Caring for Pets and Animals During Extreme Heat

Pets are an important part of the family so it's important to consider them during the heat.

The frequency of exceptionally hot years is expected to continue across Australia in years to come, which means that consecutive days of extreme temperatures (heatwaves) will not be uncommon.

While animals have various ways of coping with heat, a very important one is for them to seek shelter or shade. Shade helps reduce heat loading from the sun, especially for dark-coloured animals that readily absorb heat. In the absence of adequate shade, animals will try to find any scrap of shade they can — it could be from a fencepost or another animal’s shadow.

Heat stress can be prevented by providing animals with plenty of shade and fresh, cool water.

Certain animals are more vulnerable to heat stress. These include young, sick, heavily pregnant, dark coated and heavy animals.

RSPCA South Australia has developed a Pet Emergency Plan to help pet owners are well prepared to protect their pets in agencies. This can be found at http://www.rspcasa.org.au/the-issues/animals-in-emergencies/

 

What you can do to make your pets & animals HeatSafe:

Before

  • At all times, animals must have access to good quality drinking water, be provided with shade, and be able to shelter from the extremes of weather.
  • Animals housed indoors should have well ventilated facilities with plenty of space for all animals to lie down.

During

  • Leave bowls of fresh, clean water out in shady locations for wildlife. Shallow dishes are better for smaller animals. If you use a large container make sure to provide a rock or stick so that small animals can climb out. Place the container in an area where animals are protected from predators when drinking such as near a shrub or bush and keep your pets away from this area so that animals can drink undisturbed.
  • Make sure the animals have access to a safe food and water source. As power may be lost, do not rely on automatic water systems unless you have a backup generator.
  • Handling (including mustering and husbandry procedures), exercise or transporting animals must be avoided in extreme heat and planned for the cooler parts of the day.
  • Dogs travelling on the back of utes are susceptible to burning their footpads and other body parts on the ute tray which can get very hot in the sun. Owners need to cover the trays with a suitable material to prevent this problem and provide a shaded area.
  • Avoid hot sand, concrete, asphalt or any other area where heat is reflected and there is no access to shade.
  • Owners need to be aware of sunburn, especially in pets with white, non-pigmented skin and a white-coloured coat.
  • In the absence of shade from trees, farmers need to provide animals with other forms of shade for their physical comfort. Alternative shade can come from tarpaulins, shade cloth or sheds. Alternative shade structures must have good airflow or the heat will become intolerable and animals will be forced to leave the shade.
  • To replace the water lost in cooling their bodies, animals need plenty of cool, clean drinking water. When water becomes warm, animals drink less. Therefore, during periods of heat, it is important to check regularly and provide animals with fresh, cool water.
  • During extremely high temperatures, an animal will struggle to lose excess body heat through evaporation. The situation is exacerbated if humidity is high or there is no breeze.

Tell-tale signs of heat stress will appear:

Very red or pale gums

Increased heart rate

Dizziness, staggering

Signs of mental confusion, delirium

Drooling, salivating

Breathing distress

Seizures

Lethargy, weakness

Agitation, restlessness

Vomiting, Diarrhoea (possibly with blood)

Little to no urine production

Muscle tremors

Bright red tongue

Collapsing and lying down

Coma

 

Heat stress is a life-threatening emergency - always see a vet. Even if your pet looks like they may be recovering or you just suspect they might have heat stroke they should still always be checked by a vet. Given the seriousness of this condition, it is better to be safe than sorry.

After

Be aware that the effects of the heatwave on both human and animal health may continue for some period after it ends. Keep monitoring your animals and speak with your vet if you have any concerns.

 

For information on creating a Pet Emergency Plan, visit the RSPCA website http://www.rspcasa.org.au/the-issues/animals-in-emergencies/