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How to keep your hounds and horses happy, and your cats cool this summer
Never in your pet’s lifetime has staying cool been so challenging or so important. With the UK having seen record temperatures for unusually prolonged periods, we thought it was about time we reiterate the need to keep pets cool, as well as share our top tips for doing so.
For the majority of pet owners who are reasonably clued up in this area and who apply common sense, it might come as a surprise to know that the veterinary profession are still seeing a significant number of cases of heatstroke in pets. There is a lot of information available online and many tips shared throughout social media, however despite this there are instances when even the most knowledgeable and dedicated pet owners come unstuck. The classic reason for dogs being admitted to our practice with heatstroke is due to the perception of an absolute need for exercising our dogs daily. Whilst we applaud any owner who takes the exercise requirement of their beloved pooch so seriously, there are times when we should ask ourselves if it’s better to forgo the walk altogether, for the greater good. During the summer the recommendation is to walk a dog in the early morning, late evening and in shaded places. However there have been times this year when temperatures have remained in the high twenties as late as 8 or 9 p.m. While long periods without exercise are bad for both your dog’s body and mind, these are the times you might find that you do more harm than good.
Often people like to take their dogs around with them in their car and find that they appreciate a bit of interest from the change of scenery. In times of heat however, one should consider whether this is sensible, as the car can become very hot, especially when sat in traffic. The boot of a car, for example, often lacks the same cooling air conditioning and/or air flow from open windows that the front seats benefit from. One study shows that the difference in environmental temperature can be as much as eight degrees centigrade.
So when walkies is off the agenda and our pets are at home, how do we keep them cool? It’s best to consider where within the home is coolest for cats and dogs in a heat wave. This might be outside where there is shade and a cool breeze. Equally, it could be cooler to draw the curtains in the house and keep them indoors, as is often the case for people who live in older, stone-built buildings. More elderly pets should be given special consideration in the heat as their ability to control body temperature and their immediate environment diminishes. A pet with decreased mobility might not even be able to move out of the sun and into shade. These pets are more likely to become overheated and dehydrated. Whatever your set-up, no pet should be left in the sun or heat without the ability to escape it, even for short periods. Cool water should be available at all times too. Cool mats can be bought which respond to a pet’s weight, creating a cool surface for them to rest upon. Many large breed dogs especially seem to appreciate these. A coat version is also available and these gadgets seem to get good reviews from pet owners, although care must be taken to ensure they don’t start to warm up or dry out. A paddling pool in the shade is another common addition to a dog owner’s garden as they enjoy seeing their dogs splashing around or simply laying in the water to stay cool.
How about horses and ponies? A hot summer can really impact them as well. Shade should always be available to horses and many owners find it better to bring them inside out of the heat and away from flies in the warmer months, provided their stables are indeed cooler. Just like exercising dogs, horses should be exercised during the cooler periods of the day and perhaps not at all in extreme temperatures. Water should always be available and it should not be underestimated how much they will drink during hot summers. If your horse has sweated excessively it is worth talking to your vet to see if an oral solution is required to replenish their electrolyte levels. Should you decide that it is cool enough to compete there are a few things to remember which could make all the difference to your horse. Always take water with you on journeys, not just a bucket to fill at your destination. If you break down or get stuck in traffic you might find that water in transit prevents serious overheating and dehydration in your horse. Once you’re at a competition use your trailer or lorry to your horse’s benefit. Park so that the tying space is in the shade of the box and make the effort to move the box as the sun moves position, so that they are out of the sun when not being ridden. Should a horse become overheated, use cool or cold water to cool them down.
Our final suggestion is that owners educate themselves in the signs of heatstroke in their pets. Rapid breathing, a fast pulse, lethargy, drooling and vomiting are all signs of heatstroke in cats and dogs. Similar signs can be seen in horses (minus the vomiting) as well as excessive sweating. Immediate veterinary help must be sought in all cases as heatstroke is a medical emergency and can be fatal. If in any doubt at all, talk to one of our vets, who will always be happy to advise.