As the sun shines, vets offer top tips to keep pets safe from common heat related conditions.
By Justine Shotton, Senior Vice President, British Veterinary Association
Last summer, over half of all vets in the UK treated pets suffering from for heat-related conditions like heatstroke, breathing problems, burnt paw pads and sunburn, with dogs leading the pack, followed by rabbits and cats. Whilst you could be forgiven for thinking these cases were due to 2022’s record-breaking heatwave, where temperatures soared to in excess of 40C, surprisingly vets actually saw fewer cases last year than the equally memorable summer of 2018, which was by comparison significantly cooler.
In a British Veterinary Association’s Voice of the Veterinary Profession survey, vets told us that the extensive media coverage and a red extreme heat warning issued last year, but not in previous years, was a key factor in generating higher awareness of the dangers of summer heat and as a result many owners took preventative action to help protect their pets.
What this shows is that it’s important for pet owners not to be caught off-guard by the seemingly cooler months of late spring and early summer. There may not be an official weather warning or a record-breaking heatwave in place, however, even on cloudy summer days, cars, caravans and spaces like conservatories can quickly heat up and pets are at risk of overheating.
DOGS NEED EXTRA CARE
Last year, 10% of vets in small animal practice had seen at least one dog affected by the heat after being left in a hot car, while four times as many vets saw at least one dog affected by the heat after being walked or exercised in hot weather. Dogs can struggle to stay cool in high temperatures and humid conditions since, unlike humans, they are unable to cool down quickly through sweating, making them vulnerable to overheating. For some, a very short walk in the middle of the day or being locked in a hot car for a few minutes can prove to be fatal.
Flat-faced breeds such as English or French bulldogs and pugs are at even greater risk, as their flat faces can make breathing difficult, and therefore they struggle to cool down through panting, which is a dog’s main way to cool its body temperature. Dogs won’t stop playing and running if it is hot, so owners need to take action to prevent them overheating. This includes making sure pets aren’t walked or exercised in the middle of a hot day or left inside a car or conservatory, even when it is overcast or even for a little while, as ‘not long’ can prove fatal. 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. It’s important to know the early signs of heatstroke- call your vet immediately if you see heavy panting, drooling, restlessness, bright red or very pale gums, lack of coordination, or any other abnormal signs in your pet.
Like dogs, rabbits cannot sweat; they also can’t pant to regulate their body temperature and cool down and air temperatures over 27°C can cause heat stroke, which is often fatal. That’s why it’s important that they have access to shade throughout the day. You can freeze plastic bottles of water and place them in your rabbit’s enclosure to help them stay cool but always provide fresh water too. Lightly misting rabbits’ ears with cold water is also an effective way to help cool them.
Signs of heatstroke in rabbits include drooling, lethargy, short and shallow breaths, red and warm ears, a wet nose or seizures. Flystrike is also a life-threatening risk for rabbits and guinea pigs in the warmer months. Flies may lay eggs in your bunny or guinea pig’s fur, which can hatch into maggots and feed on your pet, potentially making them seriously unwell. Always make sure you check their bottoms twice daily to see if they are clean and to spot early signs of fly eggs or maggots. A ‘sticky bottom’ is not only at much higher risk of flystrike, it may be due to a problem with your rabbit’s teeth or digestion. Speak with your vet for advice on how reduce the risk of flystrike; they will also be able to show you how best to safely handle your bunny to check them.
DEALING WITH TICKS AND FLEAS
Fleas can be a chronic source of irritation for pets. One flea will lay hundreds of eggs in its short lifetime that then develop into larvae, which often penetrate into carpets, beds and soft furnishings so can be very hard to eliminate.
Most dogs and cats will come into contact with fleas through other pets or wild animals, appropriate preventative treatment may be necessary. 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, which are particularly prevalent in warmer months and can carry diseases. There are various ways to minimise your pet’s risk to parasites and your vet will be able to ensure the risks to your pet, your family and the planet are all taken into consideration when prescribing the best medicines to prevent and treat parasites in your pet.
Finally, if you have any questions about helping your pet stay healthy and happy during the summer, always 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 www.bva.co.uk