Dogs are particularly prone to overheating during the blistering summer heatwaves experienced in the UK around July each year. Unlike people, they have no sweat glands and are dependent purely on panting to cool down their bodies. Picture wearing a thick fur coat on a scorching hot day, while being wholly dependent on cooling through your paws and saliva evaporation from your tongue alone; this provides a simpler concept for us, humans, to grasp. Even panting cannot lower their body temperature sufficiently when it’s too hot. They easily suffer fatal heatstroke, or brain/organ damage if their body temperature gets too high. Even with temperatures as low as 20–23°C, dogs are at risk of heatstroke when exercised hard or if having an underlying condition such as lung problems or being overweight. Flat-nosed breeds or large dogs need extra caution as they will find temperatures from 24–27°C difficult to endure. Between 28–31°C the heat becomes dangerously life-threatening to all dogs. At or over 32°C fatal heatstroke is a decided risk to every dog irrespective of its size or age. On hot days, just a short spell of chasing a ball or ten minutes of walking may prove too much for our dogs.
Remember your dog’s paws are also sensitive to hot surfaces. The rule of thumb is that if you cannot comfortably hold your bare hand on the surface of the road or pavement for seven seconds, you should not walk your dog until it is cooler; your dog might otherwise suffer burns to his or her paws.
* Don’t walk your dogs at the hottest times of the day, particularly from 11 am until the evening cools significantly, and during summer try to avoid walking your dog between 8 am and 8 pm;
* Keep walks short when it’s warm. Just enough to do poos and wees should suffice;
* With special reference to bulldogs and other short nose breeds, do not overexercise them;
* At first signs of overheating when out walking, stop and let your dog rest in the shade before moving on/returning home;
* Make sure cool drinking water is always available. Add some ice blocks if you feel necessary;
* Keep a spray-mister bottle handy, containing only water, to spray shorthaired breeds of dogs, to help cool them down;
* Spray them with cold water using a garden hosepipe;
* Use an ice pack wrapped in their bedding if felt necessary;
* Let them / get them to swim in the sea, river, lake or pool.
Never leave your dogs in a locked car or unattended. On a hot day, it is better for you to leave your dog at home. Even with the windows wide open and parked in the shade, the temperature within the car will quickly rise to fatally high levels. It has been measured and established by the RSCPA that with an outside temperature of just 22°C, the interior of the car will heat up to an incredible 47°C within just sixty minutes (with the door windows slightly opened). Of course on a hot day, this can happen within minutes. We have all heard of tragic endings to these scenarios when an owner’s return is delayed for some unavoidable reason and he/she gets back to their car too late. Every year many thousands of dogs across the world die in locked cars. Indeed, this is the most common cause of heatstroke in dogs. Should you come across a dog in distress in such circumstances, your best option is to call 999 and request assistance; in some cases concerned citizens who have taken it upon themselves to break the car window to gain access to the dog, have later faced criminal charges for damage caused, and it may be difficult to raise a defence of justification for your actions. The law says you may lawfully commit damage if you believe the owner of the property that you damage would have consented to the damage had they known the circumstances
[section 5(2)(a) Criminal Damage Act 1971]. If you feel there is no other option, first advise the police of your intended actions, and make sure you take photographs or better still a video of the animal’s distress beforehand. An indication of how long the dog has been in the car may, for example, be given by a “Pay & Display” parking ticket. Inform the police of the vehicle registration if you feel there has been cruelty or neglect, whether or not the owner has returned to the car. If possible ask the shop to alert the owner by making a customer announcement of the registration number and details of the dog(s) in distress. Why not create a new contact on your mobile phone right now for the RSPCA’s 24-hour cruelty line – 0300 1234 999.
The law also says dog owners will be criminally charged in circumstances like those described in this article; including when dogs are tied up and unable to access cooler spots or provided shelter as needed.

When a dog gets too hot and is unable to reduce its body temperature by panting it will develop “heatstroke” or hyperthermia which can be fatal. Warning indicators of heatstroke include the dog panting excessively, drooling heavily, bulging or bloodshot eyes, being lethargic, drowsy or uncoordinated, vomiting, seizures or unconsciousness. The dog needs to be moved to a shady cooler spot immediately, and a veterinarian should urgently be summoned. Spray or gently pour cool (not cold) water or apply cool cloths to the dog’s head, stomach, armpits and feet, and allow the dog to drink small amounts of cool water. If possible a fan should be used to lower its temperature. But if the dog starts shivering then stop any further cooling measures; overcooling can lead to shock setting in. Most dogs fully recover if treated immediately, but some can still die subsequently from organ failure and any pets which have suffered heatstroke will be more prone to repeat occurrences as a result of damage to their thermo-regulatory systems. Heatstroke has proved fatal in up to 50% of affected dogs, but most surviving more than 24 hours make a full recovery.

Cats need our care too, particularly if they are light-skinned or have any albino characteristics which leave them prone to sun-induced skin damage and cancer. Use a non-toxic sun protection cream to screen their ear tips and noses or any other exposed skin areas.  Although better equipped to deal with heat than dogs, you should monitor your cat when it’s very hot. Ensure you have filled water bowls in various rooms and outside your home. Older cats or cats under medication are more prone to overheating/dehydration. It is best not to allow them outside when it’s really hot. Although your cat may love basking in the sun, if you see it panting or dribbling, immediately bring it inside or place it in a shady spot or cool room, and try to get it to drink some water. Always check before closing your garden shed or hothouse door that there is not a cat inside. Generally, though, cats are quite adept at finding the coolest spots in which to rest when the weather is really hot.
Remember when travelling away from your home, the importance of appointing professional house and pet sitters, such as those available throughout the UK through House and Home Sitters Ltd. Their pet-qualified and pet-loving sitters might make all the difference to the welfare of your furbabies in your absence.