As summer approaches and temperatures rise our pets needs special care. Heat stress or heat stroke occurs when animals are confined in hot environments.
Below is a list of practical advice on how to keep our pet friends cool.
All dogs can be affected by heat stress, and some dog breeds are more predisposed to heat-related illnesses. Dogs most likely to suffer from heat stress are those with pre-existing breathing problems and short-nosed breeds such as Bulldogs, Pugs, Pekingese and Boxers. Symptoms include excessive salivating, weakness, lethargy, shaking, dry nose and gums, whining and constant panting. If pets exhibit these symptoms, a vet should be consulted immediately.
The checklist for heatstroke in dogs includes: heavy panting; profuse salivation; a rapid pulse; very red gums/tongue; lethargy; lack of coordination; reluctance or inability to rise after collapsing; vomiting; diarrhoea; loss of consciousness in extreme circumstances.
Take immediate action if your dog is displaying any of these symptoms. Cool it down gradually and then take it straight to the vet – heatstroke can be fatal. To cool your dog, douse it in cool water (not cold) and let it drink small quantities of cool water, until its breathing has steadied.
Apply pet sunscreen if your dog has a light-coloured nose or ears. Mammals burn just like humans, and can even develop skin cancer.
Here are our top tips for keeping your dog cool
- Exercise your dog early in the morning or late at night.
It's best to avoid walking and running your dog on hot days or humid nights. Remember dogs have a fur coat on and dogs can't sweat. Take water for your dog with you on a walk. Watch put for hot pavement as it can burn your dogs feet.
- Keep your dog hydrated.
Different dogs have different needs when battling the heat. Keep in mind that darker coats absorb more heat than lighter coats. Also, overweight dogs are at higher risk for dehydration. If you are out all day, make sure your dog has enough water and that it is in the shade. Automatic waterers are a great way to make sure enough fresh water is available at all times. Plastic bowls are easily knocked over whereas heavier terracotta ones will not only keep water cooler but are also more stable.
- Find interesting ways to cool your dog.
Don't have air conditioning? No problem! Find a spot in the shade and set up a kiddie clam pool with some dog toys in it. Your dog can then wade in the water to keep cool. If your dog shares your yard with children, remember to have all necessary precautions in place, including fencing, in order to keep them safe. Lay down a wet towel for your dog to lie on. Icy treats are another great option to keep your dog cool and also entertained. We also have a great selection of cooling dog mats and vests - See our Keeping Pets Cool Collection
- Watch for signs of dehydration.
Dogs can't sweat. They cool off by panting, so an overheated dog will drool excessively. It will become lethargic, its eyes will be bloodshot, and it may appear a little pale. If you lift its skin, it will take longer than usual for the skin to fall back into place.
- Dogs cool from their feet up
Make sure to spray the paws and stomach, not just the top of the dog, if you spray your dog with water. A wet towel is more effective under your dog than on the top of its coat.
- Let your dog dig if possible
Your dog may resort to finding his own way to avoid the heat. Dog in nature dig their dens not out of frustration but to find food, hide, give birth--or keep cool! If it's possible, locate a shady area where it's okay for your dog to dig.
- Never leave your dog in a parked car.
An open window or a windshield screen isn't enough to keep the car cool. According to the RSPCA, if it's 22C outside, within an hour it can be 47C inside a car. Dogs die this way every year – don't let yours be one of them. On longer trips, make sure you have water for the dog and keep the Aircon running.
Have long-coated dogs clipped, and groom all breeds regularly.
- Use hot weather as an excuse to swim more often!
The best activity you can do in summertime or hot weather is swimming. Take your dog to the local beach, creek or river to let it have a paddle to cool down. Some people even swim with their dogs in their pool.
Cats enjoy warm weather. They are also good at keeping themselves cool if necessary, with a little help from humans (so perhaps they are intelligent after all). Here's how to help protect them from excessive heat:
Keep your cat inside between 10am and 3pm.
Apply a pet sunscreen, which can't be licked off, to the nose and ears of pale-coloured cats when they do go outside.
Provide your cat with plenty of water, in various positions around the house. Cats often prefer their water to be placed away from their food.
Keep the blinds closed and the curtains shut to keep the house cool for your cat. Keep the windows closed if it is hotter outside than in.
Let your cat choose a cool place to lie down. They will naturally gravitate towards a slate floor or a fan in summer, just as they will curl up in a warm place in winter.
Don't worry if your cat is sleepy during the day. Cats need 16 hours of sleep a day and will sensibly nap even more on a hot day, rather than rushing around getting hotter.
Don't worry if your cat seems to be grooming itself more than usual. This is a cooling mechanism similar to sweating: as the saliva evaporates off its fur, the cat will cool down.
Pay attention to your cat's feet. Cats, like dogs and mice, have their sweat glands on their paws. If your cat is leaving wet paw prints, it is sweating and will need to replenish its fluids. You can try cooling it down by dipping its paws in water, but this may not be appreciated …
Don't worry if your cat starts panting. Cats pant more rarely than dogs, but will pant to take on cooler air if they are particularly hot. Heavy panting could be cause for concern, however (see heatstroke checklist above).
Small Furry Pets
Hygiene is always important and even more so when it's hot: hot weather results in more flies and maggots and can lead to flystrike, an often fatal condition that affects rabbits.
Brush out excessive fur. Who wants to wear an extra fur coat in the summer? If you have a long haired rabbit, consider cropping your bunny's coat short for the summer months.
Make sure all of your animals have cool and shady areas. Cats and dogs are able to move around and seek shade, but small animals such as rabbits, guinea pigs and birds can’t move from their cages. Check and make sure that your caged animals are not in direct sunlight and that their cages are protected from the sun as the shade moves. Move them as the sun moves round if necessary.
Don't keep the hutch on the ground: improve ventilation by putting it on bricks or similar.
Keep water topped up, and be extra-vigilant about evaporation.
Give small animals pieces of water-rich fruit and vegetables, such as celery and apple, to keep them hydrated.
Mist your rabbit's ears. Rabbits dissipate heat through their ears and misting them will help keep your rabbit cool.
Fill 1 or 2 liter soft drink bottles with water and freeze them. Once frozen, put the frozen water bottle in Bunny's cage so he can lean against it to keep cool. Keep a few of these on hand in your freezer
Heat stress, or heat prostration, is a serious problem during the summer months especially when cages or aviaries have inadequate ventilation or are in an enclosed building where the sun beats down on an unshaded roof all day. The combination of high heat and humidity are particularly dangerous.
Birds have no sweat glands. They cool themselves by rapid breathing with their mouths open and by holding their wings out slightly from their bodies. The underneath of a bird’s wing has no feathers and the main wing artery is in that region. If a bird is running a fever or is suffering from heat stress, this area will feel very hot to the touch.
Additional signs of a bird suffering from heat stress include rapid vibrations of the muscles and bones under the throat which also helps to cool the bird and in parrots with severe stress, a goose-honking type sound.
If a bird is displaying the effects of heat stress, it needs to be immediately cooled down with a gentle spray of water or damping with a cool sponge under his wings, feet and beak. He should be taken immediately to an avian veterinarian. Keep the car cool with the air conditioner but ensure that the air doesn’t blow directly on to the bird.
The “featherless” area under the wing allows a bird to cool itself and should always be clean and free of dirt, debris and oils. Wash with cool water or bird shampoo if necessary. Bird treatments should never be applied to this area.
In mild cases of stress or just to cool a bird down where misting hasn’t worked, take a clean sponge, dipping it into cool water and squeezing it onto the skin under each wing. Do this several times on each side and let the cool cloth sit there for a few minutes between fresh rinses. If the bird relaxes and begins to show signs of enjoying it, use the wet rag to dampen down his bottom half including his chest, feet and belly. Allow the bird to drip dry in a cool, well ventilated area. Air movement is important to allow the bird to continue to cool down but don’t let the breeze blow directly on to him.
Keeping birds cool
Birds kept in smaller cages love being sprayed with a fine hand mister of cool water. Weiros and galahs will almost turn themselves inside out to try to soak up every last drop. It is quite spectacular to watch and very pleasing to see the birds perk up almost instantly.
For those with large aviaries, installing a fogger to mist the entire area will have a massive cooling effect. These are available at hardware stores and are easily installed and attached to a garden tap. If they are put on a simple tap timer they can be programmed to come on periodically in the middle of the day for a few minutes. It is surprising how little water these systems use.
Alternatively, hose down the floors and walls of the area or put a small sprinkler just on the outside of the aviary. This can make a bit of a mess and some seed might sprout but the birds will love you for it and probably nibble on the new seedlings as well.
Another option is to hang hessian from the roof of the aviary to hand over the sides. These can be hosed down and will act like a Coolgardie Safe as the breeze blows through the damp fabric. However, be very careful that destructive birds such as parrots and galahs can’t reach the hessian and get themselves tangled in its threads.
Warmer conditions create a breeding ground for parasites and bacteria. Clean and disinfect bird cages regularly.
Like all animals, birds require fresh water that is changed daily however on hot days the water can easily become warm. Birds just won’t drink warm water and will not be able to rehydrate themselves. Change the water a couple of times in the day so that it is always cool and consider asking the neighbour to pop in to do this also if no one is home throughout the day.
Birdbaths are an excellent option as long as the water is changed frequently. In aviaries, if electricity is available, the addition of a small circulatory fountain will help to keep the water fresh. In small bird cages, a shallow dish filled with just a couple of centimetres will keep your bird happy for hours. There are even baths that attach to the door of bird cages that allow your bird to splash around without getting water everywhere.
Bringing a bird inside
Many bird owners will bring their birds inside on a hot day. Birds do very well indoors and will enjoy the company and cool environment but care should be taken when returning the bird to his outdoor area as sudden changes of temperature could cause a problem. Avoid sitting a bird cage next to a window or in direct sunlight as this will only make the heat from outside worse. If a bird is allowed to free range inside, ensure that the ceiling and floor fans are turned off and that the cat is outside.
Feeding birds in summer
Birds do not need as much energy in summer as they do in winter but in addition to their normal pellet or seed mixes, will enjoy greens and fruit which can be left for them in a shallow dish of water. Fresh food should not be left longer than an hour or two in a cage on hot days as bacteria will begin to grow quickly.
When we think of reptiles we automatically think that they need to be warm. The fact is, in the wild, reptiles tend to spend the hot part of the day in a burrow or a shaded spot and come out in the cool parts of the day to hunt. All animals are susceptible heat related stress, so in the warmer months we need to pay attention to how all of our pets are coping with the heat. For ectothermic pets like reptiles and amphibians this is especially critical. Ectotherms or so-called cold-blooded animals regulate their body temperature by using external sources, such as sunlight or a heated rock surface or shade.
The first thing is to make sure that any heat source like a globe ot heat mat is connected and regulated by a thermostat. This is vitally important to make sure your reptiles does not overheat especially on hot days.
Make sure it is actually too hot as humidity may make it feel hotter than it actually is. A thermometer inside the tan is the best way to tell you the correct temperature as it may be different to the room temperature.
A fan may seem like the ideal way to keep reptiles cool but as reptiles don't sweat and fans work by evaporation it won't cool your reptile down but will provide air circulation.
Make sure you keep terrariums away from windows and the sun and out of the warmest areas of your home.
For amphibians, who usually prefer relatively cool water temps, you can add ice cubes made out of dechlorinated water or float a small frozen water bottle in the water to cool it if necessary, but you must avoid drastic temperature fluctuations.
The most effective way to keep reptiles cool is by having an air conditioner but this may not always be possible or practical. If you have a large or expensive reptile collection, an airconditioner is something you may want to consider investing in.
Monitor humidity levels with a hygrometer in the terrarium, and adjust the ventilation as necessary to maintain humidity (increasing ventilation or air flow results in lower humidity). If you live in a humid climate, you may need to increase ventilation. If you live in a very dry, hot climate you may need to decrease ventilation (cover some screened area with tape or plastic) and increase the misting of the tank. Adding an additional dish of water can help with humidity too.
Another great way way of cooling the enclosure down is to freeze a bottle of water and sit it in the enclosure. As the bottle defrosts it can cool the enclosure by as much as 10-15 degrees. Just be very careful about where you put it to make absolutely sure it won’t fall on your reptiles.