Will your animals cope with the heat

Heat wave

We are about to have the start of a heat wave here in Melbourne with 4 consecutive days of 40+ degrees C. The safety of animals in our care needs some attention as we often forget that they don’t have the option of just leaving the area they are enclosed in (house, backyard, pen, paddock, cage, etc) like we are. A bit of a check list for each day is worthwhile going over just to make sure because some animals can die quickly if they don’t have options to choose.

1) Water, water, everywhere……..
It’s the most obvious really. Having a ready supply of water is essential on these hot days as they, just like us, will consume more water to help keep cool and hydrated. For me this means making sure you add an extra dish or 2 to their areas so if they finish one, or even knock it over they have a backup option. Ceramic bowls often help keep water that little bit cooler but you need to place them in areas of shade so the water itself doesn’t overheat. In some situations you might be able to add an automatic water feeder such as water nipples or valve activators that open up to more water when it gets too low. These options can be found for dogs, cats, chickens, parrots, horses, etc.

Helping your dog deal with heat and keep cool

Helping your dog deal with heat and keep cool

Simply wetting their extremities (feet and faces mainly) or even having some water to get into is also another great benefit for many animals as it helps lower their body temperature dramatically in a short period of time. For me the most common one used these days for dogs is the clam shell sand pit that can be found in almost any store (Bunnings, KMart, etc). They are cheap, a great size for most dogs and shallow enough to not have to worry about safety for them, plus they can be lots of fun putting toys with food in them to encourage water interaction.

2) Shade
On par with importance with water supply is shade. Being able to get out of the direct sunlight can change the temperature range by 10 degrees or more depending on the environment and this can be vital in helping your animals avoid heat stroke. Placing up extra tarps, shade cloth, umbrellas, etc will help provide cooler areas for them and even better is having natural vegetation to provide the shade. Plants release moisture into the air which can also provide some relief, but ground coverage as well can help reduce the surface radiance. Having a kennel out in the middle of an open yard is not the best solution as there really needs to be a large covered area for better impact.

Frozen chicken necks in stock to keep the dogs cool.

Frozen chicken necks in stock to keep the dogs cool.

3) Environmental enrichment that also keeps them cool
There are endless things to explore in helping your animals not only keep cool but also provide them mental stimulation for a healthy mind. Freezing food into containers that you can then tip out can keep many different types of animals entertained for some time. Cups, old ice cream or take-away containers, buckets, even just the ice-cube tray, what ever can hold liquid and fit in your freezer.

For my dogs I add some beef or chicken stock to some water, fill up some large tumblers and place in a couple of chicken necks each. You can add other pieces of meat, fruit or vegetables that your animal enjoys or even fill a kong or food toy and they get their meal slowly through the day (if you make enough). Taking toys (like a tug rope) that they might put in their mouth and adding some water to freeze can be another option for a short chill out. In fact just adding some ice cubes to their water dish can have them bobbing for cubes and crunching them up. Parrots often love this as well. Guinea Pigs can be very susceptible to heat so for them and other rodents placing a frozen water bottle (lid on) in their pen is a way for them to cool a bit.

Evaporative coat to keep dogs cool

Evaporative coat to keep dogs cool

4) Clothing
Particularly for animals that do work for us (horse riding, livestock, agility or even show dogs) it is a good idea looking at some of the products available to help keep them cool and cool them down. There are evaporative cooling coats made for all types of animals (people too) which help transfer heat off the body through the evaporation process. I really like the Silver Eagle coats because they stay dry underneath, reducing any humidity that could occur and I find they last a decent time as well. They aren’t cheap, but you get what you pay for. They are a number of other types out there, but worst comes to worst you could simply wet a towel and wrap it around them or let them lie down on it. Remember these should be left on only when you are around. If they dry out and are not taken off, they will contribute to the heat.

5) Machines
Misters (hand sprayers or outdoor tap ones used for ferneries), fans and air-conditioning are all ways we use to keep cool, so the same applies to them. In this extreme heat I will keep my dogs and birds (even the chickens if it gets too much) inside where we are able to turn on some air-conditioning for them during the peak part of the day.

Stoli enjoying a swim at the lake....when he hits the water

Stoli enjoying a swim at the lake….when he hits the water

6) Activity in the morning or late evening
Try to restrict the activity you have with them to these times of the day so as to reduce the exposure to the hottest part of the day. It’s important to remember that dogs can burn their feet running on hot concrete and there are plenty of pictures out there showing horrible blisters from this. There are dog boots available if you find it essential to be out on the hot pavement. The slightly cooler parts are good times to be at a river or beach and if possible getting into shade before the hottest part of the day. You can still get heat stroke if you spend long enough stuck in the sun, even if your sitting in water.

7) Earth movers
Let them dig in the soil somewhere and most animals will dig or rub a place in the soil to expose cooler soil to lying on. It’s extremely important that you don’t tell your dog off if you find large wide holes somewhere as this is probably what they were doing.

8) Cars are time bombs
Just don’t take them in the car with you if they will be left in there for any period of time without you there to supervise and have the air-conditioning on. Even in the shade the cars can become a cooker and within a minute temperatures will skyrocket.

9) Beware of snakes
Please remember in summer in Australia snakes are active all over and are much more likely to be found around ponds, creeks, etc. Be very aware of where you take them and please make sure there is large areas of low cut grass to see what’s there.

If you do come home and find you animal struggling, double check they have access to water, apply some water or cooling option and get straight to the vets. There they can provide emergency fluids and electrolytes (also worth having on supply at home).