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Keeping your pet safe during the heat

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  • RSPCA Australia
  • Wednesday, 20 January 2021
With high temperatures across much of Australia, knowing how to keep your pet safe from the heat has never been more important. Heatstroke in pets can be subtle but deadly, so we recommend you follow these simple tips to know what to watch out for this summer. 
Watch out for heatstroke 
All animals are susceptible to heatstroke, so you need to make sure you take active steps to prevent it. Like in humans, heatstroke is when an animal’s body temperature becomes elevated above the normal range, to the point where they can’t maintain a healthy temperature.  
It’s a very serious condition that can cause organ failure or death, and can be even worse in animals with other medical conditions (like heart problems or breathing problems), a thick or long coat, very young or very old animals, or short-nosed or flat-faced breeds such as pugs, bulldogs, as well as Persian and Himalayan cats. 
Some signs of heatstroke include relentless panting (that increases as heatstroke progresses), drooling, salivating, agitation, restlessness, very red or pale gums, a bright read tongue, breathing distress, vomiting and/or diarrhoea (possibly with blood), lethargy, weakness and muscle tremors. 
If your pet does develop heatstroke, start emergency first aid to help normalise their body temperature by applying or spraying tepid or cool water onto their fur or skin, followed by fanning. Don’t use ice cold water or ice as this may make the problem worse. Get them to a vet as soon as possible – even if you just suspect they have suffered heatstroke, it’s still better to be safe. 
How to keep your pet safe 
Keeping your pet cool will help protect them in these hot summer months. Avoid exercising your pet in the extreme heat – on very hot days, try to walk your dog early in the morning or late in the evening when it’s cool. Avoid walking on hot sand, concrete or asphalt. If you can’t hold the back of your hand to the pavement outside for more than a few seconds, it’s too hot for your pet. 
On hot, humid days, you should bring your pet inside if the indoor environment is cooler (for example, if you have air conditioning). Make sure your pet has plenty of clean fresh water as well as extra water sources in case of spillage. If they are outside, it’s important to provide your pet with a cool, shaded area with good ventilation. Good ventilation is particularly important as many animals cool down by panting which requires good air flow. 
Don’t ever leave your pet in a car or vehicle. Temperatures in a car can reach more than double the outside temperature even on mild days, and parking in the shade or leaving the windows open doesn’t really help. It can take just six minutes for an animal to die in a hot car – so if you see an animal suffering in a hot car, please contact your local RSPCA or the police urgently. Dogs can also overheat when left on the back of a ute, including by burning their feet or other body parts on the ute tray. 
Remember that, just like us, pets can get sunburned – and also just like us, sunburn can lead to conditions like skin cancer. This is particularly a concern in white-haired dog and cats. Pet sunscreen is an option for some animals, but also, keeping your pet in the shade as much as possible will help minimise the risk of sunburn. 
Small animals like rabbits, guinea pigs, ferrets, birds, rats and mice are highly susceptible to heatstroke. They are also often confined to cages which means they can’t move into cooler places. Make sure they have a cool, shade and well-ventilated area with access to clean, fresh drinking water. On very hot days, this might mean moving them inside. 
By taking some precautions, we can all help ensure that the hot summer months are as safe as possible for our pets. 
For more information, visit the RSPCA Knowledgebase.
This article was originally published in Australian Community Media newspapers
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