CAN’T HANDLE THE HEAT?
Play it Cool this Summer
With summer now in full swing we have noted an increase in the number of pets presenting to us for symptoms of heatstroke. Even the healthiest of animals is at risk of serious overheating and sunburn if exposed to hot weather, and if not treated rapidly this can result in serious brain damage, circulatory collapse and even death.
If your fur family includes a pet classed as a brachycephalic breed, they are at even greater risk of overheating. Brachycephalic pets are those with the well-known squishy faces: British, Aussie and French bulldogs, Boston terriers, Shih Tzus, Persians, British and Exotic shorthairs… All very cute, but unfortunately prone to some conformational problems that jeopardise their ability to handle warm weather. The most serious problem most bracycephalics experience is difficulty breathing – this is usually exacerbated by vigorous exercise or hot weather.
As you no doubt know, a dog’s main method of cooling down is to pant which allows them to lose heat via evaporative cooling. Unfortunately, our squishy-faced friends have a markedly condensed facial structure which means their airways are ineffective at getting the necessary oxygen into their lungs- in a nutshell, brachycephalic pets are not good “panters”! One of the big problems with the conformation of these animals is that their soft palates are usually elongated and block a lot of the air that is trying to enter the windpipe, meaning they have to work doubly as hard as normally conformed dog breeds to get oxygen into the lungs.
A question we commonly get asked is “how hot is too hot?” when it comes to exercising pets, especially brachycephalic breeds. People are often surprised to find out that what we think is too hot and what is actually potentially dangerous can be two very different things. Most of us would think nothing of going out for a walk on a pleasant 20-23°C afternoon, but this sort of ambient temperature is exactly where things can start getting dangerous for a brachycephalic dog if they are exercised too vigorously.
Below are a few tips on how to keep your pet cool through the summer, these may seem obvious but are always worth remembering:
- NEVER leave your pet unattended in a car!!! No matter how many times you’ve heard it… we’ll say it again. Even if you’ll only be 5 minutes. Even if you leave the window open! Even in seemingly safe conditions, a car can turn into an oven with frightening speed.
- Exercise at appropriate times during the day – early before the sun has properly risen, or late at night. Also try using a harness or something that doesn’t involve a fitted neck collar, and make sure you bring a bottle of water along for on-the-go refreshment.
- Try to keep your pets inside on hot days. If the last thing you feel like doing is leaving the air conditioned comfort of your house, then the last thing your pet likely wants is to be outside either! If your pet needs to spend time outdoors, make sure they have ways to cool down – ice blocks, play pools in the shade or iced towels are all good ideas.
- Keep long-haired dogs and cats clipped during summer, but avoid shaving them – their coat is there for a reason and helps to protect them from overheating and sunburn.
- Be careful on hot pavements and sand – test temperatures by holding your own hand to surfaces for 5 seconds; if it’s too hot for you it’s too hot for little paws! Alternatively, get creative and fit them for booties to protect their pads (we have a range of sizes available to try at Prahran Vet).
- “Slip slop slap”– Pets can be sunburnt just as badly as we can; similarly to us it’s often the light-haired and thinner coated dogs and cats that are most at risk. Make sure you are using sunscreen on your pets and concentrate on areas like noses and ears which are especially prone to sun damage.