Many people love summer and look forward to the long hot days and the opportunities they bring for outdoor activities. Many pets, however, do not enjoy hot weather so much and pet owners need to take special care to make sure their animal friends are comfortable during the warmer months.
DRINKING WATER Plenty of fresh, clean drinking water is a number one requirement of all pets at all times, but especially during the summer months.
Consider using frozen water bottles in your dog’s or cat’s water to keep it cool or make iceblocks in plastic containers (e.g. ice-cream containers) and leave these in the water to melt during the day.
Leave at least two bowls of water for your dog or cat and if your pet is left outside, leave the water bowls in well shaded areas.
Dogs that like to play with water will need large bowls which are made of heavy material and difficult to tip over. Large dogs could drink from a bucket which is tied to a fence or has a heavy object in the bottom to weigh it down.
If your dog likes to play in water consider purchasing a child's plastic pool and half fill it with water. As well as providing an extra large, additional water bowl it will provide the dog with the opportunity to play, splash, dig, and lie in the water, having fun whilst it keeps cool.
Smaller pets and birds which are left alone all day should be given plenty of fresh water before you leave. It is a good idea to provide them with two water sources (bowls/bottles).
SHADE FROM THE SUN Pets enjoy the comfort of an air conditioner when you are home with them, but when you are out or at work they need to have a cool, shady spot where they can lie and rest.
Dogs and cats which are left outside will appreciate the shade of a large leafy tree or a cool verandah. Make sure that they have shady areas for the whole day as an area which is shaded in the morning may be in full sun during the afternoon. Access to the laundry or a room of the house will ensure day long shade and they will appreciate the opportunity to lie on a cool, concrete or tiled floor.
Birds and small caged animals, such as rabbits, guinea pigs (cavies), rats and mice are probably better if they can be left inside the house or on a shady verandah, but if they have to be outside find a suitable spot for them which will be out of direct sunlight for the whole day. Don’t put coverings over their cages to shade them as this will restrict the air-flow.
Fish, birds and small caged animals inside the house need to be kept away from any windows which may allow the sun to shine in on them.
Don’t leave any animals shut in sheds or garages as these structures can become very hot inside on a sunny day and are often not well ventilated.
CARS AND HOT DAYS Never, ever, leave your pet in a car on a hot or even warm day, even for a short time.
Pets do not sweat as we do, but evaporate most of their heat by panting. Panting requires large amounts of air to move heat away from the body and when the heat is trapped in a car and the air is hot, pets can literally overheat and die within minutes.
Scientists have studied the effects of the sun on the interior temperature of a car. They found that 89% of the temperature increase occurs in the first 15 to 20 minutes and that the increase is the same whether the windows are closed or open several centimetres.
The above chart show how quickly the temperature inside a car can rise on a 30ºC day. From these figures you can imagine what it would be like on a 35º or 40º day. Parking in the shade would reduce the increase in temperature slightly, but certainly not enough to safely leave your pet in the car.
HEAT STROKE OR HYPOTHERMIA Although most commonly seen in dogs, heat stroke can affect all animals. If you think your pet is in distress, phone your veterinarian immediately for advice. Your quick actions could save your pet's life.
A pet suffering from heat stroke may initially appear distressed and be hot to touch. It will pant excessively and become restless, listless and/or disoriented. As the situation worsens the animal may drool copious volumes of saliva and become unsteady on its feet. You may notice its gums become a bluish-purple or bright red colour due to the inadequate oxygen supply to the tissues. As the body temperature continues to climb the animal will collapse, become comatose and may soon die.
If you think your pet may be suffering from heatstroke, immediately put it in a shaded area and cool it, either by immersing it in a bath of cool (not cold) water, or by soaking it in running water from a hose or under a tap (after first running off any hot water). Keep your pet wet and if possible, use a fan or air-conditioner to maintain airflow over the body. If the animal is conscious offer it small amounts of cool (not cold) drinking water.
Seek immediate veterinary attention for your pet as intensive care may be required to save its life. Keep it damp in the car on your way to the vet and keep the air conditioning on, if possible with the air vents positioned to blow cool air over the animal.
Cats are generally more tolerant of heat than dogs, but rabbits have a low tolerance to heat. Guinea pigs do not tolerate heat or humidity well and are also susceptible to sudden changes in the temperature and weather. Pet rats and mice are also susceptible to heat, humidity and sudden temperature changes and are best kept in an area where the temperature does not exceed 27ºC.
OTHER TIPS FOR SUMMER
Avoid exercising your dog during the hottest hours of the day. Enjoy early morning and late evening walks but keep your pet away from the pavement and hot bitumen which may burn its paws. Collapsible water bowls are very handy to take with you so you can offer your pet a drink during the walk.
Restrict your dog’s ball games and other active pastimes to early mornings or late evenings when it is cooler.
Pets can get skin cancer too. If your pet loves to laze around in the sun, slop on a pet sunscreen, especially to pink or white noses.
For some unlucky pets, flies can cause irritation and leave bleeding ear tips. Keep them away by applying a special fly repellent for pets.
Dogs, cats and smaller, caged animals usually enjoy lying on ice bricks (as used in eskies to keep food/drinks cold) or frozen hot water bottles, either of which can be wrapped in a towel or placed in a pillowcase. Alternatively, for small caged animals a ceramic tile placed in their cage will provide them with a cool place to lie and they will also appreciate a frozen water bottle to lie against and sometimes lick.
Ensure that rabbits have fresh vegetables, especially leafy greens, included in their diet.
Guinea pigs will enjoy fresh fruit, especially water melon, to nibble on during hot weather.
Long haired guinea pigs and rabbits can become fly blown if their hair becomes damp with urine or faeces. You will need to check regularly that this does not happen and possibly even clip away some of the hair from their rear ends during the summer months.
Most dogs love to run and fossick at the beach, and are always especially happy to find dead fish. Never let your dog eat or chew on dead fish, particularly blowfish or puffer fish which are extremely toxic.
Some dogs will enjoy a supervised dip in the swimming pool, if one is available, especially if they are introduced to it at a young age.
Remember that elderly and very young pets may be more susceptible to heat and take extra care of them.
With a little care and a few precautions your pets can comfortably enjoy the summer months.