Do you worry about your pet in the heat? Worry that they are feeling as uncomfortable as you? Or worse? And seriously, why do we still hear about dogs dying in hot cars?
Today’s blog is all about how to keep your pets cool in the heat. I will share some simple strategies to help keep your pets cool, and safe. If you can have your dog in the house, wonderful. If they are in the comfort of the air conditioning with you, you don’t really have much to worry about – but this isn’t always the case.
In an Australian summer heatwave, the temperature can rise up to the high forties (celcius), and in some areas above 50°C! An animal can suffer heatstroke in seemingly mild weather, if they cannot find a cool place, or they run out of water. In these conditions heatstroke is a much bigger threat.
To understand how to keep a dog cool, you have to understand how they lose heat.
Some animals sweat, some pant, and some even lick themselves. This causes heat loss through evaporation.
Firstly, the most important resource when it is hot, is water. Adequate hydration is essential for keeping the internal body cool. Many animals, like humans, horses and pigs, sweat. As the sweat evaporates off the skin, it cools the blood in the highly vascularised skin surface. This cooler blood is then transported internally, cooling the organs and bringing more blood to the surface to cool. Horses have a special protein in their sweat called latherin. This actually improves the water evaporation by acting like a surfactant (which decreases the surface tension of the water, which makes it evaporate more readily). This can be seen as a white foam. Some animals will lick their fur, which will leave saliva to evaporate off. A kangaroo will cover their forelegs in saliva to keep cool.
Another method of heat dispersion is panting. Dogs and cats do not sweat. Panting is another biological evaporative cooling system. Panting is a special type of breathing. The breaths are shallow, and rapid, which increases the loss of moisture, which in turn causes heat to be dispersed. It is different from normal breathing, and panting animals have this fascinating ability to maintain their Oxygen and Carbon Dioxide levels stable. You try panting and see how quickly you hyperventilate!
Because dogs cool through panting, and not through sweating, the surface skin is not as vascular as a sweating animal. So hosing a dog is not as cooling as hosing a sweating animal. It does help, but not as much as it would cool us.
Also any of these evaporative cooling mechanisms are really impaired in high humidity
So how do you keep your pets cool?
- Have a wading pool set up- this not only provides a lovely big water pot they can’t knock over, it gives them something to lay in to cool down. Some dogs love this.
- Lots of water pots around the house/yard. If they are notorious for knocking their water pot over, invest in a proper non spill one from the pet shop. I like big, stainless steel saucepans from the op-shop. They are big enough to be too heavy to spill. They are best kept in the shade, as the water can warm up in these pots. A bucket under a dripping tap can be great for a dog that drinks a lot of water, or tends to play in their water and splashes it out. This can be a way to safely ensure they have enough water through the day when you are not home. The more water pots around the house, the less likely they are to run out. If you are gone out all day, make sure they have at least 3 are left around the place. A few different types, in-case one fails, or one gets chewed, or one gets knocked over. My favourite, and my dog’s favourite is the pond. They can’t get in it to swim, but they can reach for a drink. The bigger the body of water, the cooler it stays.
- To prevent the water getting too hot, you can freeze an ice-cream container, or similar, full of water into an enormous ice-cube. The bigger they are, the slower they melt. Pop one in the water pot just before you leave, and as it melts through the day, it keeps providing them with cool water.
- Make sure your pet always has shade, and remember that all shade is not equal. The shade under a tree is much better than the shade of a tin roof- especially if the tin roof has tin walls, and little ventilation. If you have to use tin, try using something over the top to prevent the sun directly hitting the tin. I find old wool blankets or an old doona are fantastic insulation on those super-hot days.
- No walking in the heat of the day. Only in the cool mornings, and evenings. Make sure the roads and pavements have cooled enough before your evening walk. If you can’t comfortably hold your hand on the road, it’s too hot for your dog’s paws. If you have access to the beach, or the creek, this can be a fantastic alternative for some exercise, and a cool down. Most dogs have a ball! The beach is best avoided in the middle of the day. the sand is hot and can burn their paws, and there is little shade.
- A dog icy pole- here is a quick guide, I have the extended version coming up in the February newsletter.
Choose a liquid base- water, bone broth, coconut water, kefir. You can dilute it down to make it last longer. a 50/50 mix is great. Peppermint tea is also a really cooling tea base.
Pour liquid into a freezer safe container. An ice cream container works well for a larger dog. a smaller plastic container for smaller dogs.
Add lots of yummy treats, or even their meals.
Freeze until solid. remove from the container, and give to your dog.
- Although fleas can be impossible to naturally control if your dog has access to the underneath of the house, It can be a really cool place for them to hide out in the heat. It is constantly shaded, and they can usually lay on the cool dirt. Although not ideal, you can feel confident your dog is out of the weather in a heatwave.
- I hate that I have to even write this point, but It seems people forget. NEVER leave your dog in a hot car. Never leave your dog in a car that you think is cool, while you quickly dash into a shop. Chances are, the shop will be air-conditioned, and you forget the urgency of getting back to your dog. Dogs die in hot cars, and cars get hot quick. Really quick. If you are in a shop, and you get a delay by running into a friend, or the customer service is slow, or you see something really cool, you risk your dog overheating. As a dog tries to cool in a hot car, the very action of panting increases the temperature of the car. It’s a no win situation for your dog. Even with windows open the car can heat up. Even in the shade the car heats up. Even in a summer rain shower, the car can heat up. You get the idea. I know it’s nice to take your dog everywhere, but often in summer they are safer at home.
- Some foods and spices can be heating too. Maybe skip the turmeric and black pepper over the really hot days. You wouldn’t eat a curry when it’s so hot, don’t expect your dog to.
- Cats can often find the best place to keep cool. They too will enjoy cool water, and ice-blocks. If you are going out and your cat is locked in the house, leave a fan, or the air-conditioner on, so they stay comfortable.
- A chicken will not drink water that is 5.5°C above their body temperature. Normal body temperature for a chicken is 41-45°C, so they won’t drink water around 46.5-50.5°. Keep their water cool. They will stop laying when they are overheated, and they can die from heat, just like any other animal. How many chicken sheds are just a tin roof for protection? Place the cage under a shady tree, or grow a vine over the top. On really super hot days, let them out to hide under the house with the dog (as long as its a chicken safe dog)
- For your little furry fluffies, like guinea pigs and rabbits, make sure they have access to a cool shady spot, and they have adequate cool water. A frozen plastic bottle can be laid in the cage, and as it defrosts, the air around it will cool. If they are really hot, they will actually lay right up against it. Rabbits are not great with heat. They also pant, and when they are really overheating, they will drool, and lick, and have saliva around their mouth to aid in cooling. They have really highly vascular ears, so they can be cooled by spraying a water-mist over the ears, or a cool sponge—down of the ears. Guinea pigs are more tolerant of heat, but they still need adequate shade and water.
What are your favourite ways to keep your pets nice and cool? Let us know in the comments below.
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Give your dog a pat for me, and keep them comfortably cool this summer.