Summer Small Friend Safety

Summer is a great time. It usually means holidays, more time outdoors, lots of get-together’s with family and friends. In summertime the living isn’t always easy for our small friends. By taking some simple precautions we can keep our small friends happy and healthy.

What is heatstroke?
Heatstroke is a life threatening condition that is caused by a small friend’s exposure to extreme heat and their inability to reduce their body temperature to compensate for this increase in temperature. This condition develops rapidly and needs immediate medical attention. The best treatment is of course prevention.

How can my small friend reduce his body temperature?
Panting is the main way small friends can let go of some of their heat. Some heat is lost through sweat glands in the pads of their feet, but unlike humans small friendsare unable to sweat. By panting a small friend is trying to exchange the “hot air” for “cool air” in an effort to cool themselves down.

Canberra is a hot place in summer, how can I prevent my small friend from getting too hot?
Here are a few hints to help keep your small friend cool in our extreme summers:

  • Try and avoid “playing” in the heat of the day. The best time for a walk or any activity is in the morning or evening. Avoid activity all together in extreme temperatures.
  • On hot days try to avoid allowing your dog to walk on hot asphalt. This can cause your dog to heat up quickly and can cause their sensitive pads to burn. Walking your dog during this time should be kept to a minimum.
  • Always carry cold, fresh water when traveling with your small friend.
  • For small friends kept outdoors they must have access to cool, fresh water and a shady spot everyday. If you have a dog kennel for your canine small friend please ensure it is ventilated or insulated and kept in a shady spot – a plastic dog house in the sun is no place of refuge! When possible bring your small friend inside to rest in a cool part of the house.
  • Never leave your small friend alone in a vehicle. Even with the windows open, a parked car can become extremely hot in no time at all. Keep in mind that the sun and therefore shade moves all day, so parking in the shade is not a solution. Overheating can be fatal to your small friend.

My dog has a short nose, is it true they are more susceptible to the heat?
Brachycephalic (short-nosed) dogs such as Bulldogs, Pugs, Boston Terrier, Lhasa Apsos, Belgium Griffins, and Shih Tzus are particularly sensitive in the hot weather. These dogs find it particularly difficult to keep cool. This is also true for Persian and Himalayan cats as they too have shortened faces. These small friends do best kept in cool and/or air-conditioned rooms as much as possible in the summer months.

My small friend has a lung condition, does this interfere with their ability to pant and therefore reduce their temperature?
Due to reduced airflow in these patient’s lungs, small friends with heart or lung conditions should also be kept in cool and/or air-conditioned rooms as much as possible.

Do dark coated animals find it more difficult in the sun?
Yes. Just like humans wearing dark coloured clothes, dark haired small friends do find the effect of the heat more noticeable, as dark colours absorb the heat more than light colours that reflect the heat rays away.

Can small friends suffer sunburn as we do?
Yes, it is quite common for small friends to present for their appointment with Dr Matt or one of our other vets with sunburn and even skin cancer. Again, just like humans, fair skinned small friends are more prone to sunburn and skin cancers than their darker skinned cousins. Small friends that spend a great deal of time in the sun and lack the black pigment around the nose, ears and eyes can get sunburned and are at increased risk of squamous cell carcinoma and malignant melanomas.

Is sunblock an option for my fair-skinned small friend?
Sunblock can be used, but its effectiveness depends on the pet and the location of sensitive skin. Small friends are quite clever at licking sun cream and sun lotion off themselves and each other, so it is best to speak to Dr Matt or one of our other vets to ascertain what would be the appropriate course of action for your small friend. When using sun cream it is important that you use an animal-friendly product. This is available from Small Friends Veterinary Hospital.

Can my small friend “slip on a T-Shirt”?
Wearing a T-Shirt is a great way to stop our sun-loving small friends from being exposed to sun and sun burn, particularly for those small friends that just love to lie belly up in the sun all day.

Gerald in his t-shirt

Nurse Tara’s friends at the beach

Is swimming a good way to help my dog cool off?
Swimming is an excellent way to cool dogs quickly. It is important to realise though that not all dogs can confidently swim straight away. Just like humans, this is something they may need to learn and practice. Before placing your dog in a pool, please be sure that they know how to swim, and they are able to get themselves out of the pool.

If you take your small friend out on a boat it is a good idea to ensure that they are secure in the boat and if they do happen to fall overboard they are trained as to how to deal with that. Elderly, blind or deaf dogs should wear a doggy life vest to assist them should they fall into the water. Just as with children, even if your dog knows how to swim, do not leave them unsupervised near water.

Try to avoid taking your small friend to the beach on hot days. If you do have to it is best to make sure you can provide a shady spot and plenty of fresh cool water. Also it is best if you can rinse your dog of salty water after they have a swim in the surf.

I have a long-coated small friend. Is it possible to have them clipped for the summer?
Of course and this is a good idea for most long-coated animals. Cats would need to make an appointment to spend the day at Small Friends Veterinary Hospital, as when we clip a cat they need to be sedated or anaesthetised. Cats end up with what is called a “lion-cut”. This is where all hair is shaved to about 1cm length apart from the paws and the head. Your cat will then look like they have a lion’s mane and are wearing boots! After the initial shock of your small friend’s new look you will be so happy to see them much more comfortable and cool.

Clipping dogs is usually performed by a dog groomer. Even dogs that shed can benefit from a hair cut every year, as not only does it cool them down for the summer period is also provides a great way for us small friend owners to start their coat a-fresh and make a New Year’s Resolution to keep it clean and groomed.

Please be sure your groomer does not shave your small friend’s hair too short as we don’t want to lose the protection from the sun it does provide.

We have lots of BBQ’s over the summer months and are about to get a puppy. Are there any precautions we should take?
Good thinking! Using table top gas BBQs and kettle BBQs (Webbers™) can be dangerous to our small friends. Those chops smell so good but the BBQ is dangerously hot. It is important to ensure that your small friend stays well away from the BBQ and you should never get into the habit of feeding your small friend food from the BBQ. You don’t want encourage the association of that hot surface and food.

If you would prefer your small friend didn’t beg for food from you, and the other guests at your BBQ it is also a good idea to never feed your small friend from your table (inside or outside). Once small friends know that while you are eating there might be something in it for them, they will continue to hang around until they are fed.

Always remember that cooked bones are not safe for small friends and should not be fed to them. Cooked bones can splinter and cause choking, intestinal obstruction or internal damage. When you finish with your BBQ throw the bones straight into the bin – and remember your small friend is not a wheelie bin in which to place all the leftovers.

During the summer months my small friend gets attacked by flies and other insects. Can I spray my small friend with fly repellent?
No. The only fly repellent that should be used on animals is an animal approved repellent available from Small Friends Veterinary Hospital. Like sunscreen, small friends can lick this off so it is best to discuss your options with Dr Matt or one of our other vets.

I am going to the coast this summer. What should I do about ticks?
If you plan on traveling to the coast then you will need to use some kind of tick prevention. For more information please see our Fleas and Ticks Information Page.

If you plan to travel with your small friend at all, please see our Travel Information Page.

Most importantly over summer please always ensure your small friend has a cool spot to rest and access to fresh, clean and cool water at all times.