As temperatures soar, vets are urging pet owners to take extra care of their animals to prevent heat-related conditions.
By Justine Shotton, President, British Veterinary Association
Each year, vets across the country report seeing large numbers of cases involving pets who require treatment for heat-related conditions like heatstroke, breathing problems and skin conditions. That’s because while most of us look forward to warmer weather, many animals can suffer in high temperatures and humid conditions. Even relatively lower temperatures at the start and end of a summer day can prove uncomfortable for our pets, especially if they are kept in direct sunlight without any shade. Dogs, cats, rabbits or birds should all be given adequate shade, ventilation and access to fresh drinking water. Here are some more top tips to keep your pets cool during the hot months.
IF IN DOUBT, DON’T GO OUT
When it comes to dogs, even a 20-minute walk in the middle of a hot day can prove to be fatal. Recent research by the Royal Veterinary College shows that more than 10 times as many dogs need veterinary treatment for heat-related illness following exercise as for being overheated in cars. Unlike humans, dogs are unable to cool down quickly through sweating, rendering them vulnerable to overheating. Brachycephalic (flatfaced) breeds such as English or French bulldogs and pugs are even more at risk, as their short noses can make breathing properly difficult, and therefore cooling down much harder. So my top tip is to avoid exercising dogs in the heat of the day: especially older dogs, flat-faced breeds or dogs that you know have heart or lung problems – to prevent sunburn, overheating and burning their pads on scorching pavements. Exercise them in the early morning or late evening, when temperatures are cooler. Remember, pavements can get very hot in the warm weather – if you can’t comfortably keep your hand on the ground for five seconds, then it’s too hot for your pooch’s paws too! While it can be difficult to keep dogs from exercising or overheating, it’s up to owners to do all they can to prevent overheating happening and be able to recognise the signs and act quickly if it does. Watch out for early signs of heatstroke, such as heavy panting, restlessness and lack of coordination.
HOT, CROSS BUNS
Like dogs, rabbits cannot sweat or pant to regulate their body temperature and cool down, and temperatures over 27°C can cause heat stroke, which is often fatal for them. That’s why it’s important that their hutch or run isn’t exposed to direct sunlight at any time of the day. You can freeze plastic bottles of water and place them in your rabbit’s enclosure to help them stay cool. Lightly misting rabbits’ ears with cold water is also an effective way to help cool them. Flystrike is also a life-threatening risk in the warmer months, so it is important that at least once a day, you check that your rabbits have clean bottoms and their living space is kept clean to prevent possible maggot infestation. If you see any maggots on your rabbits this must be treated as an emergency and you should call a vet immediately.
BRING OUT THE SUNSCREEN
Some breeds of cats and dogs, particularly those with lightercoloured or finer fur, may benefit from appropriate sun cream in hot weather. Any non-pigmented and scarred patches of a dog or a cat’s skin or areas covered by a finer hair coat, such as ear tips, are susceptible to sunburn. In the case of chronic exposure, it can even lead to potentially dangerous skin cancers. Dog breeds such as Dalmatians, Beagles, Whippets, white Boxers and white English Bull Terriers are among the most commonly affected. Among cats, blue-eyed white cats are most susceptible, as well as the whitehaired skin areas of short-haired cats. The best way to prevent sunburn and skin cancer risk is to avoid excessive sunlight exposure. For example, cats should be discouraged from sunbathing on the windowsill, as they will be exposing themselves to a lot of sunlight through windows that are generally not UV-protected. However, if that isn’t possible, you should apply pet-appropriate sunscreen 10-15 minutes before exposure. Products that are waterproof, with a high SPF (30 or higher) and containing titanium dioxide, are suitable and should be applied as a thin smear. BVA recommends avoiding sunscreens with zinc oxide as ingestion of these can lead to zinc toxicity. If pet-safe products are hard to find, hypoallergenic or human baby products may be suitable instead. We’d encourage owners to consult with their local vet to ensure they are applying the right sunscreen correctly and in the right place.
DON’T LEAVE DOGS IN HOT CARS
This important piece of advice deserves its own section due to the high number of cases vets and animal welfare organisations see each year that involve dogs suffering from heat exposure after being left inside a car. On a hot day, even when it’s cloudy, the temperatures inside a vehicle can quickly reach over double those felt outside. For DON’T LEAVE DOGS IN HOT CARS example, when it’s 22°C outside, the temperature inside a car can become 47°C within an hour, which can result in death for any dog trapped inside. Leaving the car windows open and a bowl of water is not enough.
If you see a dog left in a hot car, it is best to dial 999 and report it to police. For more advice, see www.bva.co.uk/dogs-die-in-hot-cars
DEALING WITH TICKS AND FLEAS
Fleas can be a chronic source of irritation for pets and are more prevalent in the warmer weather. One flea will lay hundreds of eggs in its short lifetime that then develop into larvae, which can penetrate into carpets, beds and soft furnishings. Most dogs and cats will come into contact with fleas through other pets or wild animals, so appropriate preventive treatment is important. There is a wide range of flea treatment products available, but you should speak to your vet for advice on which will be the most suitable for your pet and their level of risk. Your vet will take into account your individual circumstances and consider factors such as the number and range of animals in your home, your pet’s temperament and their potential exposure to other parasites, such as ticks. Remember, never use a dog flea treatment on cats and for rabbits only use a rabbit-specific product. Dog treatments contain permethrin, which can cause serious health problems or even death in cats. Tick prevention and removal is also important, so speak to your vet about the risks to your pet in your area based on their lifestyle. Also check pets for ticks after walks. If you find any ticks on them, remove them completely using a commercially available tickremover or fine-pointed tweezers (taking care not to leave the head), even if they are dead.
Finally, if you have any questions about helping your pet stay healthy and happy during the summer, contact your local vet for tailored advice.
BVA is the largest membership community for the veterinary profession in the UK. We represent the views of over 19,000 vets and vet students on animal health and welfare, and veterinary policy issues to government, parliamentarians and key influencers in the UK and EU.
For more information visit www.bva.co.uk