Heat Stress Dangers to Small Pets

Hamster looking through cage barsThere is much publicity about not leaving dogs in hot cars (although some people still don’t pay any notice!), but less attention is drawn to the risks to our smaller pets.

Heat stress and heat stroke can be rapidly fatal and many of our pets have very little in the way of cooling mechanisms so do not deal well with the heat.  They are also often confined and have no way of moving out of a hot environment.

Inside dangers

Conservatories get very hot during the summer if they are not well shaded.  If in doubt, keep a minimum-maximum thermometer in the room.  If it gets above 24 degrees, your pet will be at risk of heat stroke.

Window glass can intensify the sun’s rays and increase the heat.  Any cages or fish tanks sitting behind windows can get very hot.

Outside dangers

Insulated hutch coverRemember that the sun moves so areas that are in the shade first thing in the morning may end up in direct sunlight later in the day!  Animals cannot escape from a hutch or run and are completely helpless if they start to heat up.

Insulated hutch covers are great in the winter to keep animals warm but are a real danger when the sun comes up.  Plastic-fronted covers are particularly dangerous and can cause the hutch to become like a greenhouse.  Make sure that you remove these covers as soon as the risk of heavy frost is over and always open them up to allow ventilation first thing in the morning.

Other ways to reduce overheating

  • Put ice-cubes into water bowls and bottles to keep the water cool for your pet
  • Place a fan near to the cage or run
  • Place a cool mat inside the cage or run for your pet to lie on and cool down.  Remove if the pet starts chewing it though!  You could also use freezer packs well wrapped in towels to keep the general area cooler.

It is important to make sure that if you leave your pet in the care of someone else while you go on your summer holiday that they are also aware of the risk of heat stroke and how to prevent it.

Signs of heat distress

Guinea pig lying downIf your pet is showing any of these signs, they may be in heat distress and at risk of heat stroke.

  • breathing with their mouth open/panting – this is not normal in any of our small pet species so is always an indication of something severely wrong
  • not responding to noise or movement
  • lying down, often stretched out

What to do if your pet is showing signs of heat distress

  • Move them out of the hot area immediately
  • Lie them on a damp towel in a cool area and wet their fur with cool water
  • Offer them something cool, not cold, to drink
  • Call your vet and get them checked out as soon as possible

Heat stroke can cause internal organ failure and is often fatal.

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