The "Dog Days of Summer"
Everyone knows that the “dog days of summer” occur during the hottest and muggiest part of the season. Webster defines “dog days” as...
- the period between early July and early September when the hot sultry weather of summer usually occurs in the northern hemisphere
- a period of stagnation or inactivity
But where does the term come from? Why do we call the hot, sultry days of summer “dog days?”
The dog days of summer are just around the corner, and pet
owners should be on guard for their furry friends' safety. Now
is the time to think about parasite control, heat stroke and
travel arrangements for cats and dogs.
In ancient times, different groups of peoples in different parts of the world drew images in the sky by “connecting the dots” of stars. The images drawn were dependent upon the culture: The Chinese saw different images than the Native Americans, who saw different pictures than the Europeans. These star pictures are now called constellations, and the constellations that are now mapped out in the sky come from our European ancestors.
They saw images of bears, (Ursa Major and Ursa Minor), twins, (Gemini), a bull, (Taurus), and others, including dogs, (Canis Major and Canis Minor
The brightest of the stars in Canis Major (the big dog) is Sirius
, which also happens to be the brightest star in the night sky. In fact, it is so bright that the ancient Romans thought that the earth received heat from it.
As pets spend more time outside during the warm weather, they
are likely to encounter a disease-transmitting insect such as
a tick, mosquito or flea. Pet owners should take a few minutes daily to run their hands, or a specialized comb, through their pet's fur to look for ticks.
Ticks can transmit diseases such as Lyme disease and Rocky
Mountain spotted fever.
In the summer, however, Sirius, the “dog star,” rises and sets with the
sun. During late July Sirius is in conjunction with the sun, and the ancients believed that its heat added to the heat of the sun, creating a stretch of hot and sultry weather. They named this period of time, from 20 days before the conjunction to 20 days after, “dog days” after the dog star.
The conjunction of Sirius with the sun varies somewhat with latitude. And the “precession of the equinoxes” (a gradual drifting of the constellations over time) means that the constellations today are not in exactly the same place in the sky as they were in ancient Rome. Today, dog days occur during the period between July 3 and August 11. Although it is certainly the warmest period of the summer, the heat is not due to the added radiation from a far-away star, regardless of its brightness.
Of course, the heat of summer is a direct result of the earth's tilt.
When it comes to keeping a pet healthy during the summer, owners need to be aware of how heat affects their animals. Remember that dogs have padded feet, and the sidewalk can be too hot for them. It's a good idea to walk them on grass if possible, and preferably in the early morning or evening."
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