Pets and heat, can my dog get sunburned?
That it is hot in summer is not news, but it is that, through climate change, it is becoming more and more. In August 2021, the worst heat wave recorded in Spain took place and, after less than a month of summer, this 2022 already scores two more. Consequently, the time comes when we are constantly reminded of the dangers that lurk when the thermometer does not want to drop below 40 degrees. But what about pets? According to the National Association of Pet Food Manufacturers, in Spain there are 29 million pet animals.
Dogs are the predominant pets in Spain (9,313,098) and also the ones that suffer the worst in the heat, since they are the most exposed when going for a walk. “Dogs cannot sweat to get rid of heat like humans do, so they pant to lower their temperature,” explains María José Delgado, a spokesperson for veterinary clinics at the Córdoba College of Veterinarians.
It was precisely in Córdoba, specifically in the town of Montoro, where the absolute record for the highest maximum temperature ever measured in Spain was recorded on August 14, 2021: 47.4 degrees. When the heat punishes in this way, there is a danger of hyperthermia – known as heat stroke – when pets can suffer a temperature rise that reaches 42 degrees and puts the life of the animal at risk. “If we notice excessive panting, that it is difficult for it to breathe and that the animal remains still and does not respond to our call, it is an indicator that something is not going well and we must urgently go to the vet,” warns Delgado.
Yes, dogs get sunburned too.
Although heat stroke is the main and most serious danger that pets face with the arrival of high temperatures, it is not the only one. They can also get sunburn, especially if they have short, fine or light hair, as well as those breeds that do not. So be very careful not to shave them or cut their hair too much. Special care must be taken in the area of the muzzle, ears, belly and groin and, if necessary, apply sun protection. Taking into account that these are areas that can and do get licked, a good option is to opt for specific protectors for pets and reapply it if it gets wet.
In addition, we must not forget another area that is very sensitive to burns: the plantar pads. For practical purposes, it is as if dogs walked barefoot on the asphalt and that is why every summer the five-second rule is usually remembered: if you put the back of your hand on the asphalt and you are not able to hold out for five seconds, your dog won’t hold it either. Given this, there are two solutions: do not walk him in the hottest hours or take him with protective boots, also very useful for facing the hot sand on the beach.
How to help them cope with the heat?
Pets are also affected by heat, beyond the physical level. “Generally, they are much more subdued, they eat less, they don’t play as much and some are irritable, there may be more aggressive or avoidance behaviors,” they explain from the Clinical Ethology Service of the Clinical Hospital of the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB). Special attention must be paid to the youngest and oldest animals, as well as lactating or pregnant females. Likewise, brachycephalic breeds —such as the French bulldog, the pug or the boxer— have physical characteristics that make it difficult for them to breathe, thus being a risk factor for heat stroke.
And in the face of runaway thermometers, the strategies to help them cope with the temperatures are simple: “At home we must provide fresh water at all times and that their little bed is in a room with a good temperature, under no circumstances on the terrace,” says María Jose Delgado. Also, it is important to change the water in their drinker several times a day to make sure it stays fresh and even spray them if allowed.
In addition to these tips that any owner can carry out, it must not be forgotten that the important and growing pet market, which bills around 2,000 million euros a year in Spain, offers a good number of remedies ranging from beds refreshing to swimming pools, going through specific ice creams, plantar lotions or cooling vests.