Written by Davina Evans
With global temperatures steadily rising due to climate change, the UK has experienced warmer, and drier, summers over the last few years. We've had warmer winter and spring seasons which has caused havoc for our hibernating wildlife not knowing when they are supposed to be awake or asleep. Wild animals experienced distress last summer as they were unable to find food or water due to the extreme temperatures and extended dry spells which caused the ground to harden and crack, plants to die, and animal rescue centres to be inundated.
Despite our domesticated pets living with us in modern comfortable homes, they can also suffer in the heat. The following guide will hopefully help you to keep your pet cool and safe throughout the summer months...
Keeping Pets Cool In The Heat
We humans are able to regulate our body temperatures by sweating, however, dogs and cats can only sweat through the small pads on their paws and have to rely on 'evaporative cooling', eg: dogs will pant which causes an internal air-conditioning reaction called convection which evaporates the water on the surface of their tongue, and cats will moisten their coat with their tongues.
If you notice your pet leaving sweat marks on the floor from their paws, this may be a sign of dehydration, so ensure they drink more water, and try to dunk their paws in some cool water to bring down their core temperature.
There are many things we can do to help keep our pets comfortable and cool during hot weather spells, including the following:
- Ensure there is plenty of fresh, cool drinking water available for your pet at all times. Place several bowls around your home so they are easily accessible no matter which room your pet is in. If the water gets warm, you can add ice cubes to cool it down again.
- Carry a bottle of water and bowl whilst out walking with your dog.
- Don't take your dog for walks in the heat of the midday sun. Ideally, avoid walkies between 11am and 3pm. If possible, early morning and late evening walks are optimal when it should be cooler.
- Avoid lengthy car journeys with your pet. If you need to undertake a long journey, ensure you make plenty of stops so your pet can go somewhere cool and have a drink.
- Leave curtains or blinds closed. If there is a breeze, leave windows open too, so that cats and dogs can lie down underneath and cool down.
- Leave air conditioning units on for your pet if they are inside the home throughout the day. An electric fan can be left on as well, but ensure it is in a safe place so your pet cannot knock it over and injure themselves.
- Provide access to shady areas if your pet is an outside pet. A small paddling pool with a few centimetres of water in it is ideal for your dog to lay in as well.
- Likewise, allow pets access to cooler areas inside the house. Rooms that have tiled, granite or laminated flooring can be a lot cooler for pets to lay on.
- For pets kept in hutches or cages (eg: rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, african pygmy hedgehogs, birds, etc...), keep them out of direct sunlight and in the coolest room/ area of the house or garden.
- A frozen bottle of water can be placed outside of their sleeping area to bring the temperature down. Also, a ceramic tile can be placed in the enclosure so the pet can 'splat' out and keep cool.
- Clean out cages/ hutches more frequently in the warmer months, as hot weather results in more maggots and flies, which can cause Flystrike; a potentially fatal condition that effects rabbits and guinea pigs. Spot clean poo and pee areas and remove any uneaten fruit and vegetables.
- You can keep fish in aquariums cool by turning their lights off, and by doing a gradual water change with cool, de-chlorinated, water. Be careful though as the shock of the sudden change in temperature can be fatal to some fish.
- Garden ponds should never be in an area that gets full sunlight all day anyway (as this promotes algae growth), but you can create cool, shady areas with plants, ornaments, rocks, etc... and maybe adding a water feature which constantly adds running, oxygenated water to the pond. This is beneficial not only to fish, but also to any wildlife that may also reside in there, such as frogs or toads.
- NEVER leave a pet in a hot car. In warm weather, temperatures inside a car can rise very quickly and pets can quickly become dehydrated, develop heat stroke or even die. As an indicator, if the outside temperature is 26ºC (78ºF), the inside of a car will reach 32ºC (90ºF) in five minutes, and 43ºC (110ºF) in 25 minutes!
5 Second Test For Dog Walking Safety
If you are unsure if it is too hot to take your dog for a walk, try the '5 Second Test'. Place the back of your hand on the pavement/ asphalt for 5 seconds - if you cannot hold your hand in place for that short amount of time, it is far too hot for your dog's sensitive paws.
Even if your hand passes the '5 Second Test', it is advisable to keep your dog off pavements as much as possible in the heat. Try and walk your dog in shady areas, and on grass, to make their walk as enjoyable as possible.
Heatstroke: Signs And First Aid
According to the RSPCA, the signs of a pet with heatstroke include: excessive drooling, very heavy panting, your pet seeming uncoordinated, drowsy and lethargic, and, at the extreme stages, vomiting, diarrhoea and collapse.
Some pets are more at risk of heatstroke than others, such as those with thick, long fur, very old and very young pets, brachycephalic breeds with very flat faces (like Bulldogs, Pugs, Persian cats, etc...), and also pets on certain medications.
In all instances, a vet should be called if your pet is suffering from heatstroke. However, there are some immediate first aid treatments that should be administered first:
- Move your pet out of the heat to a shadier, cooler area.
- Pour cool (not cold) water over your pet to gradually cool them down. Bringing down their temperature too quickly can result in your pet going into shock. You can also put a wet towel over your pet and place them in front of a fan. Make sure the water is in contact with their skin, and doesn't just roll off their fur. Also make sure their belly and legs are completely wet.
- Gently massage legs and body to improve circulation. Be careful though, as animals with heatstroke can bruise easily.
- Allow your pet to drink small amounts of cool water to improve their hydration.
- A dog's temperature should normally be around 39.4ºC, when your dog's temperature reaches this again, and they stop panting so heavily, stop the cooling process. If you continue, this could induce hypothermia.
- Call the vet and get your pet to them as soon as possible.
(Image: Five Signs Of Heatstroke And First Aid poster by Dogs Trust. www.dogstrust.org.uk)
Pets With Long Fur
You would be forgiven for thinking that shaving off long fur in the summer months would help keep your pet cooler, however, the layers of your pets' coat can help protect them against overheating and sunburn.
By all means, trim any excessively long fur, but brushing your pet more frequently to remove any loose fur is much better at preventing them from overheating.
A rigid comb or brush is fine to use, but a silicone pet fur removal glove is great as it is more flexible, can reach contoured areas that some brushes can't, has raised dimples that will catch the loose fur and massage your pet at the same time (ideal if you have an anxious or nervous pet), and will allow you to pet and de-shed your pet at the same time! Silicone pet hair gloves are available here in a variety of colours.
(Image: Silicone Pet Hair Glove. www.storepaws.co.uk)
Tasty Ways To Keep Your Pet Cool
There are some ingenious ways to make homemade treats to keep your pet cool in the summer, and, as July is National Ice Cream Month (well, it is in the USA, but that's good enough for me!) I thought I would share some of the best recipes I have found across the 'net. Obviously, like all treats, feed in moderation and double check if there are any ingredients that may be unsafe for your pet (for example, if they have certain allergies):
Banana Ice Cream by Golden Woofs
The only ingredient is bananas. Chop up as many bananas as you wish into little pieces. Place the pieces on to some greaseproof paper and freeze. Put the frozen pieces into a blender and blend until you have a creamy smooth texture. Pour out and serve to your pet.
Carob Chip Ice Cream by The Dogington Post
Carob is a safe alternative to chocolate for dogs as it does not contain the harmful substances caffeine or theobromine. Carob chips are available on Amazon and most health food shops.
- 2x pots of low or non-fat, plain yoghurt
- 1/3 cup of carob chips
- 1x tablespoon honey
Mix all ingredients together. Pour into ice cube trays or small individual pots. Freeze until solid.
Coconut, Blueberry and Honey Balls by Rover.com
Coconut oil is great for your pets' skin and coat, is refreshing and can help protect them from illnesses.
- 1x cup organic coconut oil
- 1x handful of blueberries
- 1x teaspoon of honey
Soften coconut oil in a bowl over boiling water. Mix in the blueberries and honey. Shape the softened oil into small balls. Place balls on a tray and put in freezer until frozen.
Homemade Pup-Sicles by Dogue
Offering a dual purpose, Dogue advises that these homemade ice lollies not only keep your pooch cool in summer, but can also soothe teething pain in puppies.
- 1x cup of water
- 2x tablespoons of peanut butter (ensure that the peanut butter does not contain the harmful substance Xylitol, and that your pet is not allergic to peanuts)
- 1x mashed up banana
- 1/2 cup of frozen blueberries
- Carrot stick or pre-made pet treat for use as the lolly stick
Blend the water, peanut butter and banana together. Mix the blueberries in. Pour the mixture into an ice lolly mould and place into freezer. Once partially set, add the 'lolly sticks' and return to freezer for at least 4-6 hours to fully freeze.
Savoury Meaty Ice Cream by Offbeat Home And Life
Here is a tasty savoury ice cream recipe if your pet just doesn't have a sweet tooth. The olive oil is good for your pets coat. Parsley is a great breath freshener. Adding a carrot is a sneaky way to add vegetables. And the yoghurt will bind the ingredients together and aid digestion.
- 2x cups of cooked, boneless meat, poultry or fish (whatever your pet's favourite is)
- 3/4 cup of low or non-fat, lactose-free plain yoghurt
- Small handful of chopped parsley
- 1x carrot. Cooked and mashed
- 3x tablespoons of olive oil
Mix all ingredients together. Pour into ice cube trays or small individual pots. Freeze until solid.
And Finally... Keeping Pets Cool At Night
Of course, pets are less likely to develop heatstroke indoors and at night, but they can still get very overheated if the weather continues to be very muggy throughout the night.
In addition to the above tips, you can further keep your pet cool by keeping them downstairs overnight rather than sleeping with you in your room/ bed. This is because heat rises, and downstairs will be a little cooler and less stuffy for them.
A cool bath before bedtime will help bring down their core temperature. Cats may not like full baths, but a cool foot bath might be tolerated by them.
Wetting your pets' feet whilst they are in bed can also help, either with a damp cloth or a water spray bottle - imagine it being the equivalent of putting a wet flannel on your own wrist/ elbow/ back of neck.
Also, providing a wet towel for your dog to lie on instead of their bed (which can trap the heat) will help keep them cool as the water evaporates from it.
Written by Davina Evans for Store Paws. All facts are correct at time of writing. Any views and opinions expressed are those of the author only.