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Keeping Pets Safe During the Heat

 by simone on 05 Jun 2014 |
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Once Summer really ramps up, the heat becomes unberable and can even be dangerous. No matter how stifling we think it is - it is much worse for our furry friends. Pets suffer from heat exhaustion too and it can lead to organ damage, brain damage or death. Unlike us, they can’t simply take a cold shower, turn on the air conditioning or help themselves to an ice-cold drink and gelato cone whenever they want. Most importantly, they can’t ask for help if they need it. Pets rely on us to make sure they stay safe when the mercury rises. 

Many animals, including dogs and cats, don't sweat through their skin to cool down as humans do. The only sweat glands they have are on the pads of their paws. Instead, they try to cool down by panting which circulates air and expells moisture from their respiratory tract and lungs. 

Summer is synonymous with outdoor fun - pools, picnics, parks, beaches and barbecues. The guideline to keep your pet safe is straightforward: If it's too hot for you, then it's definitely too hot for pets. 

Drinking Water

First and foremost, lots of fresh water should be available to your pet - both indoors and outdoors - at all times during hot weather. Have at least double the number of water bowls, in twice the number of locations for your pet. Make sure that any outdoor water bowls are in shaded spots where the water has less chance of evaporating. Animals may not drink water that has become too warm so you can add ice to help keep it cool for longer.


Pets love a delicious frozen treat just as much as we do when it's hot. You can make tasty ice-blocks for your pet using water, beef, chicken or seafood stock and include some dried food, vegetables or anything that is safe for your pet to eat. 


Only exercise your pets in the morning or evening, not during the hottest hours of the day, and always carry water for your pet. On very hot days, reduce the intensity and duration of any exercise. This is particularly important for pets with short muzzles who may experience more difficulty breathing and panting in hot and humid weather. Asphalt, bitumen, sand and some tiles get extremely hot and retain the day's heat. These surfaces can burn your dog’s paw pads. If possible, only walk your dog on grassed areas. If your dog begins limping, refuses to walk, has blisters or redness on their pads then it is likely they have burned their pad. You should consult your vet for treatment.


Whilst cats and dogs can move around and seek cool shady spots, small animals like rabbits, guinea pigs, ferrets and caged birds cannot. You must make sure that any caged animals are not placed in direct sunlight. In extreme heat, bring them indoors if at all possible, or place the cage on a covered, ventilated verandah.

If your pets are outdoors make sure they always have adequate shaded areas. Remember the sun moves and therefore so does the shade. Large trees or a tarpaulin will provide shade and ventilation. Ventilation is vital to staying cool. A doghouse is not suitable in as there is no provision for air-flow and ventilation. 

For outdoor pets, even those that aren’t house trained, give them access to an indoor area such as a laundry, bathroom or kitchen for the day or at least for regular intervals throughout the day. It is best that kittens and puppies be indoors at all times during hot weather. 


Just as we can get sunburned, so can white-haired, fair-skinned and thin-haired animals. And just like us, animals get sun cancer. Grab some specialist pet sunscreen (others may be toxic to pets if licked, ingested or absorbed through their skin) and put some on the sensitive parts of your pet that have little hair coverage or thinner skin such as the nose, tips of the ears, belly and groin.

A Cool Spot to Lay their Head

You can make their bed or favourite spot extra cool too. Wrap an ice pack in a sock, cloth or towel, or fill a hot water bottle with cool water for your pet to lay on. Soak cloths and towels in water, place them in the freezer for 30 minutes or so, then put them on the floor for your pet to lay on if they want to. Cats and dogs will love to spread out on any cool tiled surfaces and cats in particular will head for a dry porcelain bathtub or sink. 


Cool, Calm and Collected

It's very imporrtant that pets do no overdo exercise and activity in hot weather. Keep your pet calm and relaxed so they don’t overheat or dehydrate. Ask children to leave the pets alone and not to excite the animals. It's a great idea to have everyone read a book or watch television so that pets can sit and laze about during a heatwave. 

Water Fun and Cooling Down

If it is a particularly hot day or your pet seems to be struggling to stay cool, wet their feet and lightly spray water onto their face using a mister. This will be suitable for dogs, cats, ferrets, poultry and caged birds. Remember to use a light spray setting as many cats do not like getting wet and birds should not have their feathers saturated. Many dogs might enjoy a spray with the garden hose or play time under the sprinkler. 

Dogs and cats can be covered with towels and cloths dampened with cool water to help reduce their body temperature. Make sure you leave their head and mouth uncovered so breathing is not restricted. You can buy special cooling body wraps, vests and mats that can be soaked in water and remain cool for longer periods. Cats, rabbits and guinea pigs can be gently stroked and pat using a dampened cloth. A bottle of frozen water left in the cage for a rabbit and guinea pig will allow them to lean against it and regulate their body temperature. 

If your pet enjoys water then a cool bath will help them cope on hot days. Another option is to leave a shallow kid’s wading pool in the shade for your dog to paddle and lay in. For small dogs you can use a large, shallow plastic container. 

If you take your dog to a pool, beach, lake or river for a refreshing dip always keep them within view, do not leave them unsupervised and be aware of any currents, riptides and marine craft. You may want to consider a life vest for your dog which will provide extra buoyancy if they tire or experience trouble when swimming. 

Pets in Cars

There is one simple rule and that is DON’T EVER DO IT. Never leave your pet in a car on a hot day, not even with the windows down and not even for a short while. Your pet is far more sensitive to the heat and they will not cope with the added heat stress of being in a car. In as little as 20 minutes a car’s temperature can reach 100 degrees Fahrenheit or 38 degrees Celsius when the ambient temperature is 80F/26C. 

In high temperatures, animals can suffer irreversible organ damage, brain damage or die in just 15 minutes. So again the rule is DON'T EVER DO IT. 

Heatstroke/Heat Exhaustion

All pet owners need to be aware of the signs of heat exhaustion and heatstroke. Very young, elderly, sick and overweight pets are at particular risk. Keep a careful eye on dog breeds with short muzzles as they experience more difficulty breathing in extreme heat.

If you notice any of the following signs move the animal to a cool area, allow them to drink water in small amounts, reduce their body temperature with a hose or wet towel (not covering their head or mouth) and apply ice packs to their head, neck and chest. You need to take them to a vet immediately.

  • Excessive panting
  • Disorientation, dizziness or lack of coordination
  • Agitation
  • Glazed eyes
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Lethargy or unresponsiveness
  • Fever and skin that is hot to the touch
  • Excessive salivation or drooling
  • Red or purple tongue
  • Vomiting
  • Seizure


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