Rosie Martin talks to PetsPyjamas about keeping your pet cool in the sun. Finally we are seeing some long-awaited sunshine! It’s great to finally be able to leave the raincoats and umbrellas at home and get out and enjoy the summer – better late than never! It’s also important to remember that while our pets will also enjoy the good weather, we need to make sure they stay safe in the sun.
When a dog or cat is exposed to high temperatures, their body temperature can rise rapidly, giving rise to hyperthermia (heatstroke). Dogs can’t moderate their body temperature in the heat by sweating (as we do) as they don’t have sweat glands all over their body like us – they only have sweat glands on their paw pads and nose). Not to mention they are wearing a furry coat! The rise in internal body temperature can be critically damaging to cells and tissues and can lead to coma and death if not treated.
Heatstroke can develop very quickly and can be due to animals playing or running during the hottest part of the day (typically 11-3pm), being left in the sun with no access to shade or being left in the car. In the hot weather, cars are essentially ovens (an insulating box of metal and glass). The internal temperature can quickly escalate even when parked in the shade and leaving the window open is useless. It only takes 5 minutes for your pet to start feeling the effects of heatstroke when left in a hot car.
NEVER LEAVE YOUR PET IN A CAR ON A HOT DAY, EVEN IF IT’S CLOUDY.
Heatstroke is a very serious, life-threatening condition which requires immediate veterinary attention. Symptoms of heatstroke include;
- Panting excessively
- Laboured/difficult breathing (dyspnoea)
- Dark red gums
- Dry mucous membranes (gums)
- Thick, gloopy saliva
If you suspect your pet is suffering from heatstroke, it is absolutely essential that they see a vet as soon as possible. In the meantime;
- Move your pet out of the sun and into a shaded area.
- Begin cooling the animal by placing wet, cool towels (but not cold) over their body
- Offer your pet cool (but not cold) water to drink, but don’t force water into their body
It may seem counter-productive not to immediately cool your dog or cat down with ice-cold water, but dousing your pet and suddenly decreasing the temperature of the skin can cause vasoconstriction (constricting of the small blood vessels near the skin) which prevents heat escape, potentially causing further heatstroke damage.
You can prevent heatstroke by following a few simple rules;
- Never leave your pet alone in direct sunlight
- Always make sure your pet has access to shade and fresh, clean water
- NEVER leave your pet in a car on a warm day, even if it’s cloudy. Leaving the windows open is not enough.
- Avoid vigorous exercise during the hottest part of the day. Try to walk your dog during the cooler times in the morning and evening.
- Certain dogs and cats are more prone to problems with heatstroke. These include breeds with short faces such as boxers, pugs, bulldogs and Persians and those with thick, double coats such as huskies, malamutes and mountain dogs.
Our pets are susceptible to UVA and UVB rays just like us. Luckily their coat usually protects most of their skin, but areas like the tips of ears, nose and patches of hair-loss are in danger of getting sunburnt. Not only is this a painful condition, it increases the risk of skin cancers.
To protect your pet from sunburn, avoid taking your dog out during the hottest parts of the day and try to keep your cat indoors until its cooler outside. There is a still a risk of sunburn on bright but overcast days. You can also use human sun cream on your pets – choose a brand for children with at least SPF 50 protection. These will be the mildest on their skin and provide the best protection. As with heatstroke, always allow your pet access to shade (even when kept indoors!) and fresh, clean drinking water.
White cats and dogs (especially albinos) are more prone to sunburn (and therefore skin cancer) due to lower levels of melanin in their skin. It is therefore especially important to keep them protected in the sun.
Avoid allowing your cat to jump on hot cars. The metal can heat up and cause burns to the skin on their paw pads. If you have a car on your property, consider a fabric cover to reduce surface heat. Also think about how hot the pavements are when you take your dog for a walk – tarmac can reach temperatures hot enough to burn through skin, even during the cooler morning and evening (as tarmac insulates heat very well). Try to take your dog for a walk while the pavements are still cool!
Keeping cool in the sun
Sunny weather should be enjoyable for you and your pet, although there are times where the heat can become uncomfortable, even when indoors. As a rule of thumb, if you feel uncomfortably warm, your pet probably does too.
You could try feeding your dog or cat ice cubes. Some pets will turn their noses up at them, while others will think it’s a great game running after them, chewing them, licking them and crunching them! This is a great way to keep your pet cool and also get some vital water on board.
If your pet isn’t interested in ice-cubes, you could try freezing some of their regular food (if they only have dry food, mix some water in and put into ice-cube trays to set). You could also try low-sodium chicken broth. Your pet will enjoy these tasty, cool treats in the summer.
Dogs and cats will always appreciate air conditioning or a fan if you have it. Remember, they are covered in fur and are likely to feel uncomfortable in the heat.
If you want to take your dog for a cooling swim, remember that standing water can harvest stomach parasites such as Giardia and drinking from rivers, lakes or ponds can cause stomach upsets. Make sure to try their paws off thoroughly to prevent irritation between the toes.
Remember – have fun in the sun, but stay safe!
NOTE: If you find a pet trapped in a hot car, call 999 immediately and speak to the police. They will advise you on what to do next.
Written by Fulham veterinary nurse Rosie Martin for PetsPyjamas.com