Man walking dog on beach

Prone to struggling in the summer heat? Spare a thought for your pets – top tips for keeping them safe as temperatures rise

Friday , 8 December 2023 by Polly Inch

We’ve been waiting for some hot dry weather after a wet year for most of Aotearoa New Zealand, but this summer is destined to be a lot warmer than normal with the arrival of El Niño. So, with long summer days almost upon us (keeping in mind it doesn’t have to be scorching for increased temperatures to pose a danger to animals), Southern Cross Pet Insurance is reminding pet owners of the dangers heat presents for our pets.

Heatstroke or heat exhaustion is something pet owners need to be especially wary of in the warmer months. Excessive humidity, being left without water, or being stuck in enclosed spaces can all lead to heatstroke and potentially death in animals.

Spotting the signs of heatstroke

Heatstroke signs include rapid breathing and pulse, bulging eyes, panting, and drooling, dark gums and tongue, vomiting and/or diarrhoea, and lethargy. Heatstroke can cause cardiac failure, renal failure, brain damage, and liver and muscular damage.

Southern Cross Pet Insurance National Sales Manager and former vet nurse Kerri Murray says, “If you think your pet has heatstroke, you should contact your vet as soon as possible.”

“Put your pet in a cool, ventilated area and use a fan to blow cool air on them. Spraying or sponging tepid water on them can also help – but make sure you don’t cool your pet down too quickly. Your vet will be able to talk you through what to do before you get to the clinic for medical help.”

However, prevention is always better than cure when it comes to heatstroke.

“Make sure your pet has access to lots of fresh, cool water, and a shaded, ventilated area to relax in,” Murray added.

Car safety

Despite the fact there have been many examples of concerned citizens smashing car windows to relieve stressed out pets, it seems the message about never leaving them in a hot car isn’t getting through.

Murray says many pet owners think “it’s only a few minutes, so they’ll be fine” but that’s simply not the case.

“People are often surprised at how quickly the temperature inside a parked car can become dangerous for pets – sometimes just in the time it takes to buy a coffee.

“On a 21°C day the inside temperature of a car can reach 32°C after 10 minutes and 40°C after 30 minutes. Even parking your car in the shade and leaving the windows open is not ideal – as it doesn’t make much difference to temperatures for pets.

“Just don’t do it – avoid taking them in the car on a warm or hot day if you can and whatever you do, don’t leave them in the car. Take them with you – even if it’s just for 10 minutes,” she added.

Exercise with caution

Pet owners should also be careful while walking their pets during summer - keep exercise time to short bursts.

As well as the risk of heatstroke from being exercised in the warmer temperatures, footpaths and tarmac can also become too hot for dogs’ paws.

Early morning and evening are typically cooler during summer, so it’s best to take dogs for a walk at those times. It helps to stick to shaded areas where possible, too.

Try taking a bottle of water and collapsible bowl with you, so your dog always has easy access to hydration.

Some breeds of dog are also more susceptible to issues with heat. Dogs regulate their body temperature through sweating and panting, so flat-faced breeds (like bulldogs, pugs, and Chow Chow) can be at higher risk of heatstroke, because they tend to find breathing more difficult than other dogs.

Keep your cat safe too

Murray said, “Cats might be savvier when it comes to regulating their body temperature, but they can overheat in very hot weather. Some breeds of cat, or those with health or weight problems, can struggle more to regulate their body temperature.

“It’s really important to make sure your cat always has access to both shade and water to drink in summer.”

More tips to beat the heat for pets

  • Brush and groom your pets regularly:
    • Cats and dogs shed their winter coats as the day gets warmer, so brushing them a few times a week helps them get rid of excess fur.
    • Regular brushing also improves their skin condition and helps keep them cool.
    • If your pet needs their fur shaved or trimmed, go to a professional groomer – they will know the best summer length for your pet’s breed.
    • Your pet’s fur helps to keep them both warm and cool and prevents sunburn, they should never be shaved completely.
  • Try using a fan to create and indoor breeze or buy a cooling pad for them to lie on.
  • Keep indoor cats cool by shutting curtains and leaving windows open, where possible, to offer shade and ventilation.