Long sunny days are loved by humans and pets alike – it’s just the best time of year to enjoy time outdoors together. However, very hot weather can be challenging for our furry friends. Unlike us humans who have sweat glands all over our bodies to help us regulate our temperature, animals lack the ability to cool themselves down as easily.
Dogs and cats only have a few sweat glands around their noses and in their feet and rely on panting to cool themselves down. Small pets – such as rabbits, guinea pigs and ferrets – don’t sweat and can’t pant, and so find high temperatures even more difficult. Chinchillas have no ability to dissipate heat and can be at risk of fatal seizures when the mercury rises.
That’s why it’s vitally important that we do all we can to help our pets stay cool and calm during a heatwave. Here are our top 5 summer heatwave tips:
1. Adapt your routines
Your dog walking routine may run like clockwork but, In the height of summer, it’s time to change things up a little. Between noon and 3pm, as well as the burning rays of the sun to contend with, pavements can be hot enough to burn paws. Certain flat-faced breeds who can suffer from breathing issues, such as Pugs, Bulldogs and Boxers, should never be exercised in the heat of the day. Go early to make the most of the cool of the morning and later in the evening when the heat of the day has passed. Your dog will learn to adapt to the change and appreciate it.
2. Provide shade from the sun
While cats are notorious sun seekers and many dogs enjoy soaking up some vitamin D, providing shelter from harsh rays is vital. If your garden doesn’t have much natural shade then it could be worth investing in a large, free-standing parasol or a ‘pop up’ sun shelter, like those used at the beach. Encourage your pets to seek out these shaded areas by placing a familiar blanket down for them.
When it comes to small pets, look at where the sun’s rays are positioned throughout the day and reposition outdoor accommodation so that they’re sheltered from the sun’s direct rays. A blanket placed on top of one end of your pets’ run will provide a shady, cool place.
The same applies for the homes of indoor pets – move them well away from windows and draw the curtains. Using an electric fan in the room where indoor pets live can help keep the air circulating. Just make sure the fan is not near enough for any wires to be reachable and never direct it straight at your pet’s cage.
Keeping your pet at a healthy weight is a great way to help them during hot weather – being heavier than they should makes it harder for them to stay cool. Find out more about managing your pet’s weight here >>
3. Brush up on grooming
Brush long-haired cats, dogs, rabbits and guinea pigs daily as matted fur traps heat. Medium- haired breeds will need brushing a few times a week to remove the dead hairs. Short-haired breeds will just need a weekly going over. If it looks like a prolonged heatwave has set in, some pets may benefit from a summer trim.
Find out how to help your bunnies look and feel their best >>
4. Have some splashing good fun
A splash in a children’s paddling pool, may be enjoyed by dogs and ferrets to help them keep their cool (but don’t force them if they’re not keen). Never leave them unattended.
For hot cats, rabbits and guinea pigs, try gently stroking their fur with a cool, damp flannel – with bunnies, carefully damp their ears too, as this is the part of their body that they lose heat from. As the water evaporates, it will provide a cooling effect.
Pets need to stay hydrated and should have constant access to clean, cool water. One way to encourage pets to drink more – particularly cats who often turn their feline noses up at a still bowl of water – is a pet water fountain. Ferrets are likely to enjoy this too.
Never, ever leave a pet in a parked car unattended, even for a short while. When it’s 22°C/72°F outside, the temperature inside a car can reach 47°C/117°F within 60 minutes. Leaving a window open or a sunshield on windscreens won’t keep your car cool enough.
5. Invest in some totally cool products
Pet product retailers have cottoned on to the fact that owners are keen to help their pets cope with hot weather and there are all sorts of cool products available. From pet cooling mats, which automatically cool when your dog or cat sits on them, to cooling coats, collars and cushions.
Small pets can benefit from an innovative product called Ice Pod. Simply place the frozen Ice Pod in your pet’s hutch, run, pet carrier or favourite hiding place and watch them get totally chilled out. Suitable for rabbits, guinea pigs, ferrets and rats, your pets will love lying on its snuggly shape.
Or why not create some DIY versions? Litre plastic bottles, three-quarters filled with water and popped in the freezer, can be placed under a towel so that your rabbit or ferret can lean against them. Keep a close eye so that no chewing ensues.
Also try draping well-rung out cold wet towels over hutches or cages to cool them down. Be wary of plastic guinea-pig igloos as these can become very hot in the summer and are best replaced by an alternative hidey-hole such as a cardboard box with an entrance and ventilation holes cut into it.
*** AN IMPORTANT MESSAGE ABOUT HEATSTROKE ***
Heatstroke occurs when heat generation exceeds the body’s ability to lose heat. As an animal’s body temperature rises, they will suffer heat exhaustion and eventually heatstroke. If the body temperature is not brought down, serious organ damage or death can result. Heatstroke is an emergency situation that needs treatment right away.
Any pet, even those who are young, fit and healthy, can get heatstroke. However, some pets are more vulnerable, such as:
- Flat-faced dog breeds such as Pugs, Bulldogs and Shih Tzus,
- Persian cats
- Netherland dwarf and Lionhead rabbits
- Pets with very thick fur
- Old or very young pets
- Overweight pets
- Pets with breathing or lung problems
- Pets on certain medication
Our in-house vet, Dr Suzanne Moyes, outlines everything you need to know about heatstroke including the signs to watch out for and what actions to take here >>
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Sources: pdsa.org.uk, rspca.org.uk, onlineguineapigcare.com, guineapigsaustralia.com.au, thespruce.com, petcha.com