Heat and Pets
Unless owners take the necessary precautions, pets can suffer and even die on very hot days. The following information will help you care for your pet in hot weather.
These guidelines are especially important for owners of older pets, pets with thick coats, short noses, or pets adapted to cooler climates.
Heatstroke in pets
Courtesy of Murdoch University. Click on the image to view the larger infographic on the Murdoch University website.
Tips for owners of all types of pets
- Always provide plenty of cool, clean water. Fill two bowls in case one is knocked over. If outside, ensure they are in the shade.
- Ensure pets have access to cool, shady and well ventilated areas during all parts of the day.
- It is best to leave pets at home during heat-waves, they will be much more comfortable in a cool home than riding in a hot car.
- If pets must be taken along for the ride, don't leave them alone in a parked vehicle. Even with the windows open, a parked car can quickly become a furnace, and pets can get heat stroke, brain damage or die in as little as 4-6 minutes. Never, under any circumstances, leave pets unattended in a car, even on a mild day when the car is in the shade and has the windows down.
- If you and your pet must travel, carry an extra thermos, filled with fresh, cool water, just for them. Put the air conditioning on and if possible, use a window shield (the type used for babies and small children) on the rear windows.
- Add ice blocks to your pet's water bowl throughout the day.
- Fill an empty container or drink bottle with water, freeze it, and place in your pet's bed. Alternatively, place wet towels in the freezer for a few hours, remove and place in your pet's bed.
- Where possible, leaving the air-conditioning or fans on in the house will help to keep pets cool.
- If you know it is going to be a hot day and you will be at work, close the blinds in one or two rooms to keep the sun out. This will help the rooms to stay cooler.
- Animals can get sunburned too! Protect hairless and light-coated dogs and white cats with sunscreen when your animal will be outside in the sun for an extended period of time. Put sunscreen or zinc on exposed areas of pink skin (e.g. ear tips and noses).
- Animals with long coats can be clipped to increase comfort in hot weather.
- Be aware of the signs of heat stroke in animals – this can be potentially fatal. Signs include rapid panting, listlessness, drooling, weakness, muscle tremors, or collapse.
- Pets with signs of heat stroke should be put in a cool shady area, wetted down with cool (not icy) water and fanned. If the animal is conscious, offer cool (not cold) drinking water, but don't allow it to gulp large amounts. Contact the nearest vet immediately, but don't transport animals in a hot car.
Extra tips for dog owners
- If outside, a shallow container of water (e.g. a child's paddle pool or 'clam shell') they can sit or lie in will help them cool down.
- On very hot days, hose dogs down regularly – gently hosing the neck area is most effective.
- Fill an empty ice cream container with water, drop in a few dry dog crunchies, and freeze. Give to your dog as an icy treat on a hot day.
- Products are available to buy, that can help keep dogs cool in summer. Do an internet search on "cooling bandana for dogs Australia", "cooling vest for dogs Australia", "cooling coat for dogs Australia" or "cooling blanket for dogs Australia" to find details of products and suppliers.
- Never force pets to exercise in hot, humid weather. Because a dog is much closer to the hot asphalt, its body can heat up quickly, and its paws can sustain burns or injuries. Exercise in the cool of the early morning or evening and don't stray too far from accessible drinking water.
- Dogs on utes need extra care in the hot weather. If using a metal cage to transport dogs, ensure it has a roof to provide shade, and that the sides are well ventilated (e.g. meshed rather than solid material). It is also advisable to cover metal floors of cages (and if tethering, the tray floor) with a surface such as rubber, as metal can heat up quickly and burn dogs' paws. In addition, ensure the cage is the right size to prevent cramping and overcrowding. And of course, when stationary, never leave the dog in the car or cage. For dogs on an open ute tray, the vehicle should be parked in the shade and the dog should be left with water.
Extra tips for cat owners
- Cats do perspire, but only through their paw pads, which really isn't enough to cool them down a great deal.
- If you have an indoor/outdoor cat, try to keep him or her inside between 10am - 2.00pm when it is the hottest.
- If you are out for the day, place a bowl in the kitchen sink and leave the tap dripping (slowly), so your cat has a constant supply of cool, fresh water. Water in a bowl can warm up quite quickly.
- Don't over exert your cat on warmer days, if you must play with him or her, do so either early morning or in the evening, when it has cooled down.
- Let your cat sleep where he or she chooses, most likely this will be on a cool tiled floor.
- Products are available to buy, that can help keep cats cool in summer. Do an internet search on "cooling mats for cats Australia" to find details of products and suppliers.
Extra tips for rabbit owners
- Rabbits are very susceptible to heat stress. Once the temperature rises above 28ºC it is necessary to regularly monitor your rabbits.
- It is important not to place the hutch in direct sunlight during the warmer months. Keep it in the shade even on cool to warm days. It does not take long for heat to build up in small areas. Ensure the hutch is open enough to allow adequate ventilation.
- On hot days it may be necessary to provide a frozen drink bottle or ice brick in the nesting area of the hutch to reduce the temperature. You can also place a wet towel over part of the hutch to help to reduce temperatures.
- If your hutch is located inside your house and the temperature is likely to get rise above 30ºC you may need to place the hutch in an area where it can obtain a breeze. Opening a window may enable a breeze to help cool your rabbit.
- A rabbit suffering from heat stroke may show signs of weakness, in-coordination, convulsions and coma. If you suspect your rabbit is suffering from heat stress, you must contact your veterinarian immediately. While you are waiting you can begin the process of reducing his/her temperature by placing them in tepid water or wrapping them in cool wet towels. Never place your heat stressed rabbit in cold or iced water.
Extra tips for bird owners
- Heat stress is a serious problem for birds, especially when cages or aviaries have inadequate ventilation. The combination of high heat and humidity are particularly dangerous.
- Birds have no sweat glands. They cool themselves by rapid breathing with their mouths open and by holding their wings out slightly from their bodies.
- The underneath of a bird's wing has no feathers and the main wing artery is in that region. If a bird is suffering from heat stress, this area will feel very hot to the touch. Additional signs of a bird suffering from heat stress include rapid vibrations of the muscles and bones under the throat which also helps to cool the bird and in parrots with severe stress, a goose-honking type sound.
- If a bird is displaying the effects of heat stress, it needs to be immediately cooled down with a gentle spray of water or damping with a cool sponge under his wings, feet and beak. Allow the bird to drip dry in a cool, well ventilated area. Air movement is important to allow the bird to continue to cool down but don't let the breeze blow directly on to him.
- The "featherless" area under the wing allows a bird to cool itself and should always be clean and free of dirt, debris and oils. Wash with cool water or bird shampoo if necessary. Bird treatments should never be applied to this area.
- Birds kept in smaller cages love being gently sprayed with cool water using a hand mister / spray bottle.
- For those with large aviaries, installing a 'fogger' to mist the entire area will have a massive cooling effect. These are available at hardware stores and are easily installed and attached to a garden tap. If they are put on a simple tap timer they can be programmed to come on periodically in the middle of the day for a few minutes. It is surprising how little water these systems use.
- Alternatively, hose down the floors and walls of the area or put a small sprinkler just on the outside of the aviary. This can make a bit of a mess and some seed might sprout but the birds will love you for it and probably nibble on the new seedlings as well.
- Another option is to hang hessian from the roof of the aviary to hang over the sides. These can be hosed down and will act like a Coolgardie Safe as the breeze blows through the damp fabric. However, be very careful that destructive birds such as parrots and galahs can't reach the hessian and get themselves tangled in its threads.
- Like all animals, birds require fresh water that is changed daily however on hot days the water can easily become warm. Birds just won't drink warm water and will not be able to rehydrate themselves. Change the water a couple of times in the day so that it is always cool and consider asking the neighbour to pop in to do this also if no one is home throughout the day.
- Birdbaths are an excellent option as long as the water is changed frequently. In aviaries, if electricity is available, the addition of a small circulatory fountain will help to keep the water fresh. In small bird cages, a shallow dish filled with just a couple of centimetres will keep your bird happy for hours. There are even baths that attach to the door of bird cages that allow your bird to splash around without getting water everywhere.
- Many bird owners will bring their birds inside on a hot day. Birds do very well indoors and will enjoy the company and cool environment but care should be taken when returning the bird to his outdoor area as sudden changes of temperature could cause a problem. Avoid sitting a bird cage next to a window or in direct sunlight as this will only make the heat from outside worse.
Extra tips for owners of other types of pets
- It is not only dogs, cats, rabbits and birds that suffer from heat stress, other pets such as guinea pigs, ferrets, fish and horses also need to be protected from the summer heat.
- Do not leave small pets such as guinea pigs in metal cages that might heat up and burn their skin. To keep guinea pigs cool, follow the same tips above, as for rabbits.
- Ensure aquariums aren't placed near windows, as the heat coming through the glass can be dangerous.
- Find out more about caring for other types of animals – including horses and livestock – in extreme heat.