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How to keep pets (and native animals) safe in extreme heat

February 23, 2024
January 9, 2024

With scientists predicting a long, hot summer, you may be wondering how your pets and the native species that call Australia home might cope in the heat? Cherished Pets founder and Bank Australia customer, Dr. Alicia Kennedy, shares how to help animals play it cool during the warmer months.

Since animals suffer from the heat just as we do, it’s important we do all we can to ensure our pets stay cool, calm and collected during extreme heat. Don’t have a furry friend by your feet? Native animals need your help too!

Spot the signs

So, how can you tell if your pet isn’t coping during a heat wave?

“Excessive panting is the main sign, so be tuned in to this. They can become increasingly restless and agitated and may want to lie on cooler surfaces,” says Bank Australia customer Dr. Alicia Kennedy, founder of Cherished Pets, a veterinary social enterprise and certified B Corp based in Ocean Grove, Victoria.  

But there are other signs too. If you see your pet stretching out, seeking shade or drooling excessively, they may be experiencing heat stress. When this happens, getting your pet to the nearest vet is paramount.

“Don’t hesitate to seek veterinary care,” Alicia explains. “Dogs can show more serious signs such as rapid heart rate, disorientation, collapse, seizures, vomiting and diarrhoea.” 

A dog runs across a beach

Play it cool

Not sure how to keep your pets cool as cucumbers when the mercury rises? Try following Alicia’s tips for helping your loyal companions manage on hot days:

Bring your pets indoors into cooler areas

  • Fill a paddle pool with water for a refreshing bath
  • Provide shade, shelter, ice blocks and bowls of fresh water
  • Try buying a cooling mat from a pet store for your pet to lie on
  • Use pet sunblock if your pet has depigmented, exposed skin or likes to sun bake
  • Only walk your dog early in the morning and in the evening, never in the direct sunlight
  • Avoid exercising brachycephalic breeds (such as pugs) during warmer weather as these breeds can experience heat stress on 25-degree days.

A black dog looking up, while standing near a garden bed

To clip or not to clip

Ever wondered if you should clip your pet’s floofy coat to get them summer-ready? Alicia explains that since an animal’s coat provides natural insulation, shaving usually isn’t necessary, depending on the breed. 

“Clipping is advised for the ‘oodle’ and many other smaller breeds as routine coat maintenance,” she says. “Double-coated breeds (like retrievers, shepherds, border collies and labradors) and long-haired cats don’t need shaving unless your veterinarian recommends it.” She also adds that daily grooming of your dog helps to keep their coats healthy, especially when they’re shedding.

All creatures great and small

Let’s not forget about our smaller furry and feathered friends. Rabbits, guinea pigs, ferrets, chickens and other animals feel the heat too. “All animals can suffer from the heat,” says Alicia. “In fact, heat stress is one of the most common causes of death of pets such as rabbits and guinea pigs.” 

If you keep your rabbits or guinea pigs outdoors, Alicia recommends bringing them indoors to cooler areas (such as the laundry or bathroom) on hot days. If you’re using outdoor enclosures, it’s a wise idea to set up hutches in shaded areas, remembering to move the hutches to the shady areas as the sun moves throughout the day. 

“Freezing water bottles into ice blocks and placing these in hutches provides a cooling mechanism,” says Alicia. “Our bunny used to lie right on top of her frozen water bottle, and we would rotate them through the day.” 

A woman sits on a couch, legs crossed. She is patting her cat while it sits in her lap.

Watch out for wildlife 

With many native wildlife species experiencing worrying population declines, we all have a role to play in protecting biodiversity, especially during summer. 

“Native animals are vulnerable on hot days as they will often venture out of their safe daytime havens in search of water,” says Alicia. “There are increased incidents of dog attacks on hot days, so keep your dogs confined.”

Keeping your bird bath topped up or placing bowls of fresh water in your backyard, on your balcony, at the bottom of trees or nestled in lower branches will help native birdlife to cool off and find water to drink without having to fly too far.

Worried about an animal you’ve found in distress? Depending on where you are, there are different numbers you can call for assistance. Google or search local area Facebook groups to connect with wildlife carers or rescue organisations.  

If the animal is small and safe to pick up, Alicia explains that wrapping it in a small towel or blanket, popping it in a box and taking it to the nearest vet is wise. “We always carry a box and towel in our car as where we live it’s not uncommon to find injured wildlife on the roadside,” she says. “But if you see wildlife in distress, it’s important to contact people who can respond and handle them.”

As with most things in life, being prepared is key. So do a search and save your local wildlife rescue number into your phone now – a life may depend on it.

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