Dogs & Small Animals in Hot Weather

Yorkshire Terrier in Garden

It’s great to see the sun shining and to enjoy the warm weather, but how can you make sure that your pets are safe in the summer?

Dogs are at the highest risk from hot temperatures. We all know that it is not safe to leave dogs in cars as they can soon heat up to lethal temperatures, even on a cold but sunny day. When driving, ensure that there is cool airflow over dogs in the boot of the car; you may need to use additional fans as car air-con isn’t designed to reach the cargo area. If you use crates for transport, there are great heat reflective covers to use and gel cooling pads can be useful too.

Jack Russel Terrier in the grass outside

Take care that your dog doesn’t get shut in the garden or conservatory without shade, and don’t leave a dog in a caravan unattended. Care should be taken that cats and small pets such as rabbits, guinea pigs and hamsters don’t end up in hot rooms with no shade. Hutches and runs should be moved to a place where there is good airflow and access to shade throughout the day.

When exercising dogs choose cooler times of day, and, if you can, choose shady woods or a dog-friendly beach rather than open fields and paths with no shade. Check how hot paths and pavements are with the back of your hand before walking as dogs can burn their pads.

dog paw print on the sand

Watch out for signs of heat stress when exercising dogs. Early signs include excessive panting with a large engorged tongue, confusion, poor response to commands and looking a bit wobbly. If untreated, symptoms can progress to collapse, fitting, and death. If you are worried that a pet is suffering heatstroke try to cool it using running water. Small amounts of cool (but not cold) water can be offered to conscious dogs.

Contact your vet if a mildly affected dog does not make a quick recovery, or if any dog collapses. In severe cases, the full effects of heatstroke may not be seen for several days and delayed organ failure is possible.

Swimming is good exercise for dogs on hot days but be careful that they don’t ingest large quantities of water while fetching toys as this can cause illness. Make sure your dog’s swimming area is safe from underwater obstructions, pollution, and blue-green algae.

All pets can enjoy frozen treats. These can be both entertaining and cooling for dogs on days when it is too hot to take them out for a run. Frozen treats for dogs and cats can include rubber toys and puzzles with wet food. Small pets might enjoy lumps of vegetables threaded onto a string, frozen, and hung in their run. Use mostly low sugar vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, or courgette, and use limited amounts of carrot or fruit.

My dogs also enjoy big ‘ice lollies’ which I make by freezing various treats in a bowl of water. Once frozen, I smash it up and they all get a chunk to chew on! There are internet stories of ice being fatal to dogs, but this is not true. Just be careful not to offer frozen treats or iced water to dogs that are very hot as the cold can cause stomach cramps and vomiting, which would make any dehydration worse.

Access to water is vital all year round, but especially in hot weather. All pets should drink 50-100ml water per 1kg of weight each day, but pets on wet food will drink less than those on dry diets.

If you are concerned your pet isn’t drinking enough (you might notice small amounts of concentrated urine) add water to their food or flavour their water with a little salt-free stock (for dogs and cats) or fruit juice (for herbivores). Water bottles are often used for rabbits and other caged pets, but many prefer water from a shallow bowl. Choose a heavy stoneware bowl which can’t be tipped up easily and clean the bowl frequently.

Dogs are generally not fussy about water and bowls, but cats can be sensitive. Don’t place a cat’s water bowl near its food or litter tray, or in a corner, and choose a shallow bowl which allows them to see as they drink. Cats may prefer filtered water or rain water to tap water, and some will drink more readily from a water fountain.


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