant water, where mosquitoes lay their eggs. Female mosquitoes typically lay 100 eggs at a time and the number of mosquitoes is rising globally. One bite from an infected mosquito can cause your dog to have heartworms–a severe and fatal disease that, according to the American Heartworm Society’s website consists of “foot-long worms that (live in the) heart, lungs and associated blood vessels of affected pets, causing severe lung disease, heart failure, and damage to other organs in the body.”

In the words of 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg, “Change is coming, whether you like it or not.” We need to collectively decide whether we want that change to be positive, or if we will continue to let our climate become more unpredictable, more unstable, and affect the lives of ourselves and our animals. 

This can all seem a bit scary and overwhelming, but there are ways that we can ensure that our world lives on and that we can have the privilege of having dogs in our lives for long periods of time. The changes we make must include reducing carbon emissions by cutting down on burning fossil fuels and more importantly, voting out politicians who care more about money than the well-being of our world. 

If we take to the streets, reduce our carbon footprint and fight hard enough for real change– then we can ensure that our world will continue to include sloppy kisses from dogs, wet noses and animals that think the world of their owners.