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How to keep pets cool and calm on a hot day

While most of us know what we can do to protect ourselves from harmful UV rays and sun exposure, what about our pets?

Updated 29 April 2020  | 5 min read

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Key points

  • Some pets aren’t very good at regulating their temperature, so you’ll need to help them keep cool
  • Make sure your pet has constant access to water, is well-groomed and that you’ve got pet-safe sun cream on hand
  • Never leave your pet in the car – it can get hot very quickly even with the windows rolled down

Why it’s important to keep your pet cool

Cats are generally very good at regulating body temperature and finding shaded areas away from the sun.

However, dogs can overheat quickly. Unlike humans, dogs can’t sweat through their skin,; only through their paw pads and panting to cool down. Being covered in fur also means they can be particularly prone to discomfort and overheating, which can lead to more serious conditions such as heatstroke.

Signs of dehydration to look out for include heavy panting, dry or bright gums, excessive drooling, vomiting, diarrhoea, wobbly legs, and reduced energy levels.

Here are a few ways to make sure your beloved pet can stay safe during particularly hot days – and a few things to watch out for, including signs of heatstroke and poor hydration, and tricks to keep them cool.

Carry plenty of water

Make sure your pet has a continuous water supply that's kept in the shade and refreshed multiple times a day – and always remember to bring a bowl and clean water supply with you on walks. This is important to prevent dehydration. 

There are other simple things you can do to supplement this, such as using a weighted dish to ensure there are limited spills and incorporating wet food (which has a higher water content) into your pet’s diet.

Cool tip: Ice lollies are a perfect pick-me-up in the summer – but they can also serve as a refreshing treat for your pet too. Simply fill an ice cube tray/ice lolly mould with your dog or cat's favourite treats, mixed with water and pet-safe meat or vegetable stock. Once frozen, they can be served as a cool summer treat.

A safe, shaded place

On hot days, make sure your pet has a safe, shaded area where they can seek shelter out of direct sunlight. 

Get hands-on: Pavements soak up heat all day, so check the temperature of the ground before heading out – if it’s too hot for you to hold your hand on it for 5 seconds, it’s too hot for your dog.

Keep pets well-groomed

Grooming your pet is important for their health and comfort. But it’s worth remembering that your pet’s coat is designed by nature to help keep them cool in the summer (and warm in winter).

Dogs naturally shed more hair in the summer months, so a good, regular brush can help get rid of any excess hair, keeping them clean and comfortable. 

Speak to a professional groomer or vet to find out what's best for your pet – a full shave, for example, can leave them more sensitive to sunburn. Always leave at least one inch of hair when shaving your pet to give them plenty of protection and avoid shaving shorter-haired breeds altogether. 

Pack the sun cream

If your pet is light-skinned or doesn't have much fur, make sure they're protected from the sun with animal-friendly sun protection – your vet may be able to recommend a suitable product.

When applying sunscreen, pay attention to sun-sensitive areas such as the nose, belly and tips of the ears. 

A dog’s skin can burn just like ours and, skin cancer is the most common form of cancer found in dogs. They require the same protection that we do in the sun. 

Time it right: Avoid sunburn by keeping your pet indoors when the sun is strongest (between 11am and 3pm).

Limit exercise

Dogs require regular walks, even on lazy summer days. But it’s important to take extra care when exercising them in hot weather. 

There are simple things you can do to keep them safe, for example:

  • Adjust the frequency and duration of exercise with the temperature
  • Keep exercise short and sweet
  • Limit activity to the early morning or evening when the temperature's cooler
  • Plan your walks to include places with easy access to shade
  • Always remember to carry plenty of water

By doing this you’ll avoid the risks of dehydration, sunburn and heatstroke. 

Get the hose out

If your pet enjoys playing in water, they might enjoy being cooled down with a hose or sprinkler. But watch to see how they react to this beforehand, as any undue stress or panic can aggravate heat and discomfort.

Similarly, not all pets like to swim, so never force them into water. It’s also important to be very careful where you choose to let them swim, as not all dogs are great swimmers – and even those that are may not know how to get out of the water or pool safely. 

If you decide to take your furry friend sailing or boating, make sure they wear a brightly coloured life vest and always keep an eye on them when near water. Be wary of tides at the beach and watch out for currents in rivers.

Pets in cars

We all know that you should never leave your dog alone in a car – not even for a short period.

When it's 22C (72F) outside, the temperature inside a car can reach 47C (117F) within 60 minutes.

While dogs pant to keep cool, in hot, stuffy cars they can't cool down.

Leaving a window open or putting a sunshield on windscreens won't be sufficient to keep your car cool, and it can be life-threatening for your pet if they’re left alone in a hot car for too long.

What to do if your pet overheats

If dogs are too hot and are unable to reduce their body temperature by panting, it can lead to serious and potentially fatal conditions such as heatstroke [1].

The Royal Society for the Protection of Animals (RSPCA) advises owners to look out for a number of symptoms of overheating, for example: heavy panting, profuse salivation, rapid pulse, very red gums/tongue, lethargy, lack of co-ordination, vomiting, diarrhoea, and loss of consciousness.

If your pet shows signs of heat exhaustion, move them to a cool place, give them a drink of water, put a damp towel over their body, and get them to the vet as soon as possible. 

Don’t place your pet in cold water or offer them ice as this can put them into shock.

Big tips for smaller pets

For pets such as rabbits, mice and hamsters – who are smaller in size and can’t regulate their body temperature as well – plenty of shade and a continuous supply of water, which should be regularly replenished, is key. 

On a hot day, try keeping smaller pets indoors in a well-ventilated room and away from the sun. 

Don’t leave hutches in direct sunlight and never keep a rabbit or guinea pig in a greenhouse or conservatory – as they can quickly overheat.

Tip: You can keep small pets cool by freezing a bottle of water and placing it on the outside of their cage, near their sleeping area (but not inside as they might get too cold). 

Snacks like celery and apples also have a high-water content and can help them stay hydrated. 

Similarly, make sure fish tanks are kept out of direct sunlight and make sure to change the water frequently – fish (like us) can get highly stressed when it’s extremely hot. 

Other useful summer tips

Here is a short list of other useful tips to help keep your pet healthy over the summer months:

  • Eating barbecue scraps can upset your pet’s stomach – undercooked or fatty food can make pets sick, so skip the scraps
  • Make sure your pet steers clear of bonfire flames and glowing embers, which could give them severe burns
  • Alcohol is dangerous for pets, so keep your drinks out of reach
  • Use plastics cups and plates outdoors – crockery or glass can easily smash and cause a hazard for pets

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