Cats and dogs don’t always know what’s best for them. Here’s some tips from the experts to keep your pets safe in extreme temperatures.
However maladapted our homes, offices and trains are for the heatwaves currently scorching Europe, most people are clear on the public health messages by now.
Drinking water and limiting time in high temperatures are top of the list. But as a society of pet lovers, what can we do to take care of the animals in our lives? Just like us, dogs, cats and other much-loved creatures can suffer from heatstroke, so hydration and shade are key.
As being outside is so uncomfortable, you may have to adjust your usual habits too - including walks. “You don’t have to walk your dogs in this heat,” says Battersea Dogs and Cats Home's welfare manager Rebecca Verne.
“It really just isn’t worth the risk of taking them outside.”
Yet the oppressive heat doesn’t mean your pets need to be locked down either; there are plenty of ways to get creative while keeping cool - as some of these great tips show.
Can dogs eat ice cream?
Many dogs have difficulty digesting milk so feeding them ice cream may cause a stomach ache or worse.
But you can easily cater to your pets’ needs. Ice cubes in the water bowl are a refreshing place to start.
Dog owner and journalist Marthe de Ferrer says filling a kong (hollow dog toy) and ‘licky mat’ with wet dog food and freezing it has also gone down a treat with her pair.
Frozen snacks aren’t limited to canines, either. Battersea has a simple recipe for cat-friendly ice lollies.
What temperature is too hot to walk a dog?
While exercise is of course essential to your dog's health and wellbeing, priorities have to shift in extreme heat.
Walking your dog is generally safe in temperatures of up to 19°C. Above this, you'll need to be careful because even at 20°C they are at risk of heat stroke.
If you’re feeling unsure, touch the pavement with your hand: if it’s too hot for you, it’s definitely too hot for your pooch’s paws.
Many more dogs develop heatstroke on hot walks than while stuck in hot cars, so walks at cooler times of the day - ideally in shady areas with access to ponds or streams - are recommended. Early morning strolls are best as the temperatures are cooler than in the evening.
Some dogs, particularly breeds known for their energy and endurance, may not self-regulate their exercise in the heat. It's therefore important for owners to enforce breaks to avoid heatstroke, recommends Sophie Mae, founder of Southampton-based dog-walking and pet-sitting service Furends.
“It’s really about the mental stimulation rather than physical exercise when it’s this hot out,” Battersea’s welfare manager adds.
Basic training exercises like sniff games (hiding treats around the house) and scatter feeding can keep your dogs occupied, says Marthe. Though she cautions against trying to teach dogs new tricks when they’re on the verge of overheating.
Who among us would want to do an advanced sudoku puzzle at + 35°C?
How to keep your pets cool at home
The first port of call for animals in cages or hutches is, of course, moving them out of the sun.
Keep an eye on your cats too, who have a tendency to wander into sticky situations - such as an open greenhouse, shed, or in the cool spot under a car. (Car owners should take note of this).
"People always think about cats sort of lounging in the sun and enjoying being hot but they can also struggle in the temperatures,” says Bridie Williams, Rehoming and welfare manager at Battersea Cats and Dogs Home
“If they start sort of showing things like getting a bit agitated, being flat, rapid breathing [...] it's important to give your vet a call."
Dogs don’t always know what’s best for them either, so be sure to move a sunbathing dog into the shade. Not only are they at risk of heatstroke, dogs - even long-haired ones, and especially those with white fur - are susceptible to sunburn. Doggy suncream is available from shops like Pets at Home.
What does heatstroke look like in dogs?
The warning signs for heatstroke in dogs according to the RSPCA include: heavy panting and difficulty breathing, excessive drooling, lethargy, drowsiness, lack of coordination and collapsing or vomiting.
Some breeds with flat faces, young or old animals and those with thick, heavy coats of more prone to heatstroke.
The RSPCA says that if your dog has signs of heatstroke then you need to immediately start gradually cooling their body temperature.
Move them to a shaded area, pour cool - not cold - water over them and allow them to drink small amounts of water until their breathing starts to settle. Don't pour water near their head to avoid drowning and don't cool them to the point where they are shivering.
Once they are cool, urgently take them to the nearest vet.
You may be tempted to shave your pet's fur to keep them cool but this can sometimes expose them to the risk of sunburn and interfere with their natural ability to regulate body temperature.
Instead, Sophie recommends regular brushing to remove excess fur and summer trims for medium and long-haired dogs.
There’s an array of things you can do to keep them cool inside, too. Cooling jackets, wet towels and cool mats can all be employed as suits. And most humans and dogs agree that cold showers are a godsend.
Wrapping a dog in a damp towel for long periods of time can act like insulation, however, which can be detrimental to the dog's ability to regulate its body temperature, says Sophie of Furends.
Instead, drench a thin towel or rag in water and drape it over your dog’s underbelly and inner thighs for short bursts of time.
Additionally, using pet-safe cooling gear like a cooling mat or vest can also help keep dogs cool during hot weather.
While water can help keep pets cool, they can still overheat if they're swimming. If you have a dog pool in your garden, place it in the shade, make sure to limit your pet's playtime and replace the water if it gets too warm, recommends Sophie.
How can you help wildlife during the heatwave?
Pets aren’t the only animals that need a helping hand during a heatwave, in our increasingly less temperate part of the world.
The British Hedgehog Preservation Society is urging people to leave shallow bowls of water out for hedgehogs and other wildlife. With a thought to even smaller creatures, they suggest adding a few pebbles to ensure insects can escape too.
“If you’re able to,” the RSPB tweets, “you can help wildlife at home in a heatwave by providing water, feeding birds a little food, often and keeping feeders clean, and creating shady spots in your outdoor space.”
A birdbath is the easiest way to hydrate birds, it adds. The best ones are located in safe spaces, are at least 30cm in diameter, have sloped sides and use a rock or two for birds to perch on. Be sure to keep it clean and change the water daily, and songbirds will thank you for your service.
Watch the video above to learn more tips to keep your pets happy in the heat.