The British Veterinary Association (BVA) is urging pet owners to take extra precaution this weekend to protect their pets from heat-related illness as temperatures across parts of England are set to hit 30 degrees.
The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has issued a new heat-health alert from Friday, June 9, until Monday, June 12, and as the mercury rises, pets can be at risk of a range of heat-related conditions such as heatstroke, burnt paw pads, sunburn and breathing difficulties.
New statistics from BVA’s Voice of the Veterinary Profession survey showed that during last year’s record-breaking heatwave, where temperatures soared to in excess of 40 degrees, half (51%) of all vets in the UK saw cases of animals requiring treatment for heat-related illness.
Dogs were the most common animal seen with heat-related conditions, reported by 51% of small animal vets in 2022, followed by rabbits (9%) and cats (6%).
British Veterinary Association junior vice president Anna Judson said: “Here in the UK we get very excited by the promise of a bit of lovely, sunny weather but we mustn’t forget that animals can struggle when temperatures heat up.
“These new figures are a stark reminder to pet owners to take extra precautions this weekend, to ensure their pets are cool, hydrated, and safe from the sun. Make sure pets have access to fresh drinking water, good ventilation and shade from direct sunlight at all times and call your vet immediately in case of any concerns about their health.”
Dogs need extra care
Dogs are particularly vulnerable to heat-related illnesses. They can struggle to stay cool in high temperatures and humid conditions since, unlike humans, they are unable to cool down quickly through sweating, making them vulnerable to overheating. For some, a very short walk in the middle of the day or being shut in a hot car for a few minutes can prove to be fatal.
Flat-faced breeds such as English or French bulldogs and pugs are at even greater risk, as their flat faces can make breathing difficult, and therefore they struggle to cool down through panting, which is a dog’s main way to cool their body temperature.
Ms Judson added: “Each year, vets across the country report seeing large numbers of cases involving dogs who require treatment for heat-related conditions. Dogs won’t stop playing and running because it is hot, so owners need to take action to prevent them overheating.
“This includes making sure pets aren’t walked or exercised during the heat of the day or left inside a car, caravan or conservatory, even for a little while, as ‘not long’ can prove fatal.
“Early signs of heatstroke in dogs include heavy panting, drooling, restlessness, bright red or very pale gums, and lack of coordination.”
Ms Judson outlined some of the signs of heat related illness in other pets: “Signs of heatstroke in rabbits include drooling, lethargy, short and shallow breaths, red and warm ears, wet nose and seizures.
“If you’re worried that your pet has overheated, take them to a cool, well-ventilated place, give small amounts of cool (not ice-cold) water to drink. Seek immediate advice from your vet.”
BVA’s top warm weather tips for pets
- Make sure all pets always have access to fresh water to drink, adequate ventilation, and shade from direct sunlight at all times. This includes the living environment of birds and rabbits. Provide extra shade to guinea pigs and rabbits by covering the top of wire mesh runs with damp towels.
- Don’t exercise dogs in the hottest parts of the day: especially older dogs, overweight dogs, flat-faced breeds or dogs that you know have heart or lung problems. Stick to early morning or late evening walks.
- Do the five-second tarmac test before taking a dog out for a walk; if it feels too hot for you, it’s too hot for your dog’s paws.
- Never leave dogs in vehicles. If you see a dog in distress inside a hot car, call 999.
- Flystrike is a life-threatening risk for rabbits and guinea pigs in the warmer months, Check their bottoms twice daily to see if they are clean and to spot early signs of fly eggs or maggots. A ‘sticky bottom’ is not only at much higher risk of flystrike, it may be due to a problem with your rabbit’s teeth or digestion. Speak with your vet for advice on how reduce the risk of flystrike.
- Some breeds of cats and dogs, particularly those with lighter-coloured or finer fur, may also benefit from pet-appropriate sun cream, especially on the ear tips, which are prone to sunburn.
- Spare a thought for wild animals. Keep out bowls of water for wildlife such as birds and hedgehogs.