How to keep dogs and cats cool in summer: how to spot dehydration and if you should walk pets in hot weather

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The RSPCA and Cats Protection explain how to spot signs of dehydration and what you can do to keep your pets safe

Senior government officials have held a crisis Cobra meeting on Monday 11 July to discuss plans for the first-ever heatwave emergency in a bid to deal with the rising temperatures.

With temperatures expected to reach over the 30s, pet owners are being reminded of the importance of keeping their pets as comfortable and safe as possible.

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This includes treating dogs to chilled or frozen toys and treats, or even a paddling pool in the garden, and keeping cats indoors when the sun is at its hottest.

Animal welfare groups have issued a stark warning to dog owners about the risks of leaving dogs in cars, walking dogs during hotter weather as well as pets burning their pads on scorching pavements.

NationalWorld spoke to experts to get the best advice on how to keep dogs and cats cool this summer as temperatures continue to climb, how to spot signs of dehydration, and what the best course of action is when these problems arise.

Why shouldn’t you walk your dog in hot weather?

Esme Wheeler, RSPCA dog welfare specialist, said owners can provide a paddling pool and make frozen dog treats to keep their pets cool and entertained if they’re worried about missing exercise during hot weather.

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When it comes to walking dogs in hot weather, Ms Wheeler said “many people still put their dogs at risk even on a short walk or by taking them to places such as fields and beaches with little or not shade.”

She added: “The truth is, walking dogs in hot weather can be a silent killer.

“All breeds of dog are at risk, but if your dog has an underlying health condition, especially one affecting their breathing, then they could overheat more easily, with others at higher risk including overweight dogs, dogs with double coats, and some large and flat-faced breeds.

The RSPCA sends a simple message - never leave a dog in a hot car because “not long” is too long, and when it comes to walks, “if in doubt, don’t go out.”

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How can you keep dogs cool in summer?

The RSPCA issued advice to dog owners on how to keep their pets cool during the upcoming summer months.

  • Exercise dogs in the early morning or late evening when temperatures are cooler.
  • Avoid over-exercising dogs in warm weather and avoid encouraging them to over-exert themselves when playing.
  • If you know your dog has an underlying health condition, then take extra care in hot weather or consider skipping walks altogether.
  • Provide constant access to fresh, clean water and cool, shady resting spots.
  • Avoid taking dogs on long days out in the heat.
  • Have a go at making some frozen dog treats.
  • Wrap an ice pack or frozen water bottle in a tea towel, or use damp towels for your pet to lie on.
  • Use cold treats from the fridge for added moisture or make an ice lolly for your dog from pet-friendly ingredients.
  • Freeze your dog’s water bowl or kong, or add ice cubes to your pet’s bowl.
  • Fill a paddling pool or spray a hose for your dog to play in but always supervise them around water.
  • If necessary, use a pet-safe sun cream on exposed parts of your pet’s skin

What are the signs a dog is dehydrated?

Dr Dan O’Neill, Associate Professor Companion Animal Epidemiology at the Royal Veterinary College, said unfit and dehydrated dogs will cool down more slowly than dogs that are athletically fit and well hydrated.

“So, if your dog has been injured, is unwell, or just hasn’t done as much exercise recently as perhaps you would have liked, then they will get hotter faster and will take longer to cool down when exercising,” he said.

The signs of heat-related illness in dogs are:

  • Excessive panting that doesn’t stop when the dog rests.
  • Difficulty breathing, especially if there is unusual noise or any blue/grey tinge to gums or tongue.
  • Unusual tiredness - becoming tired sooner than normal.
  • Changes in behaviour - lying down more frequently and stumbling.
  • Less keen to play.

What should I do if I spot these signs?

The RSPCA said pet owners should take these actions when dogs become too hot.

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  • Stop them from exercising
  • Move them into the shade
  • Lay them in water and/or pour it over them
  • Speak to a vet if you are concerned

What are the best ways to keep cats cool in summer?

Cats Protection’s veterinary team shared with NationalWorld their best advice for keeping your cats safe in the sun.

  • Keep pet cats indoors when the sun is at its hottest, typically between 10am and 3pm. 
  • Speak to a vet about cat-friendly sunscreen and how to apply it. 
  • Make sure you provide plenty of opportunities for shade outdoors, such as cat hides, large cardboard boxes or plant plots placed close together. 
  • Always provide an outdoor water source as there is a risk of your cat becoming dehydrated in the heat. 
  • To stop cats feeling overheated, place a plastic bottle with frozen water inside a towel and place it in an area that the cat frequently visits. 
  • Make sure your cat has easy access to an indoor area, so they can escape the sun if they want to.  
  • Place fans around the house to keep the air circulating, remembering not to point the fan directly at your cat.

What breed of cats are more likely to suffer in summer?

Sarah Elliott, Central Veterinary Officer for Cats Protection, said white and pale-coloured cats are more vulnerable to sun damage.

She said: “They don’t have a pigment called melanin in their skin, which is what protects humans from sunlight.

“This can leave them vulnerable to sun damage - usually around the ears.”

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She added: “Over time, the damage caused by the sun’s ultraviolet rays can increase the risk of developing skin damage and cancer.

“Cats with unpigmented noses or ears are also much more susceptible to sun damage and require additional sun protection.”

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Can you use sun cream on cats?

Cats protection said that sun cream can be used for white cats or cats with thin or no hair.

The charity said: “Applying sun cream to vulnerable areas will offer protection and help prevent sun damage.

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“When choosing a sunscreen for your cat, use one specifically for pets and, if in doubt, speak to your vet for a recommendation.”

In terms of application, focus on the cat’s nose, tips of the ears, belly and groin areas as well anywhere that has thin to no fur.

It is important when choosing a sunscreen to avoid ingredients like zinc oxide and a group of chemicals that are referred to as salicylates.

Cats Protection said: “Repeated exposure to zinc oxide on the skin could lead to zinc toxicity, which can damage red blood cells, and it could also cause a stomach upset or allergic reaction if ingested.

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“If eaten in large amounts, it could even cause stomach ulcers or liver problems, although this is rare.”

Also keep an eye on whether the suncream has salicylates - natural chemicals which are most commonly used in non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to treat pain, fever and inflammation.

Cats are particularly susceptible to salicylate toxicity.

How can you tell if my cat is dehydrated?

Normal hydration is important for cats as it helps maintain a normal body temperature, proper circulation and removes waste products.

To assess whether your cat is dehydrated, here are Cat Protection’s top tips:

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  • Assess your cat’s gums. If your cat’s gums are sticky or tacky, this may be the first sign of dehydration.
  • Test skin elasticity. In a well-hydrated cat, the skin should snap back into place immediately. If it doesn’t, it could well be dehydrated.
  • Check your cat’s eyes. Severely sunken eyes that appear dry can indicate significant dehydration.
  • Feel your cat’s paws. If the paws feel cool or cold, this could be a sign of dehydration.
  • If dehydration is suspected, please seek veterinary advice.

How can you keep your cat hydrated?

Cats Protection offered their best advice on how you can keep your cats hydrated over summer.

  • Avoid plastic bowls. In the heat, these can taint the taste of the water. Use glass, ceramic or metal instead.
  • Place water bowls away from food bowls. Cats don’t like to drink in the same place that they eat.
  • Make sure the water bowl is large, with a big surface area too.
  • Keep the water topped up so your cat doesn’t have to put their head into the bowl, and to make sure your cat isn’t left without any water at all.
  • Many cats prefer running water, so try offering a cat fountain.
  • Putting water bowls in different places around the house will help cats always find somewhere to drink.
  • If you feed your cat tinned food, small amounts of water can be mixed into the food, which will increase fluid intake.

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