Who doesn’t love summer? The warm days around the swimming pool, watermelon on the rind, G&Ts at the braai, salty and sandy beach visits, children lathered in white sunscreen before running through sprinklers with the dogs before completely passing out on the bed under a fan from the day’s activities. We all know and love the taste, feeling, and good memories associated with the summer months.
While the heat brings much joy, it’s not to be taken lightly. While we’re off having a jolly time it’s vitally important that we consider how our pets manage the heat too.
Can my pet get heat stroke?
We, humans, have sweat glands which excrete water to cool us down. Pets such as dogs and cats don’t. A dog will attempt to cool himself down by panting and seeking a cool, shady area. Cats will do the same and lick themselves as the saliva cools their bodies as it evaporates. Most pets will shed their thick winter coats in preparation for summer.
Just like us, animals can suffer from heat stroke too. If they are unable to regulate their body temperature, they could suffer from organ damage and failure, and even die. As responsible pet owners, it is our job to ensure our pets are able to stay cool on hot days.
Signs of early stages of heat stroke in your pet include:
- Heavy, loud, quick, and distressed panting
- Restlessness, especially in an attempt to find a cool spot to lie down or drink water
- Red gums and/or tongue
- An increased heart rate.
Signs of advanced heat stroke in pets are:
- Weakness or collapsing
If you find your pet in this situation, you need to cool him down gently before calling your vet. Do not submerge your pet in cold water or pour cold water over them, such drastic changes in blood pressure can be dangerous. Rather move him into the shade or a cool area indoors, offer (don’t force) him some cool water to drink, wet him or lay cool wet towels over his body. Thereafter call and get him to your vet urgently.
Which pets are most vulnerable to the heat?
Overweight pets, those with thick coats (such as Huskies, German Shepherds, Chow Chows, and the like), and flat-face breeds (such as Pugs, various Bulldogs, Persian cats etc) are most vulnerable to heat stroke. Very old or very young pets and pets that have pre-existing conditions which affect their airways, lungs and heart are also susceptible to heat stroke. These pets need extra care and attention on hot days to help them stay cool and hydrated at all times.
How to ensure pets stay cool
Pets should never be left unsupervised in the heat. Your pet depends on you to provide shelter, food, water, love, the opportunity to exercise and play and good veterinary care when needed – these are all basic requirements in responsible pet ownership. This includes keeping them comfortable and cool on hot days.
- Keep pets indoors with air-conditioning
- If outside, ensure there is always adequate fresh water and shade
- Resume exercise and activities for the early morning before temperatures rise
- NEVER leave your pet alone in a parked car
- If travelling with your pet, remember to pack water and a bowl for them too
- Spoil your dog with healthy, frozen, home-made treats such as these
To avoid dehydration, clean and fresh water should always be accessible. Pets can dehydrate quickly, particularly in the heat. Ensure that water bowls are big enough to accommodate everyone. Another option would be to place multiple water bowls in and around your home, topping them up throughout the day.
If you are concerned that your pet may be dehydrated, test their skin elasticity by gently pulling their skin up between your fingers, if the skin does not return to its normal position immediately, your pet may be dehydrated. Also look out for loss of appetite, vomiting and/or diarrhoea, lethargy, panting, and dry eyes, nose and/or mouth. If there is no improvement after providing water, get your pet to your nearest vet as soon as possible.
Besides keeping pets cool and hydrated, protection from the sun is also important. Dogs and cats with light, pink or white skin and fur are at risk of sunburn. Just as in humans, dogs who are continuously over-exposed to the sun have the risk of developing skin cancer and other tumours. You can apply sunscreen* to your pet, provided that it is labelled safe for pets. One such product in South Africa is PetScreen which is a clear, quick-drying sunscreen spray with SPF23 for cats and dogs.
*Avoid using sunscreen products on your pets which contain zinc oxide or salicylates. Too much zinc oxide can result in zinc toxicity which is harmful to red blood cells. Salicylates are a group of chemicals which may cause redness and irritation of the skin. Rather opt for a vet-approved sunscreen for your pet.
Together with responsible pet ownership and extra care in the warmer months, our pets can enjoy summer and its perks just as much as the rest of the family. Indulge in water play and swimming, icy treats, and naps in the cool home with your pet who is sure to enjoy it just as much as you would. After all, they are family members too.
- Heatstroke in dogs and cats (no date) RVC. Available at: https://www.rvc.ac.uk/small-animal-vet/teaching-and-research/fact-files/heatstroke-in-dogs-and-cats (Accessed: January 20, 2023).
- How can I prevent heatstroke in my pet? (no date) AAHA. Available at: https://www.aaha.org/your-pet/pet-owner-education/ask-aaha/how-can-i-prevent-heatstroke-in-my-pet/ (Accessed: January 20, 2023).
- Pets and sunscreen: Don’t get burned by the myths! (no date) ASPCA. Available at: https://www.aspca.org/news/pets-and-sunscreen-dont-get-burned-myths (Accessed: January 20, 2023).