It’s totally cool – a summer safety guide for pets
While we’re all hoping for another long, hot summer, scorching sunny days can be challenging for our furry friends. When it comes to keeping pets cool in summer, there are lots of things we can do to help. Check out our summer pet safety tips to help your furry friends remain cool, calm and comfortable.
Over the summer months, the RSPCA receives hundreds of reports about the welfare of animals, particularly when it’s very hot – from dogs left in hot cars, pets with heat burns on their paws from pavements, to dogs who’ve been over-exercised in the heat. That’s why every pet guardian needs to know how to help animals enjoy summer safely.
For example, if you’re planning a fun day out, it’s tempting to take your dog with you. However, spending prolonged periods of time in the sunshine without shade poses a really serious risk to your pet. Depending on where you’re planning to go and what you’re hoping to do, It may be better to leave your canine chum at home – but for no more than four hours.
Speaking to Your Dog magazine, RSPCA pet welfare expert Dr Samantha Gaines said: “It is really important we make sure to plan how we’ll keep our pets cool and comfortable. It will be tempting during the hot weather for us to want to spend lots of time outside with our families and take our pets, but taking our dogs out with us for walks or to the park could really put them at risk of suffering heat stroke or exhaustion.”
Why hot weather affects animals so much
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.
Happy dog days – how to keep a dog cool in summer
PDSA advises: “Dogs can’t cool down as easily as we can. They mainly use panting to keep cool, and can’t sweat through all of their skin, only their paw pads. Coupled with their fur, which is like wearing an insulated coat, this can make them prone to overheating. Some dogs will struggle more than others on hot days. These dogs might need a bit of extra TLC in the summer months and extra care to stay hydrated.”
Canines who find coping with heat difficult include:
- Dogs with short snouts and flat faces, such as Pugs, Bulldogs and Pekingese, who often have breathing difficulties. If your pet snores or snorts they’re likely to have these problems. While they may cope most of the time, hot weather can make breathing more difficult for them and they are unable to cool themselves down as well through panting. If you have a flat-faced dog, it’s important to be aware of their breathing and take extra care that they don’t wear themselves out in hot weather
- Dogs with thick coats will get hot more quickly and be less able to cool down than dogs with shorter fur. Breeds such as German Shepherds, Huskies or Chow Chows might need extra help cooling down during a heatwave. Regular grooming of these breeds is important to maintaining good coat health. When it comes to keeping cool, they might even appreciate a summer trim
- Giant dog breeds such as the Bernese Mountain Dog, Newfoundland, St Bernard, Pyrenean Mountain Dog and Irish Wolfhound can struggle to keep themselves cool simply because of their larger size
- Older dogs or dogs with ongoing health problems are generally more sensitive to hot weather and could overheat more easily
- Overweight dogs who are carrying extra weight puts their whole body under additional strain. This can make a big difference when they’re trying to cool themselves down. Find out more about managing your pet's weight >>
Exercising your dog in hot weather
Dogs still need regular walks even in high summer, but there are things you can do to help keep your dog happy in the heat. PDSA suggests:
- Walk early or late – Avoid walking your dog in the hottest part of the day – early mornings and evenings will be much more comfortable for you both
- Set an easy pace – Encourage them to slow down by setting a slower pace and giving them plenty of time to sniff and explore
- Hot pavements and roads – Hot surfaces can really hurt your dog's foot pads, particularly tarmac or sand. If these surfaces feel too hot for you, the chances are your dog's thinking the same
- Keep to shady areas – Plan your walks and try to include places where there is shade
- Short and sweet – Take two or three short walks throughout the day, instead of one long one
Battersea advises Introducing new games that don't involve too much running around. For example:
- Hide toys or treats and let your dog sniff them out
- Use toys or treats to encourage your dog into a shaded paddling pool
- Freeze food or use special food puzzles to keep your dog stimulated without too much exertion
You could also
- Make sure your dog has a shady spot in the garden to rest in. Trees and shrubs create natural shade but you can also hang a tarpaulin or put up a gazebo
- Set up a shallow pet paddling pool or washing up bowl filled with cool water to give your dog a place to cool off their paws
- Create a chill out room indoors with a fan and some cool, damp towels for your dog to lie on, or buy cooling beds and mats from your local pet shop
!!! NEVER leave pets in vehicles, caravans, conservatories or outbuildings in hot weather. “Not long” is too long !!!
Blue Cross advises: “A car can become an oven very quickly even when it doesn’t feel that warm. When it is 22°c outside, within an hour, the temperature in a car can reach an unbearable 47°c. If you see a dog in distress inside a car, official advice is to dial 999 immediately and ask for the police. A dog in distress in a hot car is an emergency and the police will advise you what to do based on the situation.”
MORE ADVICE: Dogs and water mean fun times for our four-legged pals on a blazing summer’s day – as long as you choose the right swimming locations and avoid potential wet and wild hazard hot spots >>
Check out our 10-point guide to making travelling in the car with your dog a positive, happy experience this summer >>
Chilled out cats – how to keep a cat cool in summer
While cats are notorious sun seekers, providing shelter from the sun is vital. If your garden doesn’t have much natural shade, invest in a large, free-standing parasol or a ‘pop up’ sun shelter, like those used at the beach. Encourage your cat to seek out these shaded areas by placing a familiar blanket down for them.
Pets need to stay hydrated and should have constant access to clean, cool water. One way to encourage them to drink more – particularly cats who often turn their fussy feline noses up at a still bowl of water – is a pet water fountain.
More tips to help your kitty cat keep their cool include:
- Try to keep your cat indoors during the hottest times of the day – usually between 11am and 3pm
- Apply a pet sunscreen (not a human one) to the nose and ear tips of pale-coloured cats when they do go outside
- Keep a room in your house cool and well-ventilated by drawing curtains and opening windows if there’s a breeze, so your cat has a cool, comfy place to rest. Remember that cats love to nap and will happily snooze for up to 16 hours a day!
- Let your cat choose a cool place to lie down. They’ll naturally gravitate towards a slate floor, the kitchen sink or by a fan in summer, just as they’ll curl up in a warm place in winter
- Don’t worry if your cat seems to be grooming more than usual. This is a cooling mechanism similar to sweating – as the saliva evaporates off their fur, your cat will cool down. You can help them out by grooming them regularly
- Take special care of flat-faced breeds such as Persians as they will struggle with their breathing a lot more in the heat
MORE ADVICE: Allowing cat access to the outside world provides them with valuable exercise opportunities and mental stimulation. But what can you do to help keep them out of harm’s way? Find out how to keep your cat safe in the great outdoors >>
Summer sense for small furries – how to keep small pets cool in summer
When it comes to small pets, there are lots of practical steps you can take to help them cope with the heat:
- Look at where the sun’s rays shine throughout the day and reposition hutches and runs as the sun moves round. Ensure your pets have plenty of hiding places and tunnels. A blanket placed on top of one end of your pets’ run will provide a shady, cool place, or 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
- Remove any uneaten vegetable as soon as possible, as these can start to rot in the warmer weather attracting flies to your runs and hutches
- Clean your small furries accommodation more regularly to reduce the risk of flies and unwanted insects being attracted to them and to avoid flystrike – a painful, sometimes fatal condition caused by flies laying eggs that hatch into maggots and eat their host’s flesh. Speak to your vet about preventative measures such as Rearguard– a liquid that is applied by sponge and helps prevents flystrike in rabbits for up to 10 weeks, or Fly Strike Protector for guinea pigs
- Regularly groom your pets and brush out loose hair. Consider giving long-haired rabbits and guinea pigs a trim for the summer, especially around their bottoms to help keep them clean.
- Keep water topped up, and be extra-vigilant about evaporation. Offer both bowls and bottles to rabbits and guinea pigs. It’s also a good idea to cover their bottles to help stop any build-up of algae inside, which can happen when left in the sunshine
- For hot 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
- Small pets can also benefit from an innovative product called the Ice Pod. Simply place the frozen Ice Pod in your pet's hutch, run or favourite hiding place and watch them get totally chilled out. Suitable to keep rabbits, guinea pigs, ferrets and rats cool, your animal chums will love lying on its snuggly shape. Alternatively, create some DIY options. 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.
- To help indoor pets cope with the heat, move them well away from windows and draw the curtains. Use an electric fan in the room where indoor pets live to help keep the air circulating. Make sure the fan is not near enough for any wires to be reachable and never direct it straight at your pets’ cage. You could also try putting a nearly full plastic bottle of water into your freezer and, when frozen, wrap it in a towel and place it by the side of your pets’ cage, next to their sleeping area, to keep it cool. Don’t place it directly in the cage as they may chew it! Ensure your small pets have access to plenty of clean, fresh water at all times, changing it regularly.
*** 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, explains the signs of heatstroke and what actions to take >>
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