As temperatures in the UAE rise, it is important that current and prospective pet owners are aware of the dangers high temperatures pose to animals – and more importantly how to prevent heat related illnesses.
The average body temperature for dogs is 38 to 39 degrees Celsius and 37 to 39 for cats. This is approximately two to four degrees higher than that of a human. This means that if you feel hot, your pet will feel even hotter, especially as temperatures can reach 50 degrees in the sweltering summer months.
From May to September each year, we see an alarming number of animals who have fallen prey to the scorching heat. In 2018 alone, 15 pets were brought into the clinic, half of which were dead on arrival due to the devastating symptoms of heatstroke. We were able to successfully treat the remainder of animals brought to us, but many of these cases could have been prevented and the outcome been different had owners been aware of how to avoid heat-related issues.
The specific climate related illnesses we treat can vary, but heatstroke in dogs and cats is the most common and likely to be caused by exposure to high temperatures and direct sun light, inadequate ventilation, humidity and dehydration. Especially in rescue animals that have experienced heat stress prior to be being homed, premature kidney failure is common as a result of prolonged exposure to the heat. Similarly, obesity, chronic respiratory disease, thick coats and extensive periods of exercise can also increase the risk of heatstroke. Flat-faced breeds such as British and French bulldogs, pugs, Persians and Scottish folds are also at a higher risk of developing problems during summer as their shortened upper respiratory passageways make it more difficult for them to breathe.
Once a cat or dog’s temperature elevates above 39 degrees Celsius, it is deemed abnormally high. Unlike humans, who have sweat glands all over their bodies, cats and dogs are not capable of dispersing excess body heat on their own, as they only have sweat glands on their feet and around the nose. If steps are not taken by a vet to regulate the body temperature and it increases to above 41 degrees Celsius, the animal falls victim to heatstroke. It is also important to know that once an animal has suffered from heatstroke, it is far more prone to succumbing to it again. Therefore, prevention is key.
It is vital that you are able to recognise symptoms of heatstroke, as severe cases can lead to organ failure, brain damage as the animal becomes starved of oxygen, a twisted stomach or respiratory problems.
The first signs of heatstroke include excessive panting, excessive salivating, restlessness, a bright red tongue, vomiting and diarrhoea. More severe symptoms include dizziness, excessive tiredness and weakness, muscle tremors, reduced production of urine, seizures and collapsing. Once any of these symptoms occur, the health of your pet can deteriorate very quickly, so we highly recommend that you see your vet immediately upon spotting any of these tell-tale signs as it could save your pet’s life.
For potential, new and experienced pet owners, here are the best ways to keep the furry members of your family happy, healthy and most importantly safe and alive during the summer months.
Regulating the AC
As many pet owners have full time jobs, it is common for pets to be left alone during the day. While this is not a problem and cannot be avoided in most cases, it is important to ensure the temperature in your home is properly regulated and ventilation is adequate. The recommended temperature to leave the AC on during the summer is 24 degrees Celsius. As cats enjoy the heat, they will still find a warm area of the home, such as by the window, to laze around. However, leaving the AC on ensures they can find somewhere cool should they become too hot. If you live in an apartment, particularly on a higher floor, the temperature will be higher than on lower floors, so adjust the AC accordingly to maintain a temperature of 24 degrees Celsius.
Protect the paw pads
Despite the high temperatures, dogs still need adequate exercise. The best time to take them for their daily walk is early morning - 5.30am and 6.30am - and late in the evening, after 8pm once the sun has gone down. Try to stick to the shaded areas and be sure to carry a bottle of water with you so you can keep your dog properly hydrated.
Once home from your walk, you can also let your dog stand in a bowl of cool water to help bring its temperature down. However, do not use ice-cold water as this can have the opposite effect and shock the system.
During the summer, pavements in Dubai become a hotplate with temperatures reaching up to 64 degrees Celsius. This is extremely dangerous for cats and dogs as, once the ground reaches 51 degrees Celsius, it only takes 60 seconds for their paws to overheat and potentially blister. As sweat glands are on the paw pads, if they overheat, the chances of them developing heatstroke are far greater.
If you have a cat that you allow in a cat-friendly outdoor area, we recommend that you only allow them outside after sunset and they are safely back inside before you go to bed.
Always remember the sunscreen
Despite being protected by their fur, it is still possible for cats and dogs to get sunburn, especially those with white fur. While we have a lower UV index in the UAE than countries such as Australia or the UK and we see fewer cases of skin cancer, it is still better to err on the side of caution. Investing in an animal friendly, UV protectant sunscreen and coating them with it daily will keep them healthy and protected from harmful rays. Pay close attention to the eyelids, ears and the area around the ears, as these are parts most exposed to the sun.
Do not be tempted to use your human sunscreen, as many contain zinc oxide, a mineral that is extremely toxic for dogs. Speak to your vet about the best product to use.
Book in for a haircut
Both cats and dogs begin to shed their fur naturally as the temperatures start to rise. However, it is best to give them a helping hand. For longhaired and medium-haired cats and dogs, book in for a grooming session with your vet or groomers to trim any excess fur.
The fur on animals is there to keep them warm during cold weather and protect their skin from the sun. There are certain longhaired breeds, such as the Maine Coon, Persian, Husky and the St. Bernard, that have a thicker under coat to give them an added layer of protection against the cold. At the height of Dubai’s summer, this extra layer of fur stops them from cooling down naturally, making them targets for overheating. Be sure to brush them daily to assist with the natural shedding process and book in for some additional summer grooming if necessary.
Never leave your pet in the car
No matter how quick your errand, never leave an animal unattended in the car, even with the window down. It takes a matter of minutes for a car to overheat inside and if left in direct sun light, the inside temperature can rise to an eye-watering 80 degrees Celsius. This is nearly twice as hot as the outside temperature. As the heat rises, the oxygen available decreases and it can take as little as six minutes for a dog to succumb to the heat and die.
It is always best to leave your pooch at home during the day and if you do have to take them with you anywhere, cool the car down before you start your journey and make sure your destination is dog friendly.
If your pet is lucky enough to be joining you on a family holiday to beat the heat this summer, be sure to confirm with a reputable relocation service as to whether your breed can fly well ahead of your travel dates. As animals are kept on the runway for extended periods of time during transit and certain breeds, particularly snub-nosed breeds, are subject to travel restrictions. Making sure your pet has the all clear to travel can avoid nasty surprises at the airport and holiday headaches. As with any other time of year, travel plans must be made well in advance to ensure all required documentation has been prepared. We recommend consulting an expert in pet travel and relocation – scrambling around for official paperwork just before departure is stressful and often leads to expensive oversights.
Dr Sara Elliott is founder and director of Veterinary Services at British Veterinary Hospital, Dubai.