Sunscreen, shade and sunset walkies: Vets issue urgent heatwave advice as temperatures set to rival 2018 record
15 Jul 2022
As Red and Amber extreme heat warnings are announced across the UK, vets issue urgent advice on keeping pets safe from heat-related illnesses.
With extreme heat warnings in place across the UK, we are urging pet owners to take extra precautions to keep their animals safe in hot weather. The advice follows concerns that cases of heat-related illness seen by vets this year could rival the significant numbers seen during the record-breaking summer of 2018, when almost two-thirds of vets reported treating animals affected by the hot weather.
BVA’s Voice of the Veterinary Profession survey in 2018 found that half of the vets had treated animals for heat stroke (51%) while more than one in three (36%) had seen animals requiring treatment for other conditions relating to hot weather, like breathing difficulties, heart conditions, burnt paw pads and sunburn. Compared to 2015, the average number of cases of heatstroke and other heat-related conditions seen per vet that year had doubled and trebled, respectively.
Dogs may particularly 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. Even a very short walk in the middle of the day or being locked in a 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 short muzzles can make breathing difficult, and therefore they struggle to cool down through panting, which is a dog’s main way to cool its body temperature. Overweight animals and densely coated animals are also at increased risk.
Like dogs, rabbits and guinea pigs cannot sweat or pant to regulate their body temperature and cool down, which is why it’s important that their hutch or run isn’t exposed to direct sunlight at any time of the day. Flystrike is also a life-threatening risk for them in the warmer months, so daily inspection around their back end and under their tail is essential. Seek veterinary advice immediately if you see any maggots.
British Veterinary Association President Justine Shotton said:
“While most of us look forward to warmer weather, our pets can suffer in high temperatures and humid conditions. Each year, vets across the country report seeing large numbers of cases involving pets who require treatment for heat-related conditions, and this saw a noticeable jump during the record-breaking heat of 2018.
“Vets know that dogs in particular won’t stop enjoying themselves and exercising because it is hot, so it’s up to owners to do all they can to prevent overheating happening in this heatwave. This includes making sure pets aren’t walked or exercised in the middle of a hot day or left inside a hot car or conservatory for even a little while, as ‘not long’ can prove fatal.
“If you’re concerned about your pet in the hot weather, we’d recommend contacting your vet immediately.”
Some breeds of cats and dogs, particularly those with lighter-coloured or finer fur, may also benefit from appropriate sun cream, especially on the ear tips, which are prone to sunburn. In the case of chronic exposure, it can even lead to potentially dangerous skin cancers. Among dogs, breeds such as dalmatians, beagles, whippets, white boxers and white English bull terriers are among the most commonly affected. Cats who like sunbathing on windowsills are also at risk of exposing themselves to a lot of sunlight through windows that are generally not UVA-protected. Blue-eyed white cats are most susceptible, as well as the white-haired skin areas of short-haired cats.
Dr Shotton added:
“The best way to prevent sunburn is to avoid excessive sunlight exposure but, if that isn’t possible, you should apply pet-appropriate sunscreen 10-15 minutes before exposure. Products that are waterproof, with a high SPF (30 or higher) and containing titanium dioxide are suitable and should be applied as a thin smear.
“BVA recommends avoiding sunscreens with zinc oxide to avoid zinc toxicity. If pet-safe products are hard to find, hypoallergenic or baby human products may be suitable instead. It’s a good idea to consult a vet to make sure you are applying the right sunscreen correctly and in the right place.”
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