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Press releases

Mild spring weather potentially more dangerous for pets than extreme summer heatwaves, vets warn

British Veterinary Association

5 min read Partner content

The British Veterinary Association (BVA) has released new statistics showing that during last year’s record-breaking heatwave, where temperatures soared to in excess of 40C, vets saw fewer cases of heat-related conditions in pets, such as heatstroke, burnt paw pads, sunburn and breathing difficulties, than the hot summer of 2018, which was by comparison significantly cooler.

Responding to BVA’s Voice of the Veterinary Profession survey, vets pinpointed the extensive media coverage and a red extreme heat warning issued in 2022, but not in 2018, as a key factor in generating higher awareness of the dangers and appropriate preventative action being taken among owners to protect their pets.

In 2022, half (51%) of all vets in the UK saw cases of animals requiring treatment for heat-related conditions compared with 66% in 2018. In both surveys, dogs were the most common type of animal seen with heat-related conditions, seen by 51% of small animal vets in 2022, followed by rabbits (9%) and cats (6%).

As the weather begins to warm up, BVA is urging owners to start taking extra precautions now, during these seemingly cooler months, to keep pets safe from heatstroke and other heat-related illnesses. The advice comes as vets fear that owners may have their guard down in these deceptively milder days, which can be as risky for dogs, cats, rabbits and other pets as during peak summer months.

British Veterinary Association Junior Vice President Anna Judson said:

“These new figures are a stark warning to pet owners not to be caught off guard by the seemingly cooler months of late spring and early summer. We might not be in the midst of a record-breaking heatwave, however, when the sun comes out from behind the clouds, cars, pavements and spaces like conservatories can quickly heat up and pets are at risk of overheating.”

Dogs need extra care

Dogs are particularly vulnerable to heat-related illnesses. They can struggle to stay cool in high temperatures and humid conditions since, unlike humans, they are unable to cool down quickly through sweating, making them vulnerable to overheating. Even a very short walk in the middle of the day or being locked in a car for a few minutes can prove to be fatal.

Flat-faced breeds such as English or French bulldogs and pugs are at even greater risk, as their short muzzles can make breathing difficult, and therefore they struggle to cool down through panting, which is a dog’s main way to cool its body temperature.

Anna added: “Each year, vets across the country report seeing large numbers of cases involving dogs who require treatment for heat-related conditions. Dogs won’t stop enjoying themselves and exercising because it is hot, so owners need to take action to prevent them overheating . This includes making sure pets aren’t walked or exercised in the middle of a hot day or left inside a car or conservatory, even when it is overcast or even for a little while, as ‘not long’ can prove fatal. Early signs of heatstroke in dogs include heavy panting, drooling, restlessness, bright red or very pale gums, and lack of coordination.”

Other animals

Anna outlines some of the signs of heat related illness in other pets: “Signs of heatstroke in rabbits include drooling, lethargy, short and shallow breaths, red and warm ears, wet nose and seizures. If your pet has overheated, take it to a cool, well-ventilated place, give it small amounts of cool (not ice-cold) water to drink, and pour room-temperature water over it to cool it down. Seek immediate advice from your vet.”

Vets’ top warm weather tips: 

  • Make sure all pets always have access to fresh water to drink, adequate ventilation and shade from direct sunlight at all times. This includes birds in cages or aviaries and rabbits in hutches. Provide extra shade to guinea pigs by covering the top of wire mesh runs with damp towels.
  • Don’t exercise dogs in the hottest parts of the day: especially older dogs, overweight dogs, flat-faced breeds or dogs that you know have heart or lung problems. Stick to early morning or late evening walks.
  • Do the five-second tarmac test before taking a dog out for a walk; if it feels too hot for you, it’s too hot for your dog’s paws.
  • Never leave dogs in vehicles. If you see a dog in distress inside a hot car, call 999.
  • Rabbits and guinea pigs cannot sweat or pant to regulate their body temperature and cool down. Keep the hutch or run away from direct sunlight at all times of the day.
  • Flystrike is a life-threatening risk for rabbits and guinea pigs in the warmer months, Check their bottoms twice daily to see if they are clean and to spot early signs of fly eggs or maggots. A 'sticky bottom' is not only at much higher risk of flystrike, it may be due to a problem with your rabbit's teeth or digestion. Speak with your vet for advice on how reduce the risk of flystrike. 
  • Some breeds of cats and dogs, particularly those with lighter-coloured or finer fur, may also benefit from pet-appropriate sun cream, especially on the ear tips, which are prone to sunburn. 
  • Spare a thought for wild animals. Keep out bowls of water for wildlife such as birds and hedgehogs.

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