Help your pets stay safe all summer long

Our dogs, cats and small pets need extra support when the heat is on and we’ve lots of great advice to protect them from seasonal dangers – from what’s the best way to help rabbits cool down to why you shouldn’t leave your dog’s toys in the garden. Find out how to play it safe this summer with our 21
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13th June 2022

Our dogs, cats and small pets need extra support when the heat is on and we’ve lots of great advice to protect them from seasonal dangers – from what’s the best way to help rabbits cool down to why you shouldn’t leave your dog’s toys in the garden. Find out how to play it safe this summer with our 21 hottest tips.

Have some sun sense

  1. Keep pets with white or light-coloured ears or noses out of direct sunlight and if it’s hot enough for you to feel the need for sun cream, your pet will probably need protection too. Use special pet-friendly sun cream on their nose, ear tips or other exposed patches plus any other white or hairless parts of their bodies. Never use sunscreen intended for humans as the perfumes and chemical agents it contains may irritate animal skin as well as your pet’s tongue, throat and stomach if they try to lick it off.
  2. Make sure your pets have access to shade. Trees and shrubs provide welcome shady spots for garden-loving dogs and cats. If your patch doesn’t have much natural shade then invest 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 direct sunlight. A blanket placed on top of one end of your pets’ run will provide a shady, cool place. With 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 – make sure the fan is not near enough for any wires to be reachable and never direct it straight at your pet’s cage.
  3. 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.
  4. Dogs still need regular walks even in high summer but avoid walking them in the hottest part of the day (between 11am and 4pm) and encourage them to slow down by setting a leisurely pace and giving them plenty of time to sniff out exciting smells with their nose.
  5. 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. When it comes to small pets, fresh water should be supplied morning and evening. If your pets’ water bottle is turning green with algae, then it is important that you scrub it clean and disinfect it with hot water and white vinegar before rinsing it thoroughly. If you can’t remove the algae, then throw the bottle away and buy a new one.
  6. A splash in a children’s paddling pool may be enjoyed by dogs and ferrets to help them stay cool, but don’t force them if they’re not keen. Never leave them unattended.
  7. For hot bunnies and guinea pigs, try gently stroking their fur with a cool, damp flannel. With rabbits, 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.
  8. Invest in some specially designed cooling products or make some yourself. From pet cooling mats and pads, which automatically cool when your dog or cat sits on them, to cooling vests, to an innovative product called Ice Pod. Suitable for rabbits, guinea pigs, ferrets and rats, simply place the frozen Ice Pod in your pet's hutch, run or favourite hiding place and they’ll love lying on its snuggly shape. 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. You could also try draping well-rung out cold wet towels over hutches or cages to cool them down. Avoid plastic guinea-pig igloos as these can become very hot in the summer and replace them with an alternative hidey-hole such as a cardboard box with an entrance and ventilation holes cut into it.
  9. Pets can quickly overheat in hot weather and can be at risk of heatstroke, which is a medical emergency. Dogs and cats only have a few sweat glands around their noses and in their feet and so 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 life even more difficult. For chinchillas, who have no ability to dissipate heat, heatstroke can result in fatal seizures. Pets most at risk include 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 and pets on certain medication. Find out more about the signs of heatstroke and what action you should take >>

  10. 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 how to tell if your pet is overweight and what you can do to help them slim down >>

  11. Never, ever leave a pet in a parked car unattended, or in a caravan, conservatory or outbuilding in hot weather. “Not long” is too long 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.

Keep a look out for pesky parasites, irritating insects and sunbathing snakes

  1. Ticks can carry dangerous infections such as Lyme disease, which requires immediate veterinary treatment and can also infect humans. They’re most commonly found on your pet’s head and neck, around their ears, in whiskers, or on their legs after walks in long grass, particularly near livestock. Ticks can be removed using a special tick removal device, available from your vet or pet shop. Slide it under the tick and turn anticlockwise. Do not pull. Be careful to remove the whole tick, including legs or mouthparts. If you’re unsure about removing it correctly, your vet will be able to do it for you.
  2. Don’t attract ‘tasty’ slugs and snails by leaving pets’ bowls and toys outside. Molluscs often carry the larvae of lungworm, a potentially lethal parasite. Dogs can become infected if they eat slugs and snails deliberately, or by accident, for example when munching on grass, drinking from puddles or outdoor water bowls, or picking up toys left in the garden.
  3. Hot and humid weather creates the ideal breeding conditions for fleas that will happily hitch a ride on your pets. Fleas are not just a nuisance, they’re also a serious health risk. Some pets with fleas can develop Flea Allergy Dermatitis (FAD) – an allergic reaction to flea saliva, which can lead to hair loss. Flea infestations can cause anaemia, due to the amount of blood an animal can lose, which in the worst cases can be fatal – especially in young or frail pets. Flea larvae can also become infected with tapeworm eggs. If your pet eats an infected flea when grooming, they can then become a host to this loathsome internal parasite. So, if your pet has fleas, you should make sure they are treated for worms too. Fleas can also pass on other nasties, such as myxomatosis, which is a serious disease in rabbits. Find out more about fleas and how to get rid of them >>
  4. Flystrike is a painful, sometimes fatal, condition that can affect outdoor pets such as rabbits and guinea pigs. It’s caused by flies laying eggs that hatch into maggots and eat their host’s flesh. Check the fur and skin around your pets’ rear ends regularly – daily in warm weather. Urine staining or droppings that are stuck will attract flies. Speak to your vet about specific 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 Guard for guinea pigs. Find out more about protecting your guinea pigs and bunnies against parasites >>
  5. Insect stings most commonly occur on a forelimb or around the face, causing pain and swelling. The consequences of an insect sting are not usually serious, unless an animal develops an obstruction to its breathing due to a sting within the back of the mouth, or if they have an allergic reaction. If this is the case, your pet will need emergency treatment from your vet.
  6. Adders are found in some parts of the UK and, although snakebites are rare, they can cause severe pain, swelling around two small puncture wounds, as well as breathing problems. If bitten, your pet will need urgent veterinary treatment.

Take precautions around poisonous plants

  1. Some common garden plants can be toxic to animals, including lilies (which are particularly dangerous for cats), laburnum, daffodils, rhododendron and yew – ask your garden centre for advice. For a pet-friendly garden, avoid using chemicals, fertilisers and slug pellets and ditch the cocoa shell mulch – it contains the same ingredient as chocolate and is toxic to pets.
  2. Giant hogweed – often dubbed the UK’s most dangerous plant – poses a serious health risk to both people and pets. It typically grows near canals and rivers but, in recent years, has spread to gardens, parks and verges. It’s often mistaken for cow parsley due to its long stems and flat-topped clusters of white leaves. The sap can cause highly painful burns, which blister within 48 hours, and can also lead to blindness if it gets in the eyes.
  3. Once grass begins to go to seed later in the summer, sharp-pointed awns are easily picked up in the coat of long-haired pets – so check your pets over every day. Grass awns can penetrate the skin almost anywhere, but most commonly get into the ears, or between the toes, where they cause a great deal of irritation. Once they penetrate the skin or enter the ear, an anaesthetic may be required to remove them.

Be wise about water

  1. Most dogs love splashing about in water and it’s a great way to keep your canine chum cool on a hot summer’s day. However, whether it’s at the beach or along the riverbank, when it comes to water, it should always be a case of safety first. From choosing the right swimming locations and avoiding potential hazard hot-spots, to being aware of water-borne diseases that can affect your dog – and the reasons why you shouldn’t let them munch on seaweed – find out how to be water wise >>

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CARE MORE Find lots of useful advice on caring for your pets from Burgess, the pet experts. Training, nutrition, grooming and general care, it's all here >>

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