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Preventing heatstroke in pets

Protect your pets from heatstroke with these cooling ideas.

Our scorching summers can be tough on everyone, including our four-legged, finned and feathered friends. When temperatures soar, some simple proactive measures can make all the difference in keeping pets safe.

Understanding heatstroke in animals

Heatstroke occurs when the body temperature is too high, limiting the ability to cool down. Dogs and cats are particularly susceptible to heatstroke, but other animals like rabbits, guinea pigs, and chickens are also at risk.

Recognising the signs of heatstroke

It's vital to recognise the early signs of heatstroke, so you can take prompt action if needed. Common symptoms include:

  • Excessive panting and drooling

  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat

  • Weakness or collapse

  • Vomiting or diarrhea

  • Bright red or pale gums and tongue

  • In chooks, look for extreme lethargy and a pale wattle and comb

If you observe any of these signs, act immediately to cool your pet down.

Quick cool downs

  1. Move to a cooler area - bring your pet indoors or to a shaded area immediately.

  2. For dogs and cats, apply cool compresses (wet towels will do the trick) to your pet’s body, focusing on the groin and armpit areas. Keep refreshing compresses with cool water and reapplying.

  3. Hydration – encourage your pet to drink small amounts of water and make sure it’s freely available.

  4. Submerge chickens in a bucket of cool water in the shade. Make sure the water isn’t too cold and doesn’t go above her neck.

  5. Gently wipe your rabbit’s ears with a cold wet cloth or spray softly with cool water – this works for guinea pigs as well. Where possible, put small furry pets on a cool surface – like a wet towel, a cooling pad or a hard surface out of the sun and heat – and in front of a fan.

When to call the vet

Heatstroke can escalate rapidly. Seek immediate veterinary attention if:

  1. There is no decrease in body temperature after initial cooling efforts.

  2. They show severe symptoms like seizures or loss of consciousness.

  3. The heatstroke was caused by an underlying medical condition.

Creating a cool haven at home

Prevention is always better than cure, so start with the basics, including providing enough shade, water and ventilation for animals to escape the heat.

Shade and ventilation

Make sure your pets have access to shady areas throughout the day, bearing in mind that the position will change as the sun moves. If your backyard lacks natural shade, consider installing umbrellas and shade cloths, or creating sheltered spaces using existing outdoor structures. Adequate ventilation is essential, so keep windows and doors open or use fans to get air moving in enclosed areas.

Cooling mats and bedding

Cooling mats are designed to absorb and dissipate heat, providing a comfortable surface for your furry friends. There are plenty of economical options available.

When it comes to bedding, think about the style and the construction, remembering what works in winter won’t necessarily cut it in summer temperatures. Colour is important, as dark materials absorb and radiate more heat, while some design details offer extra advantages, like raised trampoline-style beds that allow airflow underneath.

Hydration stations

Make sure there is a constant supply of fresh, cool water available. Placing multiple water bowls around the house and yard ensures easy access, while adding ice cubes on hot days can offer extra relief.

Pet pools and water play

Not all pets are fond of water, but plenty of dogs love a good splash. A small kiddie pool filled with cool water can be a refreshing retreat on hot days. Place the pool out of the sun and replenish the water when it gets too warm. Be sure to supervise and make sure your pups can exit the pool on their own to ensure safety.

Swimming pools and pet safety

If you are going to give your pets access to the pool, take some basic precautions:

  1. Teach them how to swim – not all animals are natural swimmers, so introducing them to water gradually can help. Monitor their comfort level and provide reinforcement to create a positive association with water.

  2. Safety barriers – pool fences and barriers are there to prevent unsupervised access, which includes dogs. As with any pool fence installation, make sure gates and latches are working properly and ensure that furniture and plants can’t be used as a means of access over the fence.

  3. Be sure to rinse off post-swim – if your pet enjoys a dip, give them a good to remove chlorine or salt after their swim, to lessen the chances of skin or eye irritation. 

Not all animals are suited to swimming, including some specific dog breeds. For more detailed information, read our Pets and pools article, which covers pets and their impact on pool and water maintenance, as well as some important safety tips.

Caring for dogs

Limit outdoor activities for dogs on hot days, including walks. A simple check will tell you if it’s too warm to walk – hold the back of your hand on the footpath, roads or other hard surfaces for seven seconds. If you can’t hold it there for the seven seconds, then it’s too hot for your dog’s paws. Save the walk or playtime till later in the day, when it’s cooler.

Create some ‘pupsicles’ - pop dog treats into water and freeze them, so they’re on hand as a cool snack on hot days.

Regular grooming, including brushing and trimming is important in summer, as it helps regulate body temperature. Avoid shaving the coat too short, as it can expose your pet to harmful UV rays.

Caring for cats

Cats love a cool surface as much as dogs do, so provide cooling pads or beds for lounging, especially when they are keen on time in the sun, even as the temperatures soar.

Throw catnip toys into the freezer for an hour or so, to provide a refreshing playtime experience.

Caring for small animals

Small pets like rabbits and guinea pigs are equally susceptible to heatstroke. Make sure their enclosures are placed in shaded areas throughout the day and have proper ventilation. Always avoid placing enclosures directly on hot surfaces.

Provide plenty of fresh hay for insulation and place some frozen water bottles into pet enclosures. They’ll happily lean against them for a cool down. Move enclosures indoors when temperatures are extreme and keep your furry friends well groomed, as excess hair will trap in heat.

Caring for chickens

Chooks love dust baths, especially in hot weather. Create designated areas filled with dust or dry soil to help them cool off and maintain feather health.

Make sure water containers are in a shaded area of their enclosure and place some frozen water bottles in their roost.

Caring for birds

If your garden is home to birds, think about providing a bird bath or pond filled with fresh, cool water, so they can splash on hot days. If you have pet birds, use a gentle mist or spray bottle to lightly dampen their feathers and provide some heat relief and provide a container for bathing.

Caring for fish

It’s all about water temperature for fish on hot days. Ensure that outdoor ponds have shade structures or aquatic plants that can provide cover and coolness for fish.

Our summers are hot – and getting hotter – and we are all feeling the heat, including our furry and feathered companions. Keep an eye on pets when the temperature rises and be sure they have access to shade, water and adequate ventilation as a minimum – especially if they are at home alone. If in doubt, consult your veterinarian, who can provide all the information and assistance you need to ensure a safe summer for every member of the family.

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