As we look set to experience another hotter-than-average summer, we’re not the only ones who will be needing to escape the rising temperatures, as all creatures great and small are susceptible to heatstroke on a scorching-hot day.
While there are no collated statistics or studies on animals affected by the heat in Australia, RSPCA Australia Senior Scientific Officer Sarah Zito believes the number would be in the many thousands, and even higher when you consider wild animals.
The temperatures at which animals start feeling the effects of heat vary depending on the species, breed, age and health of your pet.
“Popular breeds of dogs like the French bulldog, pug and British bulldog are prone to developing heat-related problems at relatively mild temperatures,” Zito says. “Small animals, including rabbits, guinea pigs, ferrets, birds, rats and mice, are also highly susceptible to heatstroke.
“Certainly, any temperatures over 30 degrees would start to cause heat-related effects but these get worse the higher the temperature is.”
Some telltale signs that your pet is overheating include pacing, drooling, agitation and restlessness, an increased heart rate, very red or pale gums, a bright red tongue, lethargy and excessive panting in cats and dogs.
“If they’re [cats] panting it’s generally because they’re really overheated, and cats will start to lick their fur because the evaporation of the saliva on their fur actually cools them down,” animal behaviourist Dr Jo Righetti says.
“Obviously most pets will try and get away from the immediate heat and out of direct sunlight and they’ll try and find adequate shade, so we can rely on them to try their best but sometimes we’ve got to give them extra help.”
Pets kept in hutches and cages (rabbits, guinea pigs, ferrets, birds, rats and mice) are unable to move away to cooler places, so they need to be moved into a cool, shaded and well-ventilated area in hot weather, Zito advises.
In order to help our fur and feathered friends, Righetti stresses the importance of providing them with fresh water.
“You need to give them more than one bowl of water. Water can dry out. Water can be knocked over. And also bear in mind that the sun moves during the day, so you think, ‘I’ve put that bowl of water in the shade or that bed in the shade,’ but the sun moves around and suddenly they’re in the sun, so giving alternatives to pets is fantastic.
“Forgive your dog if they start digging a hole, because dogs will dig a hole in your garden to find cool earth – that’s them showing you that they’re hot and they want some cool space.”
Provide fresh water
This is a no-brainer but Righetti suggests adding ice cubes to water bowls so it stays colder for longer. Installing a birdbath in the garden is a great way to cater to native birds.
Give your pet an icy pole
No, not the sweet kind. Add some of your pet’s favourite food to an ice cube tray and freeze the night before a hot day. Not only will it cool them down, but it will keep them occupied.
Serve up a fruit plate
For smaller furry friends like guinea pigs, rabbits, rats and mice Righetti suggests dishing up some moist foods with a high water content; think cucumbers and berries.
Take a dip
Righetti advises caution on providing a pool for pets and says, just like kids, it’s best if the animals are supervised. “You need to be careful about the depth of the water. Make sure if they can get in that they can definitely get back out again. You could provide [one of] those children’s clamshell pools and fill that with shallow water. A lot of dogs will love to jump in and use that.”
Cats generally aren’t fans of water so Righetti advises using a damp cloth to wipe down their fur. Chickens will also appreciate a wiping down with a cool cloth or even a sprinkler set up in the backyard.
Get a haircut
If you have a breed with a particularly luxurious coat, it is worth taking them for a trim in the lead up to summer, as this will definitely help them. Righetti does advise some caution, though, as animals, especially those with white hair and pink noses and ears, can get sunburnt and form skin cancers.
Walk dogs at the start or end of the day
Just like us, it’s best for animals to be out of direct sunlight in the hottest part of the day, generally in the afternoon. If walking on the pavement in bare feet is too hot for you to handle, then it’s also too hot for your pooch. “Don’t walk them on hot pavements in the middle of the day. If you can’t put your feet on the pavement, don’t let your dog walk on it,” Righetti says. Zito adds: “Avoid walking on hot sand, concrete, asphalt areas or any other areas where heat is reflected and there is no access to shade.”