Many of us look forward to summer as a time to enjoy the great outdoors, bask in the sunshine and reconnect with friends and family at picnics and barbecues. But with the UK reaching record-breaking temperatures this year, we know all too well that the heat isn’t always enjoyable – and more hot days are to come.
Knowing how to take care of yourself during a heatwave is essential, but what about your pets?
Whether it’s knowing when it’s too hot to walk your dog, how to keep your pets hydrated and the signs of heatstroke in animals, here are some expert tips for keeping your pets cool in hot weather.
1. Know the signs of heatstroke in pets
Just like us, our pets can get seriously ill if they overheat. Shauna Spooner, vet nurse for the veterinary charity the PDSA, says: “While some pets may appreciate pleasant weather just as we do, we need to make sure we are prepared to keep them safe. In 2021, we treated approximately 70 cases of heatstroke in our pet hospitals, which is a serious situation as severe cases can develop quickly and have fatal consequences.”
It’s important to be aware of the signs of heatstroke in dogs and cats so that you can cool them down quickly.
How to tell if a dog is suffering from heatstroke
Dogs suffering from heatstroke will pant more and their gums may be dry, sticky or discoloured. Excessive drooling or vomiting are telltale signs. If your dog appears lethargic or disoriented, this could be a sign of heatstroke.
According to the online retailer Yappy, which sells personalized pet products, the dog breeds most at risk of heatstroke are:
- chow chow
- french bulldog
- Dogue de Bordeaux
- Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
- golden retriever
- springer spaniel
If you have noticed the signs of heatstroke in your dog, it’s important to take immediate action.
“Move your dog to a shaded area and offer small amounts of water,” canine expert Rachel Bean says. “Lie the dog on a wet towel and wet with tepid water, directing a fan on the dog or if you’re in the car, switch the air con on. This is the safest way to cool a dog down quickly.”
You should then call your vet for further guidance.
How to tell if a cat is suffering from heatstroke
Cats usually suffer from heat exhaustion before it develops into heatstroke, according to the London Cat Clinic. Both require immediate action.
At first, your cat may lie around a lot and look lethargic, possibly dribbling and foaming at the mouth. Serious heatstroke may cause your cat to collapse and their gums could become bright red.
Heatstroke treatment for cats is similar to dogs: take your pet to a cool, shaded area and offer water. Do not force them to drink. Drape a cool, wet towel over your cat — this should be changed every five minutes.
Again, once you’ve started this process you should call your vet to see if your pet will need further treatment.
GH Tip: When cooling your pet down with water, make sure it is not ice cold as this can reduce blood flow to the skin and reduces their ability to cool down.
2.Never leave your pet in the car
This is a golden rule for most dog owners, but it’s worth repeating. Cars can overheat very quickly, and even if you are parked in the shade or you keep the windows open, leaving your dog in the car when its hot can be fatal.
If you’re out and about and you see a dog in distress in a hot car, dial 999. If you see a dog in a car that appears to be okay, the RSPCA recommends:
- Trying to work out how long the dog has been in the car. A pay and display parking ticket could help with this
- Make a note of the car’s registration in case you need to report the owner
- At a shop, venue or event, ask the staff to alert the owner over loudspeaker
- Make sure you stay with the dog and assess their condition
You can call the RSPCA’s advice helpline on 0300 1234 999but they stress that you should be ready to call 999 as your first step if the dog is in danger.
3. Keep your pet hydrated
We’re aware of the importance of keeping hydrated, and the same goes for our pets.
According to PetSafe, your furry friend needs 70ml of water for every 1kg of weight. A Westie, for example, will weigh around 10kg so should drink 700ml daily. A bigger dog, like a Labrador, could weigh around 30kg so will need 2.1 liters a day.
Adding water to your pet’s dry food is a simple way to introduce more water to their diet. You can also give your cats and dogs ice cubes to help cool them down.
4. When it doubts, don’t go out
Walkies may be your dog’s favorite part of the day, but during a heatwave, you’re better off keeping them inside.
“One of the biggest heatstroke triggers is exercise in hot weather,” says Shauna from the PSDA. “In fact, research from 2021 shows that 74% of heat-related illness in dogs seen by vets is caused by exercise in high temperatures.
“It’s best to stay indoors for the hottest part of the day. This is generally around mid-afternoon, so if you’re planning on being outside, aim for the early morning or evening. Remember, even at these times the weather can feel uncomfortably close or humid during a hot spell, so think about skipping the walks and playing some games in the house instead.”
If you do take your dog out, avoid strenuous exercise like running or fetch. Stick to gentle walking and allow them plenty of time to sniff so that their brains stay active.
GH TIP: Flat-faced breeds like Bulldogs, Pugs and Shih Tzus are at even higher risk of heatstroke during exercise as they can’t cool down as effectively due to the reduced space in their noses.
Many cats like to frolic about outside on their own, but according to Shauna, you should try to encourage them to stay in during the hottest part of the day.
“Many cats will seek out cooler spots, but if you have a sun lover, you may need to step in and bring them inside out of the heat. You can encourage them to nap indoors during the heat by playing with them at dawn and dusk , and offering their breakfast a little later to persuade them to stay at home.
“Give your cat the opportunity to head out early morning and later in the evening if they want to when temperatures have dropped.”
5. Cut back their coat
Hot weather can be particularly uncomfortable for pets with long fur. When a heatwave is on the way, you can prepare by having your dog’s coat trimmed or thinned to prevent overheating. Some breeds of dog have a coat which isn’t suitable for clipping, so you should seek advice from your groomer.
Give your dog or cat a brush every day that the weather is hot to remove excessive fur and help keep them cool.
6. Watch out for flystrike
Though flystrike can happen at any time of year, it’s particularly important to check for it in the summer.
What is flystrike? It’s a painful and sometimes fatal condition where flies lay their eggs on an animal body. These hatch into maggots which feed on the flesh of the animal. Rabbits and guinea pigs are the most at risk but it can also affect cats and dogs.
Flystrike can become fatal very quickly so it’s important to do regular checks:
- Check for signs of illness or abnormal behavior daily
- Check your pet all over their body, especially around the rear-end and tail area. Clean your pet’s backend if it is dirty and be sure to dry them properly
- Change your pet’s bedding at least once a week
- Neuter female rabbits — unneutered rabbits are at higher risk.