What heatwaves do to pets (especially squishy faced breeds)

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What heatwaves do to pets (especially squishy faced breeds)

We love our pets and do everything to make them comfortable and happy, but heatwaves can really distress pets without them letting us know. Just like their ‘hoomans’ some pets can handle the heat just fine, while others really suffer.

Dogs also tend to fare worse in heatwaves and hot days than cats as cats descend from desert critters.

Sweating is a tremendous mechanism to stay cool as it leads to ‘evaporative cooling’ much like how most air conditioners work to cool homes. Pets can’t use ‘evaporative cooling’ as a way to cool down due to the bizarre fact that they do not have sweat glands anywhere but their toes.

As such, they rely on panting and reducing their activity levels. Consequently, the highest risk animals on hot days for overheating are our squishy face crew – technically known as ‘bracycephalic’ breeds, french bulldogs, pugs, and Aussie bulldogs find it much harder to cool down and not heat up on hot days as their breathing passages are already compromised.

If a brachycephalic breed overheats, they have to massively increase the rate of their breathing to drop their body temperature, however, this can lead to the collapse of the windpipe (tracheal collapse) and obstruction of the upper airways and suffocation – think of when you suck with force through a straw, the straw can collapse. It’s the same thing with their airways. Even with an increased breathing rate, many fail to cool down and present to our waiting room in respiratory distress – the fancy name for heatstroke.

Once this happens, the team jumps into action to secure the airway to prevent obstruction and suffocation – this requires a general anaesthetic in order to put a breathing tube down into the lungs. Active cooling with wet blankets and IV fluids are passed through an ice bath to pump super cold saline directly into the body to save the vital organs from essentially cooking.

Brachys really rely on us to keep them from the hazard of heat and there are a few things we can do to keep them comfortable and above all, safe on hot days.

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Photo by Brina Blum on Unsplash

Why the sudden heatwave?

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 early warning or telltale signs

It’s not hard to pick up on signs of overheating and the faster you react to them, the better off your pet will be. So, what are the warning signs?

  • Panting with force
  • Wandering away when their name is called
  • Restlessness
  • Glazed eyes
  • Drooling
  • Lethargy
  • Gums or tongue turn blue or bright red

What to do when this happens:

If you notice any of these above in your pet, there are some things you can do immediately to help prevent the heat spiralling out of control.

  1. Drop the air temperature as fast as you can – turn on fans, aircon and
  2. Apply wet towels to the body and replace them every 5 minutes as they soak up the heat
  3. Put some wet towels in freezer to cool down and apply when old
  4. Place a fan on nearby the body and even have a cool wet towel behind the fan to help them lose the excess heat as quickly as possible
  5. Try and calm them down – anxiety can cause heat to build up too.

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

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

Prevention is key

As the saying goes, prevention is better than cure So, here’s what we recommend you 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 have a brachy – ensure they get the BAS procedure

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.