How Heatwaves Affect Pets – And Tips To Keep Them Safe

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How Heatwaves Affect Pets – And Tips To Keep Them Safe

How Heatwaves Affect Pets

Just like you and I, our furry friends feel the heat in different ways. While some will be alright in hot temperatures, others will swelter through the summer. And just like you and I, extreme weather conditions can be rough on our pets, especially as they can’t respond to heat in the same way as humans.

While we have sweat glands to help us regulate our temperatures, cats and dogs only have some in their feet and around their noses, meaning it’s much harder for them to control their internal temperature.

Record heatwaves are currently sweeping through Australia. With toxic ozone warnings for areas of the country, and fan and air-conditioning sales going into overdrive, ‘cool temperatures’ for the country can still top 35 degrees in the heart of a heatwave. So, what does this heat mean for our pets, and how can we best protect them from the harsh conditions?

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Photo by Brina Blum on Unsplash

Why the sudden heatwave?

February temperatures are generally hotter than average, and according to the Bureau of Meteorology, this year’s no different. January through to April is expected to be warmer than average, and nights aren’t bringing any cooler temperatures. So, what’s causing this and why does it even occur? How can we be cool and calm one week, yet dive into a hot, sticky mess the next?

A heatwave is caused by a high atmospheric pressure system moving into an area; air from the upper levels of the atmosphere is pulled toward the ground. The compression of the air causes an increase in temperature, and because of the high concentration, it’s difficult for other weather systems to push through the barrier. This is generally why a heatwave sticks around for so long, and usually, there’s also very little wind, breeze or cloud cover. Combine all of these elements together and it’s a recipe for a very hot period of time.

The key to remember is that while many people associate floods, storms and cyclones with the possibility of fatalities, heatwaves can be just as dangerous.

How does heat affect pets?

During heat waves, it’s crucial to understand how our pets react to the heat, what we need to look for to ensure they’re coping, and what to do if they’re struggling. The most common issue owners need to be aware of is heatstroke in pets. This occurs when the body generates heat at an excess rate to its ability to cool – in other words, your pets can’t cool themselves down fast enough.

The problem is, many pet owners don’t know the signs of heatstroke or don’t recognise them quickly enough. If not treated correctly or acted upon quickly, pets can die. Importantly, while heatstroke is more common in the hotter months, it can occur in cooler temperatures as well, so it’s imperative to know the signs.  

As mentioned before, pets don’t have sweat glands like humans do. Instead, they mainly rely on panting and external cooling to lose heat.

On top of this, their fur can be a huge issue during the hotter months, especially if they have long, thick coats. This means that some breeds of cats and dogs are more prone to overheating than others. For example, brachycephalic anatomy is a predisposition for heatstroke. This means breeds such as Pugs, English Bulldogs and Persian or Himalayan cats, among others, are susceptible to heatstroke.

Other common risk factors include obesity, breathing conditions in cats like asthma, heart problems, age extremes and long-haired breeds.

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Photo by Jason Blackeye on Unsplash

The warning signs

 It’s not difficult to spot overheating signs and the faster you react to them, the better off your pet will be. So, what are the warning signs?

  • Excessive panting
  • Wandering away when their name is called
  • Glazed eyes
  • Excessive drooling
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Dizziness or lack of coordination
  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Collapsing or convulsions
  • Vomiting or diarrhoea
  • Gums or tongue turn blue or bright red

Immediate steps to take

If you notice any of these signs in your pet, there are some things you can do immediately to help alleviate the symptoms:

  1. Remove your pet from the hot environment
  2. Apply cool water onto their fur
  3. Pop a fan on to help them lose the excess heat as quickly as possible

A key tip here though is to use room-temperature water. If it’s too cold, it can worsen the problem. If your pet’s willing to drink, try to coax it into having some water. If it can’t or won’t drink, wet the tongue with some water instead.

Following the immediate steps, take your pet to the closest vet.

Prevention is key

As the saying goes, the best cure is prevention. So, here’s what to do to prevent heatstroke in your pets.

  • Ensure they have a cool, shady environment outside if they have to be outside.
  • Whenever you can, bring them inside where it’s cooler.
  • Ensure drinking water is fresh. You can even put ice cubes in their water bowl so it stays cool, and pop a couple of bowls out for them so they don’t run out of water.
  • Fill an empty water container and freeze it, then pop it into your pet’s bed. Or you can freeze wet towels.
  • If you know you’re going to be out for a lot of the day but your pet’s going to stay inside, leave a fan or air-conditioning on and close the blinds to keep the hot sun away.
  • Give your dog or cat a hair trim in the hotter months – but make sure to adjust your technique slightly if you’re caring for an older pet
  • Avoid exercising with your pet on hot days.

If you know what symptoms to look for when it comes to heatstroke and how to handle a heatwave, your pet will be in good hands. Remember, as tough as you’re finding these hot conditions, your pet is probably struggling even more, so try to make your pet as cool and comfortable as possible.