We’re about to enter summer; great news for all those who hate dressing in so many layers they look like the Staypuft marshmallow man. It’s also good news for pets who’ve shivered their way through sleet and snow and icy winds. It’s important to note, however, that pets, like people, are at risk of dehydration, overheating, sunstroke, sunburn and skin cancer from being outside in hot weather. So it’s important that you take steps to ensure your pet (dogs and cats and rabbits, etc.) keep safe and cool in the hot summer months that are ahead.
Here are some summer safety tips to keep your pets cool!
Increase access to shade
If you have outside dogs or dogs that just like to be outside, you should ensure they have plenty of shade. Most dogs and cats will find shady spots to lie (some dogs may even dig a little cool patch under some shady bushes) but don’t forget that the amount of shade available changes according to where the sun is in the sky. It’s a good idea to set up big beach umbrellas or even a gazebo to give your pet more options.
Bring outside pets inside
If you have outside dogs or outside rabbits, it usually better to bring them inside on hot days rather than to leave them outside. This especially true if your pets are old or have respiratory problems. Certain dog and cat breeds – those with flat faces – suffer badly in the heat as their respiratory systems are compromised and they can’t pant enough to get rid of heat. They are particularly prone of heatstroke.
Keep cool inside
It’s not always enough just to bring pets inside, especially if your home can turn into a greenhouse. Leave the air conditioner on low at all times (if possible) and if you don’t have air con, improvise with air fans and blocks of ice or ice bricks.
Provide cool sleeping options
If you have tiles, your pet is likely to eschew their comfy bed for the coolth of your tiled floors. If you don’t have tiles, there are several options.
- Wet a towel and place it in your pet’s crate or over their bed.
- You can place frozen cooling gel packs wrapped in sheets in your pet’s bed so that they have something cool to lean on (don’t leave the anything frozen exposed as it will constrict your pet’s blood vessels and interfere with their ability to thermoregulate).
- Buy cooling mats (which uses cool gel pads) for dogs and cats
- Or you can buy an elevated bed, which allows air to circulate and keeps pets cooler than pillow or futon beds and mats.
Keep beds in the shade at all times. This means you might have to move them during the day if you have a lot of windows or glass doors. You should also ensure that any rabbit or hamster cages and fish tanks are always out of direct sunlight; close curtains and blinds if necessary.
Provide a lot of water
Ensure that your pets have access to plenty of clean, fresh water. You can put ice blocks in their water to ensure it stays nice and cool, or you can put water bowls on frozen or chilled ice or gel packs. There should be a bowl of water in each room in your house and if your dog is outside, make sure that you have several water bowls that are always in the shade.
Take water with you when you take your dog out for a walk, even if you go in the cool of the early morning or late evening.
Don’t walk your dog in the heat of the day
Adjust your routine so that you either walk your dog early in the morning (which is not always convenient) or late in the evening. You could go out after supper, make it a family thing so that everyone gets some fresh air and exercise.
Did you know that pets can get sun burnt? Well, they can and they can also get skin cancer. In fact, skin cancer in dogs and cats is increasing, especially ear cancer in cats. Pets most at risk are those with white fur and pale (pink) skin, including on their ears, nose and belly. Pets with short hair, like whippets, boxers, and pit bulls, are also at great risk.
The solution is the same as for people: Sunscreen.
It is possible to use human sunscreen on dogs, provided zinc oxide isn’t in the ingredients. Zinc oxide is toxic to dogs and can cause gastrointestinal problems if it’s ingested (in some cases the problem is so severe that dogs need a blood transfusion), which is likely as dogs usually try to lick off any creams you apply. If you are going to use human sunscreen, use types that have been formulated for infants.
There are sunscreens that are designed specifically for pets, but they aren’t regulated like human sunscreen, so find out as much about the different brands as you can before you buy anything. As a rule, any sunscreen you use for your pets should be hypoallergenic, water-proof, fragrance-free, and block UVA and UVB rays. Remember, the higher the SPF the better.
Some pet sunscreens available include:
- Doggles Pet Sunscreen (for dogs only)
- Virbac Pet Guard Gel with sunscreen (for dogs and cats)
- Epi-Pet Sun Protector Spray (for dogs only)
- Vetbasix Sunscreen (for dogs and cats)
Cats are even more delicate than dogs, so you shouldn’t use any products that have zinc oxide and octyl salicylate (octisalate). Titanium oxide is also toxic if ingested; because cats groom themselves all over, it’s best to just avoid any products with titanium oxide.
UV-protective clothing is also an option. You can get doggy sunglasses with UV protection (just make sure you get your dog used to wearing them properly), as well as shirts with UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor).
Bear in mind that the best protection is to keep your pet indoors and out of the sun as much as possible.
Watch out for heatstroke
According to a Hebrew University study, 50% of dogs who suffer from heatstroke won’t survive. Pets don’t just get heatstroke from being out in the sun. There are two primary causes: 1) Hyperthermia, which is when pets are trapped in a hot environment (the car, your lounge, the beach on a hot day) and aren’t able to cool themselves, and 2) Upper respiratory problems, which is when pets’ airways are compromised (brachycephalic dogs and cats, e.g., Persians, bulldogs, pugs and Boston terriers).
What should you do if you see a dog in a hot car?
The first thing you should do if you see a dog in distress is call 911. The police have the mandate to break into a car to rescue pets in distress. If you break into the car, you could be arrested. If, however, you feel that the dog’s or cat’s life is in immediate danger, you should take pictures of the animal in the car, take pictures of witnesses (and get their contact details) and inform the police of your intentions.
Once you’ve got the dog or cat out of the car, take them to a shaded area and give them cool water to drink – not too much or they might vomit. You can also cool dogs down by pouring cool water on their tummies and backs.
- Excessive panting or difficulty breathing. Panting actually uses a lot of energy and can hasten severe heatstroke.
- Quick pulse
- Red gums and tongue
- Lack of coordination
- High temperature (higher than 104°F)
Most cases of heatstroke are a result of dogs being left in hot cars. Even if you park your car in the shade or it’s an overcast day, the temperature can rise to over 140°F in a very short space of time. Try to keep your pet out of the sun during the hottest part of the day, which could be anywhere from 10:00 to 16:00. Limit your pets’ activity during this part of the day, so no walks and even limited play.
Remember that the ground gets super hot and can burn your pet’s paws. It’s not only asphalt that you have to watch out for, but also hot sand. If it’s too hot for you to hold your hand on the ground for 30 seconds, it’s too hot for your pet’s feet.
If your pet shows signs of heatstroke and doesn’t respond to any attempts to cool her down, contact your vet.
How to prevent heatstroke
We’ve already mentioned keeping your pets indoors and ensuring they are well hydrated. In some cases water may not be enough, in which case you can use electrolyte replacements. Other tips to keep dogs and cats cool in hot weather include:
- Keep your pet groomed but don’t shave them. Pets’ hair plays an important role in their thermoregulation, even double-coated dogs need most of their hair to keep them cool, so don’t shave your pet (this also increases their risk of sunburn).
- Get a clam shell pool so that you pooch can have a splash pool to cool down.
- Icy treats are a fun and tasty way for your pet to cool down. Dog ice-cream is available in plenty of supermarkets, these days, but you can freeze some chicken broth in your ice trays and get the same effect. Even your cat is likely to enjoy a frozen treat.
- You can get cooling jackets that keep dogs cool on even the hottest days, as well as cooling collars and vests. Dark-colored dogs will be especially appreciative of a cooling jacket.
- Cool your pet down if they look like they’re getting too hot. Use cool water to sponge down their tummies, armpits and groins.
- You can also close your blinds and curtains to keep the house cool.
Really, the bottom line is: Don’t be an idiot about heat. Use your common sense and realize that if you’re suffering so is your pet. But, pets don’t have the ability to change or manage their environments like we do, so it’s up to you to ensure your pet stays cool all summer.