As the weather heats up, animals can suffer from heat-related problems. Every year, many animals die of heat stroke because their owners have not been aware of the danger.
Heat stroke is a frequently fatal condition which causes immense suffering – effectively the animal is cooked alive. Because most animals can’t sweat, and have an insulating coat of fur, the effects of heat are far greater on them than in humans. As a general rule, if you feel hot, your pet will feel hotter.
There are lots of different steps which you can take to help your animal cope with the heat and prevent heat stroke.The animals who will be most at risk of heat-related problems are animals with squashed faces (brachycephalic), e.g. Bulldogs, Pugs, Persians, very young or very old animals, black animals, those with long and/or dense fur, animals which are overweight or very big. In these animals, cooling methods should be used even when the ambient temperature is just pleasantly warm (for us!).
Ways to prevent heat-related problems
- Walk your dog in the coolest parts of the day (e.g. early morning and late evening)
- Ensure all animals have access to plenty of cool water – place ice cubes into water bowls or bottles
- Keep animals in the coolest place possible – ensure small animal cages are not in direct sunlight, move outdoor hutches to a cool outhouse or a cool, shady spot in the garden. Ensure that outside runs are not in direct sun. Make sure your dog or cat does not sit in the sun.
- Provide a cool mat for your pet to lie on – these have a cooling gel inside which does not need freezing
- Provide a paddling pool for your dog
- Use a cool coat or damp towel to cover your dog, this helps to cool them by evaporation. Make sure that you remove or re-wet the coat or towel when it dries out.
- NEVER leave your pet in a car or conservatory unattended, even for a few minutes. The temperature in a car can soar extremely quickly.
- If travelling with your pet on a hot day, ensure that they are in part of the car which benefits from the air conditioning. Do not let your dog stick it’s head out of the window.
- Animals with white fur, or sparse coats can suffer from sunburn. Protect them with special sunblock – particularly ear tips and noses
What to do if you think your animal has heat stroke
Signs of heat stroke include:
- excessive panting – the tongue may be swollen and dark red
- excessive drooling
- fast heart rate (place your hand on the animals left chest to feel the heart)
- rapid breathing, gasping for breath
- bloody or black diarrhoea
- hot to the touch
If you are concerned that your animal may have heat stroke, call your vet immediately. Provide immediate first aid by covering them with wet towels or spraying them with cool, not freezing cold, water. Offer cool, not cold, water to drink but do not force them to drink. Then take them to your veterinary surgery immediately. Urgent treatment will be required. Heat stroke can lead to multiple organ failure which may not be immediately apparent so even if your animal appears to make a reasonable recovery initially, they will need careful monitoring for a few days.