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Summer is here!

This is great news for us and our beloved pets as with summer, comes spending a lot of time outdoors. This season, however, comes with its own set of risks, particularly in our South African climate. 

Heatstroke is an extremely real and dangerous threat, especially if the signs aren’t recognised early enough to begin the cooling process of our pets down. 

Here are some helpful tips that every pet parent should know this summer.

How to prevent heatstroke in dogs:

  • Make sure that your pet always has fresh, cool water available. This includes when travelling in the car, going for a walk or around the home. Travel bowls with Velcro around the bottom can stick to car seats and travel bottle cups that attach easily to a water bottle will allow your pup to have a drink no matter where you are.
  • Walk your dog in the early morning or early evening to avoid the heat of the day. Stop often on your walk route and allow your dog to cool off in the shade and play in water fountains or dams, if possible. If your dog isn’t used to going on long walks or runs, allow him to rest every 10 minutes. Swimming is a great form of exercise and keeps the body temperature down while splashing about.
  • NEVER leave your dog in a parked car. This also applies to glass greenhouses or caravans. The temperature in a parked car can rise by 10°C in 10 minutes, even with the windows open or when parked in the shade. Dogs can’t sweat like we do to cool down so rely entirely on evaporative cooling from panting. In a small space like a car, the air heats up quickly and panting no longer helps cool your dog down. If the outside temperature is 22°C, the inside of a car can go up to 47°C according to the RSPCA.
  • Give your dog a summer cut if they have a long, thick coat. All dogs benefit from being shaved in summer to help manage the heat, especially if you live in a warm or humid area. 

All dogs can succumb to heatstroke but some are more prone than others:

Image source: https://www.richmondvets.co.uk & https://za.pinterest.com

  • Flat-faced (otherwise known as brachycephalic) dogs like English and French bulldogs are especially prone to overheating as their upper airways are not as efficient at cooling them down while panting
  • Older dogs with underlying health problems or dogs with arthritis may be weak and may not be able to get up and move out of the sun
  • Young puppies may overexert themselves while playing in the hot sun
  • Dogs with long and/or thick coats
  • Obese and overweight dogs or very muscular dogs
  • Dogs that stay outdoors and don’t have access to shade
  • Dogs who live in humid and hot climates

Signs that your dog may have heatstroke:

  • Excessive and continuous panting 
  • Unable to settle down or anxious
  • Whining, crying and pacing
  • Fast and bounding heart beat or pulse
  • Dark pink gums and mucous membranes
  • In severe heatstroke cases, your dog may show the following symptoms: weakness, vomiting and diarrhoea, mental dullness, lethargy, depression, staggering, collapse or inability to rise or walk, unresponsiveness, seizures, blindness or loss of consciousness

What to do if your dog has heatstroke:

  • Cool them down immediately by placing them, standing up, in a bath or shower while the water is running over them. If in the bath, put the plug in so that it fills up and then add lots of ice to the water. Make sure your dog’s head stays above water at all times. If this isn’t practical, you can spray your dog down with a hose or even put him into the swimming pool with you holding him. 
  • Offer your dog cool water to drink.
  • If you have someone to help you, one person can gently massage your dog’s legs to promote blood flow.
  • Many people use ice-packs to cool their dogs down by placing them in the groin area and under the front limbs, but full submersion in an ice bath has been shown to be the most efficient way for a dog to cool down. It drops the body temperate by 2°C in only 5-7 minutes, whereas cooling your pet with icepacks can take up to 2 hours to do the same. Fans aren’t effective at cooling your dog due to the coat preventing evaporative cooling.
  • The longer your dog’s temperature is too high, the more dangerous the situation becomes. If it takes more than 90 minutes to begin cooling down a dog with heat stroke, the chances of shock and multiple organ failure increase drastically. The body is made of proteins and just as an egg will cook when placed on a stove top, so too can the proteins in the body’s cells if they aren’t cooled down quickly enough.
  • Once you’ve managed to cool your dog down, a check-up at the vet is essential. If an emergency vet is very close by, you can go there immediately for them to start the process. Your dog may need fluid, oxygen and urgent critical care going forward, so don’t take a chance and have your vet make sure he’s ok.
  • Once your dog has cooled down and relaxed, don’t leave him in the cold water for any longer than necessary as hypothermia can develop. 

Although dogs are more commonly affected by heatstroke, our fabulous felines also feel the summer season. 

Image Source: https://w-dog.net

Here are some tips to keep your cat cool on a hot day:

  • Encourage your cat to drink more water with a water fountain and have multiple water sources available in the house and garden.
  • Offer your cat cool water or put ice cubes in the water to cool it down.
  • Give your cat ice cubes to play with and bat around on the floor. This will cool the paw pads and is usually tolerated far better than putting the paws in cold water.
  • Make sure there are lots of cool areas for your cat to rest, like tiled or cemented areas out of the sun. Place a cooling pad in your kitty’s bed, basket or favourite snooze spot. Elevated resting areas also tend to be cooler. You can consider keeping your cat indoors in a cool area over the hottest time of the day, out of direct sunlight, and in a breezy room with a fan or air conditioner.
  • If your cat loves being outdoors, try placing pot plants with lavender or catnip around the garden in shady spots. These serve as lovely, cool “outdoor beds” where she can relax during the heat of the day.
  • Allow your cat to rest and sleep on very hot days. Being sedentary keeps the core temperature down. Postpone kitty’s playtime to the evenings once it has cooled down.
  • If your cat will tolerate it, you can wipe her down gently with a cool, damp cloth. This works best for short haired felines.
  • Cats can pant to get rid of excess heat but seldom need to. It’s more likely that your cat is panting from stress, so allow her to calm down and rest, and it should stop. If the panting is excessive, or if you’re worried, take your cat to the vet for a check-up.
  • Keep an eye out for signs of heatstroke and take your cat to the vet if you are worried. These include excessive panting and hot paw pads, inability to settle down, anxiety, fast and bounding heartbeat, dark pink gums, weakness, vomiting and diarrhoea, mental dullness, lethargy, depression, staggering, collapse or inability to rise or walk, unresponsiveness, seizures, blindness or loss of consciousness.

Don’t forget the sunscreen!

Remember to use a pet safe sunscreen for dogs and cats with light skin and thin coats. This is especially important for areas that are exposed to direct light and have thin hair cover, such as the nose, ears and stomach. Not only is sunburnt skin painful (which we can all attest to), but these areas are prone to developing certain skin cancers after repeated exposure to the sun’s harmful rays.

So, go on and enjoy Summer! But keep your eye on the thermometer and do your part in preventing your pet from getting heatstroke.
 

Dr Tanya Viljoen
After studying at Onderstepoort, Tanya worked in private practice for 4 years focused mainly on dogs and cats. She believes that the human- animal bond is a precious and essential part of life.
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