South Africa is known for its glorious summer weather – long days with warm sunshine. Temperatures from mid-20’s to mid-30’s. And in the Western Cape, at least, very little rain to cool everything off. Our summer coincides with the silly season and festivities of Christmas and New Year; family holidays and plenty of day excursions.
In Cape Town the mountain and beaches are swarmed by tourists and locals alike to take advantage of the brilliant sunshine. And many love to include their dogs on these adventures, especially on the mountain.
In the first week of the month, there was a report of two DARG workers who hiked up Llandudno ravine on the southwestern side of Table Mountain, to assist a family whose dog was distressed. The two men carried the dog down the mountain in the blazing heat of the afternoon, arriving in the evening to a waiting vet. A very similar incident happened the previous year where DARG staff again stepped in to rescue an overheated dog.
The first signs of heat exhaustion may be hard to miss – panting, slowing down, seeming like they may be a bit warm. However, if not caught early, these symptoms can progress relatively quickly to heat stroke. Excessive panting, respiratory distress, collapsing and lastly haemorrhagic diarrhoea and organ failure.
To prevent overheating in your dogs, only walk them early in the morning or late afternoon. If they go hiking, take lots of extra water for them, start at sunrise, choose routes with shade and water, and keep a close eye on your pooch. If you are unsure, turn around and get your dog off the mountain and somewhere cool.
If the ground is too hot to put your hand on it, it is too hot for your dogs to walk on it. If you have dogs with thick fur, make sure to brush it regularly to get rid of excess fur to help keep them cool. Always make sure water bowls are filled at home and if need be, have fans on to keep your dog’s (and your) temperature down.
Luckily, cats are smart creatures and generally don’t allow themselves to overheat. And people don’t normally take their cats out for walks or hikes…
However, make sure that you don’t accidentally lock your cat in an outside shed or garage where it can get much hotter thanoutside. Cats like exploring, especially dark spaces. Always check the shed before you lock up!
Heat stroke is rare in cats, but some cats are more susceptible to it than others:
– Senior cats and kittens
– Chronically ill cats
– Flat-faced cats
– Overweight or pregnant cats
Signs and symptoms to watch out for include excessive grooming, restless behaviour (looking for a cool spot), drooling and mouth-breathing (not normal for cats). If left untreated it could quickly lead to vomiting, confusion, collapsing, seizures and death. If you think they are overheating, get them into a cool space, wet and fan them (no ice) and take them to the vet!
To help keep your kitties cool this summer, make sure they always have water available, have cool places to sleep during the day, keep them brushed (especially if they have long hair) and use sunscreen on cats with white ears, nose or tummies.
Rabbits are a bit more sensitive to heat than dogs or cats. Their optimum range is 12-21oC. They can tolerate temperatures up to 30oC, but over that and they take strain. They also don’t really exhibit distress until it’s quite bad. It’s important to check on your bunny several times during the day to spot any early signs of distress. These can be lethargy, drooling, lying fully stretched out, warm ears, wet nose or panting. Left untreated, this leads to seizures, loss of consciousness and eventually death.
If you suspect heat stroke, there are a few ways to cool down your bunny. Wipe cool water on their ears, place a cool damp towel over their cage (don’t cut off ventilation), provide lots of drinking water and get them in the shade. Never pour water over your rabbit. And take them to the vet!
Prevention is better than cure, so make sure their cage, whether indoors or out, has plenty of shade, ventilation and cool water. You can also freeze a water bottle, wrap it in a towel and place it in their cage. Keep their coat neat and brushed. In summer you can trim their longer fur, but don’t shave it bare as their coat protects against the sun.
Birds are very sensitive to high temperatures and can overheat quickly. Wild birds may be a little more used to heat and cope better. Your pet bird, though, is generally kept indoors or in a more controlled environment in an outside aviary and canoverheat faster. Early signs include panting and fluffing up their feathers. If they are still unable to cool down, their wings droop, and they may struggle to hold onto its perch. The next step is “going to ground” – the bird literally falls to the ground. From this stage, it can die.
Birds don’t have sweat glands, and so need help with evaporative cooling. Misting them with room temperature water, giving them water to drink and fanning them are great ways to help them cool down. Making sure their cages are not in direct sunlight, or providing shade cloth for outdoor aviaries is a big first step in keeping birds cool. As always, if there’s no improvement, get the bird to the vet.
You can help the wild birds, too, by leaving out dishes with water (with sticks/small stones to help critters who fall in climb out).
In general, most things you’d do to keep yourself cool, apply to your animals. Keep them in the shade, don’t exercise in the heat of the day, have fans, lots of water, and keep an eye on them to make sure they’re still doing ok. One thing to never do, though, is to cool your pet (or yourself) down too quickly! Don’t use ice or very cold water for cooling as this can actually send the animal (and yourself) into shock from one extreme temperature to another. Cool/room temperature water combined with fanning works best to cool down safely. And if ever in doubt, seek medical attention!