Written by: Zoe Russell, BSc (Hons)
Nutrition Officer, Skinner’s Pet Foods
Summer 2020 may not be spent as we first anticipated. Instead of barbeques and beach walks, most of us will remain at home to keep ourselves and others safe. This means embracing the sunny weather from the comfort of our garden- which although enjoyable, can also bring with it some risks.
The summer season often means warmer temperatures, drier weather and more sun exposure, which although enjoyable for some of us, can be dangerous for our pets who are at risk of developing problems such as heatstroke, dehydration and hyperthermia. Therefore, it is important we are made aware of these risks and do our best to manage them, for the safety and welfare of our pets.
In the past, temperatures in the UK have peaked at around 38.7°C and are estimated to further increase as a result of global warming (1). In fact, air temperatures have increased slowly over the past decades and are predicted to increase by a further 4°C before the end of the 21st century (2). This is alarming for both human and animal health, as it may give rise to more extreme and unpredictable weather.
Health Impacts for Pets
In the hot weather, dogs can be susceptible to dehydration, meaning a good supply of fresh clean water must always be readily available. If a dog loses approximately 7% of the water from its body then this can lead to severe dehydration, while a loss of approximately 15% water from the body can be fatal. This is because water is essential for processes such as temperature regulation, waste removal and the transportation of nutrients around the body.
Another issue common in summer is heatstroke, which can be bought on by several factors including over-exertion (exercise) and from being exposed to extreme environmental temperatures. It is a systemic inflammatory condition which can be measured by a rectal temperature exceeding 41° C and can lead to organ dysfunction, brain damage, and in severe cases even death (3,4).
“Keeping it Cool”
There are ways we can help keep our dogs cool in the hot weather and avoid these potentially life-threatening conditions. Here are just a few ideas:
1. Encourage your dog to stay in the shade and out of direct sunlight.
Weather stations record shade temperatures, not sun-exposed temperatures- meaning if a weather station records 25°C, the temperature in the sun might be much hotter! In addition, weather stations won’t necessarily record the temperature for your exact location, so it’s safer to stay out the sun altogether (5).
2. Carefully plan your walks
Aim to walk your dog very early in the morning or very late at night when it’s cool. Alternatively, if temperatures are high throughout the day then don’t walk at all- your dog will be fine missing the occasional walk.
3. Keep your dog hydrated
Water is an essential nutrient which is vital for the functioning of all living cells. It is a principle component of body tissues and blood, where it helps regulate the transport of oxygen around the body (6). However, in the heat dogs will lose water as they try to control their body temperature through panting. Therefore, help to replenish these levels by providing constant access to fresh, clean water.
If you do have any concerns about your dog’s health, then please seek veterinary assistance immediately- in these cases early intervention can be especially important.
(1) Met Office. (2019). UK climate – Extremes – Met Office. [online] Available at: https://www.metoffice.gov.uk/research/climate/maps-and-data/uk-climate-extremes#?tab=climateExtremes [Accessed 15/04/20].
(2) Wang, X., Jiang, D. and Lang, X. (2017). Future extreme climate changes linked to global warming intensity. Science Bulletin, Vol. 62(24), pp.1673-1680.
(3) Flournoy, W.S., Macintire, D.K., Wohl, J.S. (2003). Heatstroke in Dogs: Clinical Signs, Treatment, Prognosis, and Prevention. Heatstroke: Clinical Signs, Treatment, and Prevention, 25 (6), pp.422-431.
(4) Carter, A.J. and Hall, E.J. (2018). Investigating factors affecting the body temperature of dogs competing in cross country (canicross) races in the UK. Journal of Thermal Biology, Vol. 72, pp.33-38.
(5) GOV.UK (2013). Location of UK weather stations measuring the average daily temperature Contains Ordnance Survey data and Meteorological Office data. [online] Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/675493/Temperature_Stations.pdf [Accessed 15 Apr. 2020].
(6) National Research Council (2006). Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats, pp.246-247.