Summer’s here… and along with all the good times it brings, there are a few not-so-fun things, such as mozzies, sunburn, and sleepless nights. As South Australians, we take for granted our familiar and entrenched summer survival techniques, but we need to remember that our pets depend on us to make their summers comfortable and safe. While we’re enjoying trips to the beach, barbecues and spending time outdoors, summer heralds the start of many hot weather hazards for our pets, and two key sources are what they’re on and what they’re in.
The things that pets walk on that can be hazardous in summer are; footpaths, roads, paved surfaces, sand, and metal. As well as where they are kept which maybevehicles, dog houses and garages or sheds. As a general rule, something that’s too hot for us will also be too hot for our pets, however one risk that is commonly overlooked is hot surfaces, because with the protection of footwear we rarely discover how hot they really are.
What is underfoot in summer can cause considerable discomfort and potential injury to our pets. Asphalt can get as hot as 60 degrees and can reach 50 degrees when the air temperature is only 25 degrees. It’s possible to fry an egg at 55 degrees, so imagine how temperatures like these feel on animals’ delicate paws.
How hot is too hot?
The best way to assess what is too hot for your dog or cat, is to test the heat of surfaces yourself by pressing your bare hand or foot against the ground for approximately 10 seconds (or the back of your hand for five seconds). If it’s uncomfortably hot for you, then it will be for your dog or cat as well. Bear in mind that this is only a point-in-time test, and even if it’s okay when you test, it doesn’t mean that it will be at a different time of the day. Ground surfaces retain heat causing the temperature to rise exponentially as the exposure to sun and heat continues. This means that in the evening when you might expect them to have cooled to an acceptable temperature, they can still be very hot. Be careful not to be misguided by the air temperature, which isn’t a reliable indicator of ground temperature.
Sand too, can get to 50 degrees quite easily. Remember the last time you hit the beach, kicked your thongs off, and ran to the wet sand like you were hopping across hot coals? It’s no different for your dog, and they don’t have the benefit of putting their footwear back on.
Best times to walk dogs
On hot days wait until it gets cooler, such as in the late evening, to walk your dog, or alternatively go early in the morning. A grassy area (always be aware with grass seeds especially over the summer months) will be cooler underfoot than a paved one, and stop every few minutes for a rest.
During cooler weather and at cooler times of the day walk your dog on pavement, as the hard and rough surfaces will help to toughen the pads on your dog's paws. This provides some natural resistance to damage from hot surfaces.
Whilst tough paws are preferable, you don't want them to get too dry or they will have an increased susceptibility to cuts, cracking, and peeling. These can also make paws more susceptible to burns from hot surfaces. Moisturising your dog's pads daily, especially in hot weather, can help prevent injuries and burns. Use a 100% natural treatment for dry, cracked paws that will not hurt your dog if he licks it.
What if your dog's paws have been burnt?
Signs of burned paws include loose flaps of skin, blisters and red ulcerated patches. Minor burns can be treated by applying an antibacterial wash and covering the paw with a bootie. If the burn is serious, visit your vet immediately.
A common Aussie hazard
Somewhere you’ll often see dogs that can be very hazardous, is in the back of utes and open trucks. These pooches face numerous risks which is why they really should be riding in the passenger seats of the vehicle. Metal trays heat up quickly and can get very hot, and the tray and tray sides often reflect glare and heat. Open vehicles offer no protection from the burning sun. The smooth surfaces of tray tables make it hard for dogs to maintain traction (particularly under heaving braking), and travelling at speed in the open air can cause injury to dogs’ delicate ears and eyes.
Also, in South Australia there are significant fines for dogs that are unrestrained in the back of utes. The solution to all these issues is simple; Dogs should never be kept or allowed to travel in the back of open vehicles. It’s not safe for people and it’s not safe for them either.
Where not to keep your pet in hot weather
The other big summertime risk is where your pet is kept on hot days, and at the top of the no-no list is cars. The temperature inside a vehicle can rise to dangerous levels quickly and, unlike the surface heat test, there is no safe do-it-yourself check of a vehicle’s internal temperature. Vehicles in the sun get hot at any time of the year, and a shaded position can still be hot, especially if the sun moves and the shade is lost. The only safe approach is to NEVER leave an animal in a vehicle, not even for a short period, or with the windows cracked open.
If you’re taking your pet with you in the car you need to plan ahead to ensure they’ll be safe for the entire trip. Dogs should not be tied up and left unattended outside a car or building, due to other risks in addition to the weather, such as theft and cruelty.
Don’t assume that home is risk-free
Vehicles are one of the most commonly recognised hazards but there are others that are often overlooked such as dog houses and people’s homes. Dog houses, garages, and sheds are usually poorly insulated, and have inadequate ventilation, therefore temperatures can soar inside them on a hot day. Even some homes are unsuitable for animals to be kept in on a hot day. Direct sunlight filling a room or part of the house can cause an unacceptably hot environment, and small rooms are also more likely to heat up quickly. There isn’t much an animal can do to cool themselves off in a hot place.
How dogs and cats try to cool themselves
Dogs and cats are at risk of sharp rises in body temperature on hot days because they cannot sweat like us to reduce their body temperature. Dogs perspire by panting, and cats sweat through their paws, but because paws have a small surface area it doesn’t have the same cooling effect as sweating does for us. If it gets hot and humid enough, no amount of panting will get a dog’s temperature to a safe level either. Brachycephalic (short-snouted) dog breeds, such as Pugs and Bulldogs, have more difficulty cooling themselves through panting, and dog breeds that originated in cold climates, like Huskies and Newfoundlands, may also have some difficulty adjusting to the heat.
Exhaustion and heatstroke are risks for dogs and cats that are kept in places that are too hot. There is no hard and fast rule about a temperature limit however, and most will cope satisfactorily in temperatures in the low 30’s provided there’s shade, air circulation and water. It’s safest not to leave your pets unsupervised until you know their tolerance to heat. Preparing a cool environment for your dog or cat to stay while you’re out is important for their comfort, and more importantly, their safety, and there are a number of things you should do:
- Provide plenty of fresh, cool water, that won’t be in direct sunlight throughout the day
- Draw blinds or curtains in areas where direct sunlight enters, and keep a fan or air conditioner running if the area is likely to heat up
- Remove bedding such as blankets or pillows
- Groom your pet regularly to remove excess hair that can trap body heat
Signs of heat stroke
Dogs and cats suffering from heatstroke will display several signs including:
- Rapid pulse and panting / breathing
- Bright red tongue
- Red or pale gums
- Thick, sticky saliva
If your pet is showing signs of heat stress, get it into a cool location and provide small drinks of cool water.Cool water (not cold) may be poured over the head, stomach, armpits and feet, or cool cloths may be applied to these areas.. If there are no signs of improvement within a few minutes, seek urgent veterinary assistance.
Common sense and vigilance go a long way when it comes to keeping our pets cool and safe in summer, and it’s not only during Adelaide’s sometimes brutally hot days that it’s important. We need to be aware of our pets’ wellbeing in any weather condition, and as we’re the ones who decide where they spend their time, it must be appropriate.
If you need advice on any health care issue for your pet this summer don’t hesitate to reach out. Our hospitals are open until 7pm weekdays, and until 12:30pm on Saturday mornings. Our emergency centre at Golden Grove is open 24/7 including public holidays.