Keeping pets safe in summer
Hot summer months can present some challenges for our animals. Here are our tips on helping your pet stay happy, healthy and cool during summer.
Take extra care while exercising your pet
Exercising in the scorching sun and during the hottest hours of the day can be dangerous for your pet. It is important you exercise your pet early in the morning or in the evening throughout the summer months as these are the coolest times of day and your pet is less likely to overheat.
Avoid long and strenuous walks on warm, sunny days, and steer clear of prolonged sun exposure. Many cases of heat stroke in dogs are due to strenuous physical exercise on warm days, so it is important that you pay attention to your pet’s needs and avoid overexertion. Take your pets to an area that has shade or a place for them to swim so they can take a break to cool off, and if they want to slow down or stop, follow their lead.
Dogs with flat faces, such as bulldogs and pugs, are more susceptible to heat stroke since they cannot breathe or pant as effectively as dogs with longer noses. Take extra care with dogs of these breeds when exercising in the summer.
Having fresh water available for your pet is essential all year-round, but even more important when it’s hot outside. Bring a dog-friendly water bottle along with you when you’re out walking or playing in the park, and always ensure that there is fresh water available for all animals after exercising.
If you exercise your rabbits or guinea pigs in your garden, or in an outdoor play pen this summer, make sure they have adequate shade and plenty of fresh water at all times. A frozen icepack or a wet tea towel can help to keep them cool on very hot days.
(See tip - remember the 5 second rule)
Tips to keep your pet cool
Your pet can heat up quickly and this can result in heat exhaustion that can be fatal. Keep an eye out for excessive panting, breathing difficulties, weakness, or drooling. To avoid this, make sure your animals always have access to fresh drinking water and adequate shelter for protection (keep the sun’s moving shadow in mind).
There are also some other tricks to keep your pet cool this summer!
Dogs respond differently to heat than people do. Unlike us, sweating isn’t effective in cooling them down. They can only sweat small amounts through their paws, and rely on panting to cool down. This makes them susceptible to heat stress in warmer weather. In the summer months, pet owners should take extra care with older or overweight pets, brachycephalic breeds, and those suffering from cardiac conditions.
- You can half-fill a shallow children’s paddling pool for your dog to bathe in. Just make sure your dog can get in and out easily.
- Put ice cubes in an indoor bowl, and freeze a big block of ice for your dog’s outdoor bowl.
- Doggie ice blocks are also a great way to keep them hydrated. Just freeze your dog’s favourite treat in water, inside a Kong, or an ice-cream container.
- You can find cooling mats at most pet stores. These can be used as crate liners or as beds, and can be helpful for other animals too.
Cats quite enjoy the warm weather, but they still need to keep cool like any other animal. They will naturally gravitate towards a cool floor to lie down on if they are hot, so make sure there are some cool, shaded areas available in your home. Don’t worry if they are particularly sleepy during the summer – cats will sensibly nap even more on a hot day, rather than moving around and getting hotter.
- Cats tend to prefer their water to be placed away from their food. It is important your cat is keeping hydrated, so if you are noticing they aren’t drinking from their water bowl, make sure it is situated away from where they eat. Some cats prefer running water; you can get a variety of pet water fountains which will encourage them to drink more.
- You can place ice water in glasses and bowls around the house. Cats are notorious for drinking out of any water container they can find!
- Stroking your cat with a damp cloth is a great way to keep them cool (if they allow it!). The best places to attend to are their paws, bellies and outside of their ears.
- Make sure to brush your cat regularly. Matted fur works as insulation, and will mean your cat can overheat more easily. If you have a long-haired cat and decide to shave them, leave at least a full inch of fur to help prevent sunburn.
Small animals are particularly vulnerable to heat stroke, so it is very important you make sure they aren’t too hot. Here are some things you can do keep them happy and healthy this summer:
- Relocate your bird, rabbit, guinea pig or any other small animal to a cooler part of your home.
- Place ice cubes wrapped in a tea towel, a small frozen icepack, or a wet tea towel in their enclosure for them to lean against.
- Small animals need to stay well hydrated, so fruit and vegetables high in water content, such as celery and apples, are a great and delicious way to help them avoid dehydration. Be careful to make sure the vegetables you feed to your small animal are appropriate for their dietary needs.
Horses and livestock
Livestock too can suffer in summer heat.
- Animals rely on evaporation of fluid to help them lose heat, either by sweating or panting, so they need to drink fresh, clean water frequently in hot weather.
- Horses with heavy covers will be heat-stressed on hot days. Unlike dogs, they can’t pant so they rely on evaporation of sweat to lose heat. This means that horses with thick covers can’t lose heat efficiently. Light, porous covers on thin-skinned show horses and racehorses are acceptable.
- Sheep and angora goats carrying more than one year’s fleece will be heat-stressed in hot weather and prone to flystrike in humid weather. They must be shorn before the height of summer.
- Newly shorn animals need shade to prevent sunburn.
Know the signs of heat stroke:
- Excessive panting
- Excessive drooling
- Abnormal gum and tongue colour
If you find an animal suffering from heat stroke:
- Move the animal into shade or an air conditioned area
- Offer the animal a small amount of lukewarm water to drink
- Spray or soak animal’s neck, abdomen and inner thighs in lukewarm water
- Use cool but not cold water (do not use ice as this causes blood vessels to constrict, limiting heat loss)
- Take them to a vet ASAP
Hot cars can kill
On a warm day, the inside of your car heats up very quickly. A dark-coloured car, parked in full sun on a day with an ambient temperature of 22°C can reach an internal temperature of 40°C after 10 minutes. Opening the windows slightly has very little effect.
A normal dog’s body temperature is around 38.5°C. Dogs only sweat a small amount through their paws and rely on panting to cool down. In a hot car, even with the windows slightly open, panting is not enough to keep a dog’s body temperature within a safe range. A dog can withstand a body temperature of 41°C for a short amount of time but will quickly suffer irreparable brain damage and even death. Heat stroke is a serious condition for dogs with mortality rates between 39-50%. Young, overweight or elderly animals, or those with short muzzles or thick, dark-coloured coats are most at risk of overheating.
Please don't leave your dog unattended in a car at any time of the day. If the purpose of your trip is not to take your dog somewhere, please leave your dog at home. You face a $300 fine for leaving your dog in a hot car.
If you find a dog locked in a car in distress, please call the Police or your local SPCA immediately. Do not smash the window as this puts both you and the dog at risk.
Beware of sunburn
Just like people, animals can also suffer from sunburn! Pets who are fair-skinned or light-haired are particularly susceptible to the sun’s harsh rays. Skin cancer occurs commonly in dogs and cats, and even though the fur provides some sun protection, your pet needs a sunblock applied every 3-4 hours on areas that have no, or little, hair.
The good news is you can buy pet-friendly sunscreen to rub on the tips of their ears, on the end of their nose, and on their stomach – these are the most commonly sunburnt areas. Normal sunscreen ingredients include zinc oxide, which can be toxic to animals, so pet-friendly sunscreen is best.
Remember the 5 second rule
Remember, if the pavement or sand is too hot for you, it is too hot for your pet! Your dog’s feet can get burnt and blistered on the hot ground, particularly hot pavements, asphalt or scorching beach sand. Hot black iron-rich sands are found along much of the Western Coast of the North Island and can cause huge damage to the paws of your furry friends. Check if it’s a safe temperature by placing the back of your hand on the pavement or sand for five seconds. If it’s too hot to keep your hand there then your pet shouldn’t be out walking on it.
Travelling with your pet
If you are heading on a road trip with your pet this summer, make sure you plan ahead. This will ensure the comfort and safety of everyone in the car, whether two legs or four.
Before setting off on your adventure, take your pet on several short car trips. This is especially important if you want to take your cat away with you, as cats aren’t usually the greatest of travel buddies! Building up your pet’s familiarity with the car and transport will help your pet get used to what’s ahead. During this training period, make sure you head to places which are fun for your pet, rather than just going to places they may not enjoy, like the vet! This approach will help your pet associate car trips with having fun.
Unrestrained animals can distract or disrupt the driver, which can be very dangerous. If there is a collision, an unrestrained animal is at risk of injuring themselves, and everyone else in the car too. Having the correct restraints, such as a suitable pet carrier, pet seatbelt or car seat, helps to keep you and your animal safe during travel. You can find these items at most pet stores.
Remember that whilst travel and new places is exciting for people, it can be unsettling for your pet. A collar with identity tags is important in case your pet gets lost, and a microchip is vital - it can be the difference between being reunited with your pet and losing your pet forever.
Shade is essential for all animals
Whether you have chickens, dogs, cats, small animals, horses, goats, sheep or cows, they all need to have adequate shelter that protects them from the sun’s harsh rays.
Make sure there are plenty of places for your horses to hide from the heat of the sun to avoid overheating, sunburn and horse flies. Trees are a decent form of shade, but man-made shelters that do not have enclosed sides are also effective.
If you keep your dog outside, it is critical your dog has access to shade. Doghouses are not good shelter during the summer as they can trap heat, and please remember dark coloured dogs absorb more heat than dogs with lighter coats. Tree shade and tarpaulins are ideal because they don’t obstruct air flow.
Make sure your cat has plenty of shady areas to rest. It may be a good idea to close some of your blinds and curtains to provide them with a cool spot to snooze.
If your small animals live outside, you can improve ventilation of their hutch or coop by putting bricks or something similar underneath which brings it off the ground. Also, make sure their hutch or run is in the shade all day by moving it around as the sun moves.
Grooming is helpful too
Maintaining your pet’s grooming regime is important in the summertime. It helps with the high prevalence of parasites, effective temperature regulation, and protection from sunburn.
Some animals such as dogs with double or woollen coats, or long-haired rabbits and cats, will require consistent grooming, and sometimes might need help from a professional. Regular grooming will also help with matting, which not only can become painful, but will also trap moisture and heat. This is particularly important for dogs who like to swim in the sea, or roll in the sand during the summer.
You may want to give your pet a summer cut to help avoid matting, or to keep your pet cool, but please resist the urge to shave your pet. Your pet’s coat helps to prevent sunburn.
Checking the ears of your cat, rabbit or dog regularly is also important during the summer, particularly if swimming is on your dog’s play list. Dogs whose ears fold over are also prone to ear infections, as well as being a warm and cosy place for fleas, ticks and mites to set up camp.
Amidst your pet’s adventures this summer, they can attract debris between their toes. So make sure you also pay attention to your pet’s paws.
Send Parasites Packing
Hookworms, heartworms, fleas and ticks are more prevalent during the summer. They are so tiny you can barely see them, but there is nothing small about the problems they can bring to your household. They make your pet itch like crazy, and can transmit diseases to pets and people. Keeping on top of your flea and worm treatments will help keep these nasty critters away.
Worms can infest your pet in a number of ways. These include coming into contact with faeces, or areas/objects/food that are contaminated. Some worms can even infest your pet through the pads of their feet.
Ticks can infest your pet by latching onto them when they pass through vegetation such as grassy areas, forests or fields.
Your pets can pick up fleas from the environment, from other animals, and even from people or objects that fleas or their eggs are hitching a ride on. Flea eggs can remain dormant for a very long time, most commonly in the garden, in carpet or furniture inside the house. Approximately 5% of the flea population are adult fleas that you might see on your pet, and the other 95% are present as eggs larvae. Therefore, to effectively control fleas it is essential to control all stages of a flea’s lifecycle.
A bad flea infestation can make dogs and cats, especially puppies and kittens, anemic, because they consume up to 15 times their own weight in your pet’s blood every day. Some animals are especially sensitive to bites and develop flea allergy dermatitis. This skin condition can be incredibly uncomfortable and irritating for your pet, causing intense itching, hair loss, inflamed skin, and self-trauma.
Thankfully, there are many effective parasite control options available to protect your pet and your family from parasites. Just ask your veterinarian for the most appropriate solution for your pet, based on where you live, the risk of different parasites in the area, and your pet’s own individual circumstances.
Rabbits are also susceptible to parasites, especially if they live outside. Check your rabbit regularly for mites, fleas and worms, and speak to your vet about the best way to protect and treat for parasites. Signs they might have an infestation include hair loss, crusting, redness or scaling of the skin.