“If in doubt, don’t go out” – that’s the advice from animal welfare and veterinary groups, who are urging dog owners to rethink walks during hot weather.
The Dogs Die in Hot Cars coalition want pet owners to realise the very real and serious dangers of leaving dogs in cars as well as highlighting the risks of walking dogs during hot weather, including sunstroke and overheating, and burning their pads on scorching pavements.
Pet owners are advised to learn the early warning signs of heat-related illness, so they can avoid putting their dogs at risk, and should also know what action to take in an emergency.
Dr Dan O’Neill, associate professor of Companion Animal Epidemiology at the Royal Veterinary College, said vets see dogs with a range of issues.
“Heat-related illness can lead to organ failure, brain damage and ultimately death,” he said. “Most people know that dogs die in hot cars, but the reality is that more than 10 times as many dogs need veterinary treatment for heat-related illness following exercise as for being overheated in cars*.
“It can take weeks for a dog to acclimatize to hot weather, so after a spell of cold winter, periods of hot weather can be particularly dangerous.”
Esme Wheeler, RSPCA dog welfare specialist, said owners can provide a paddling pool and make frozen dog treats to keep their pets cool and entertained if they’re worried about missing exercise during hot weather.
She added, “The truth is, walking dogs in hot weather can be a silent killer. When a heatwave is forecast, we all start making plans for enjoying the outdoors and soaking up the sunshine, and for those of us with dogs, this often includes bringing them along. While the majority would never leave our dogs in a car on a hot day, or even take our dogs for a really long walk in the heat, many people may still be putting their dogs at risk even on a short walk, or taking them to places such as fields and beaches with little or no shade.
“All breeds of dog are at risk, but if your dog has an underlying health condition, especially one affecting their breathing, then they could overheat more easily, as well as overweight dogs, dogs with double coats, and some larger and flat-faced breeds.
“We have long campaigned that dogs die in hot cars, but this year we’re highlighting that dogs die on hot walks, too. The message remains very simple – never leave a dog in a hot car because ‘not long’ is too long, and when it comes to walks, ‘if in doubt, don’t go out.’
Which dogs are at greater risk?
Dr O’Neill advises:
- Dogs cool down by panting, so dogs with any kind of breathing issue may struggle to pant effectively and may struggle to cool down. This is especially a problem for brachycephalic (flat-faced) dogs that have narrowed airways, dogs with respiratory diseases such as laryngeal paralysis, and dogs with heart disease, to name a few.
- Dogs also lose heat directly to their surrounding air, so dogs with thick coats, wearing doggy-clothes, and overweight dogs with excess body fat will retain more heat and cool more slowly during exercise.
- Unfit dogs and dehydrated dogs cool down more slowly than dogs that are athletically fit and well hydrated. So, if your dog has been injured, is unwell, or just hasn’t done as much exercise recently as perhaps you would have liked, then they will get hotter faster and will take longer to cool down when exercising.
What are the signs of heat-related illness in dogs?
- Excessive panting that doesn’t stop when the dog rests.
- Difficulty breathing, especially if there is unusual noise or any blue/grey tinge to gums or tongue.
- Unusual tiredness – becoming tired sooner than normal.
- Changes in behaviour – lying down more frequently and stumbling.
- Less keen to play.
What should I do if I spot these signs?
- Stop them from exercising
- Move them into the shade
- Lay them in water and/or pour it over them
- Speak to a vet if you are concerned
Tips for keeping dogs comfortable in warm weather
- Never leave your dog in a hot car, ever.
- Never leave your pets in any vehicle or caravan, or in a conservatory or outbuilding.
- Exercise dogs in the early morning or late evening when temperatures are cooler.
- Avoid over-exercising dogs in warm weather and avoid encouraging them to over-exert themselves when playing.
- If you know your dog has an underlying condition, then take extra care in hot weather or consider skipping walks altogether.
- Provide constant access to fresh, clean water and cool, shady resting spots.
- Avoid taking dogs on long days out in the heat.
- Remember, pavements can get very hot in the warm weather – if you can’t comfortably keep your hand on the ground for five seconds, then it’s too hot for your dog’s paws too!
- If necessary, use a pet-safe sun cream on exposed parts of your pet’s skin
What to do if you see a dog in a hot car
- In an emergency, it is best to dial 999 and report a dog in a hot car to police. The RSPCA may not be able to attend quickly enough and, with no powers of entry, we’d need police assistance at such an incident.
- You can call the RSPCA’s 24-hour emergency cruelty line on 0300 1234 999 for advice but, if a dog is in danger, dialling 999 should always be the first step.