TOP PET SAFETY TIPS TO KEEP YOUR PET SAFE THIS SUMMER
The Vet Know How team know that summer can be one of the most enjoyable times of the year for everyone, especially here in the UK as we are currently enjoying the hot weather that the season brings. However, the hot weather can catch a lot of people out and care needs to be taken not just for ourselves, but also for our most precious family members – our pets.
To ensure our pets' safety in the sun, so you can have a summer packed with fun and great days outdoors, make sure you follow our summer pet care guide; how to spot the key signs of too much sun on the skin (sunburn), contributing factors to heat exhaustion in our animals and common outdoor bbq foods that are bad for our pets. These pet summer safety tips have been created to make sure you keep your pets safe and comfortable while enjoying some quality time with them in the hot weather.
We have structured the guide so that is is easy to follow by clicking on the headings below which will take you to the section of the article you want to read (rather than scroll the entire post).
Sun Burn Advice For Dogs & Cats
Heat Stroke & Heat Exhaustion In Dogs
Bad BBQ Food For Dogs
SUNBURNT DOGS & CATS
Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) sunlight poses the same risks to skin cells in dogs and cats as it does to humans. This over exposure can cause sunburn for your dog or cat. Although the majority of dogs and cats are covered by protective fur, light coloured and fine/short coated cats and dogs are particularly at risk of sunburn. Many cats suffer sunburnt ears and noses especially if they have light coloured tips to their ears and nose. This type of sunburn in cats can cause a condition called ‘solar dermatitis’ which can in some cases progress to a type of malignant skin cancer called ‘squamous cell carcinoma’. Unfortunately, the PDSA has reported seeing over 30 cases of skin cancer in pets in the last years with the majority being associated with sunburn in cats and dogs so it is very important that you pay attention to your pet's safety this summer.
HOW TO PREVENT SUNBURN ON YOUR DOG AND CAT
Try to avoid letting your pets go outside when the sun is at its hottest between 11am to 3pm and use sun block (or sunscreen) on dogs and cats on the areas that are most likely to burn – the tips of the ears and nose. For some furless breeds such as the Sphynx cat and Chinese Crested dog, sun cream alone is not enough to protect them against burning, the best sun protection for dogs and cats in these breeds would be to provide them with plenty of shade and supervised at all times when outdoors. Occasionally a light t-shirt or something to cover them up may also be necessary. Human sun creams containing chemicals such as zinc oxide can be toxic to dogs as well as cats, who are fastidious groomers, so a pet safe dog and cat sunscreen/cream is recommended and readily available online and in pet shops.
The tell-tale signs that your dog has heat stroke is they will appear uncoordinated and may appear to stagger, become very weak and/or collapse.
SIGNS OF SOLAR DERMATITIS IN DOGS & CATS
Early signs of solar dermatitis in dogs and cats are the affected areas becoming inflamed with the skin appearing pink and scaly with some hair loss in canine and cat species. As the condition progresses these areas become crusted, ulcerated and painful. Due to discomfort cats often appear irritated by the ears and shake their head or try to scratch the area, so bleeding is not uncommon.
SUN BURN TREATMENT & DIAGNOSIS FOR YOUR DOG & CAT
If your pet dog or cat suffers from sunburn please seek veterinary advice! Like humans, there are degrees of treatment required depending on the severity and how deep the burn is that the skin has sustained. If the skin is raw and has blistered then wound cleaning, pain relief and topical ointments may be required. For more severe burns, specialised dressings, fluids and antibiotics may be warranted. Rubbing ice over the damaged skin is not recommended as it has been shown to delay healing and can cause further damage. If your vet is concerned about signs of skin cancer in your pet, they will recommend performing a biopsy to get a diagnosis. If it’s confirmed that your pet has developed skin cancer, then the treatment of choice normally is to remove the cancerous area surgically as soon as possible. The most common procedure is for the ear tips of cats to be removed in what’s known as a partial pinnectomy. Surgical removal like this is often curative if caught early and although it alters their appearance, it usually causes no long term issues.
HEAT STROKE & HEAT EXHAUSTION IN DOGS
The next part of our pet safety tips covers a major issue with the hot weather - heat strokes and exhaustion in our pets. With the temperatures now soaring in our mini summer heat wave, everyone will be keen to get out and make the most of enjoying the outdoors. It’s really important though to remember that even fit and healthy animals can easily overheat in this weather. We are able to lose heat through sweating but animals are less efficient at cooling themselves, as they are covered in fur and only have sweat glands on their nose and feet, and dogs in particular rely on panting to cool down. Naturally, overweight pets and long or thick coated pets are at greater risk of heat stroke, as they are more heavily insulated. Short nosed dogs such as Pugs and Bull dogs that have difficulty breathing are also in extreme danger of developing heat stroke very quickly, as they are less efficient at losing heat through panting.
So please remember if you feel hot, imagine what it must be like under a thick coat of fur!
SYMPTOMS OF CANINE HEAT STROKE & EXHAUSTION
Heat stroke in dogs is more common than in cats and owners should look out for the following signs initially – fast and heavier panting, signs of agitation (barking, whimpering, unsettled), excessive drooling, thirst. As the condition progresses, the heart rate and pulse will increase and dark red lips, gums or tongue can be seen. The tell-tale signs that your dog has heat stroke is they will appear uncoordinated and may appear to stagger, become very weak and/or collapse. In very severe cases seizures can develop and/or the animal will lose consciousness. Detecting heat stroke signs early in your dog and seeking treatment immediately is critical to the animal’s survival. Sadly, if left untreated for even a short period of time, heat stroke can be fatal with the excessive heat causing severe permanent organ damage and even so far as multi organ failure for which there is no cure. In cats, although less common, the symptoms for heat exhaustion and strokes are similar and include a red tongue and gums, rapid breathing, vomiting, lethargy and staggering or stumbling when walking.
PREVENTION OF HEAT STROKE IN DOGS & CATS
Consider with single coated dogs (for example, Poodles and Bichons) cutting the coat shorter during the hotter months, however never shave them due to the risk of sunburn. With double coated dogs such as Pomeranians or Huskies the thick under-coat should be kept well-groomed and mat free, so the cool air can circulate between the top coat and skin. Try to walk your dog early in the morning or late evening when it’s coolest. Take plenty of water with you for your dog to drink and try places such as shaded woodland or walks on the beach where paddling in the water can help them cool down. Any play time for dogs should also be at a cooler time of day and ensuring they have plenty of breaks so they don’t play ‘too hard’. To keep them cool at home, make sure they have access to a shaded area and have plenty of cool water (you can add ice cubes but make sure it’s not too many as it has to be comfortable to drink). Spraying dogs with water or hosing them down with cool water will help and some dogs even like a paddling pool in the garden. You can now purchase ‘cool coats’ and cooling mats for them to lie on, which can help make your dog feel more comfortable.
To prevent heatstroke in your dog and cats avoid keeping your pets locked in hot areas of the house or car. Remember that greenhouses, conservatories and hot cars can all heat up very quickly. Cats in particular may sneak into a greenhouse, but they must have access to get out if the temperature gets too high. For dog safety in cars, it’s important not to leave them in the car on warm days, even with the windows open and try to avoid long journeys. If it’s not essential they come with you, it’s generally safer to leave them at home. According to the RSPCA, when the outside air temperature is just 22 degrees, in just an hour your car can reach an unbearable 47 degrees C inside – that’s over 116 degrees F.
It is much better to prevent heat stroke in your dog or cat than treat it once the signs develop, so getting practiced at taking your dog’s temperature is a good way of monitoring how cool your dog is staying. Your dog’s temperature should be 38-39.2 Celsius, if your dog’s temperature is 40 or above you should seek immediate veterinary treatment.
On exceptionally hot days you could even try freezing the toy and its contents the night before so that the food inside takes longer to eat
IF YOU SUSPECT HEATSTROKE…
It is essential for pet safety and care of duty to remove them out of the hot environment as soon as possible and contact your vet. Offer small amounts of cool water to drink little and often and try to bring their body temperature down carefully by wetting them with cool not cold water (a rapid reduction in body temperature is dangerous, so using cold water is not recommended). Use the cool water to wet them all over, in particular their non-haired areas such as the groin, belly and ears as these areas will cool faster and increase air flow by using a fan. Cover them with a damp towel and place them in front of a fan or open window and get them to a vets as soon as possible. Once at the vets, treatment will usually involve continuing to reduce body temperature (if it’s still above normal), replacing lost fluids and minerals then monitoring for shock or other complications such as kidney failure. Unfortunately, once clinical signs have developed, a pet’s prognosis is poor and they will need several days of intensive care if they are to recover.
UNHEALTHY FOOD FOR DOGS: SUMMERTIME BBQS
Everyone loves a good BBQ during the summer months come rain or shine, but barbeque food, although very appealing to both our feline and canine friends can pose many risks. There are certain 'bad' foods for dogs and we need to know what we can and cannot feed them to ensure their safety this summer.
BAD BBQ FOOD FOR DOGS: HOT HOT HOT
Hot food straight off the BBQ smells irresistible, but can result in burns to your pet’s mouth and stomach ulcers.
BAD BBQ FOOD FOR DOGS: BONES AND SKEWERS
If accidentally eaten, bones and skewers can puncture the digestive tract resulting in potentially life threatening infections such as peritonitis or serious oesophageal disorders. In these situations, emergency surgery to repair the damage is required, but unfortunately even after surgery there is a high chance they still might not recover. To avoid accidents such as this, it’s a good idea to make sure the BBQ is supervised at all times, or keep your pets locked safely indoors. For those sharp objects, keep a small pet-proof container handy, with a lid to store cooked bones and skewers after your family or guests have finished eating.
BAD BBQ FOOD FOR DOGS: CORN ON THE COB
Another less obvious problem is corn on the cob. If your pet has eaten a corn on the cob and is lucky, the cob may pass straight through the digestive system. However, corn on the cobs are not broken down by the digestive system and if they get stuck they can cause an obstruction in the intestines.
Symptoms for intestinal damage or intestinal blockage are similar. Signs are wide ranging and can include vomiting or heaving (but not bringing anything up), vomiting after drinking water, straining to pass a stool or diarrhoea, restlessness, not eating, painful abdomen, whimpering/whining, weakness, depression and lethargy. If you suspect your dog or cat has eaten anything that could cause a problem, you should seek veterinary advice immediately and if displaying any signs of being unwell get them examined.
BAD BBQ FOOD FOR DOGS: FATS AND OILS
Excessive consumption of high fat foods can trigger inflammation of the pancreas, a very painful condition that requires veterinary attention. Animals often present symptoms with persistent vomiting, abdominal pain, depression and or diarrhoea.
BAD BBQ FOOD FOR DOGS: FOOD AT EYE LEVEL
For most dogs the temptation of food is huge, let alone it being waived about at nose level. Children eating tasty, delicious smelling food in accessible range may provoke unwanted behaviour in some dogs such as food guarding and stealing. Additionally, if guests bring new or unfamiliar dogs this can cause further problems between pets and with children who are not used to them. Therefore, for child safety, dogs should be supervised at all times and children advised not to approach unfamiliar pets.
LET YOUR PET RELAX ELSEWHERE.
If you decide to keep your pet indoors for safety reasons, you can always give them something tasty and fun to keep them entertained. A rubber chew toy with a hollow centre filled with soft food or even dry food (soaked in water and mashed up) can be a great treat. Or why not give them a healthy treat with our little stars to reward them for their good behaviour. On exceptionally hot days you could even try freezing the toy and its contents the night before so that the food inside takes longer to eat.
FURTHER READING ON PET SAFETY TIPS FOR THE SUMMER MONTHS:
The Telegraph: Don’t let pets in the garden on sunny days, owners told as vets warn of sunburn and skin cancer
The telegraph: What suncream can I use on my cat?
International Cat care: Common ear problems in cats
Vet’s Now: The dangers of corn on the cob
PDSA: Pets can get skin cancer too
Pet MD: Heat Stroke in Dogs