Despite a tropical cyclone and generally unsettled weather patterns ushering in 2023 for much of the country, Southern Cross Pet Insurance (Southern Cross) cautions that heat and humidity remains something to be aware of when it comes to the safety of our pets over the summer months.
Southern Cross this week launched its summer safety campaign in a bid to raise awareness of the dangers that summer can pose for our furry family members.
Focusing on the soaring summer temperatures, the campaign encourages people to walk their dogs at cooler times of the day, to avoid the hot footpaths on their paws.
Southern Cross Pet Insurance National Sales Manager and registered vet nurse Kerri Murray says people need to be extra mindful when walking dogs over the summer season.
“On a warm, sunny day ground temperatures can easily reach double that of the air temperature,” she explains. “Walking your dog in the heat of the day on tarseal or sand can easily burn their paws. If it’s too hot for the back of your hand, it’s too hot for your pet.”
In a New Zealand first, special billboards around the country will use an algorithm to calculate the approximate pavement temperature based on the air temperature of the day. The billboards will display whether it’s “cool to go walkies” (when the temperature is below 25°C), or “too hot to trot” (when it’s above 25°C).
Waterfront areas can be particularly concerning as dogs are often on short leads and there’s little shade. That’s why the campaign is focusing on summer waterfront hot spots, like Tamaki Drive in Auckland, Oriental Bay in Wellington, and Sumner Promenade in Christchurch, with social media posts targeted to these locations.
Murray says Southern Cross hopes the innovative, creative approach sparks pet owners’ attention and makes them think twice before walking dogs in the heat of a sunny day.
“Early morning and the evening are typically cooler during summer, so it’s best to take dogs for a walk at those times. It helps to stick to grassy or shaded areas where possible, too.”
“Leave the longer walks for autumn and winter and keep exercise time to short bursts in summer,” she adds.
Walking dogs in the heat of the day is just one of the ‘watchouts’ the Southern Cross Live Your Pet Life This Summer campaign aims to draw attention to.
Southern Cross also wants owners to keep an eye out for the signs of heatstroke and dehydration in their pets. Pets being left in the car is a common cause of heatstroke, and Murray says pets should never be left in the car in the warmer months.
“People are often surprised at how quickly the temperature inside a parked car can become dangerous for pets – sometimes just in the time it takes to buy a coffee,” she says.
“A common myth is that parking your car in the shade and leaving the windows open is okay, however this doesn’t actually make much difference to temperatures for pets.”
On a 21°C-day, the inside temperature of a car can reach 32°C after 10 minutes and 40°C after 30 minutes.
Spotting the signs of heatstroke
Murray says pet owners should familiarise themselves with the signs of heatstroke so they can help their pets quickly should they need it.
Those signs include rapid breathing and pulse, bulging eyes, panting and drooling, dark gums and tongue, vomiting and/or diarrhoea, and lethargy.
Heatstroke can cause cardiac failure, renal failure, brain damage, and liver and muscular damage.
Don’t forget about your cat, too
Murray says while dogs can be at more risk than cats in the heat, both can suffer from heatstroke.
“Cats might be savvier when it comes to regulating their body temperature, but they can overheat in very hot weather. Some breeds of cat or those with health or weight problems can struggle more to regulate their body temperature,” she added.
“It’s really important to make sure your cat always has access to both shade and water to drink in summer.”
Some breeds of dog are also more susceptible to issues with heat.
Dogs regulate their body temperature through sweating and panting, so flat-faced breeds (like bulldogs, pugs, and Chow Chow) can be at higher risk of heatstroke, because they tend to find breathing more difficult than other dogs.
What to do if you suspect heatstroke
“If you think your pet has heatstroke, you should contact your vet as soon as possible,” Murray says.
“Put your pet in a cool, ventilated area and use a fan to blow cool air on them. Spraying or sponging tepid water on them can also help – but you also need to make sure you don’t cool your pet down too quickly.
“Your veterinarian will be able to talk you through what to do before you get to the clinic for medical help.”
But, as with most things, prevention is always better than cure when it comes to heatstroke.
“Make sure your pet has access to lots of fresh, cool water, and a shaded, ventilated area to relax in,” she adds.
“And if you’re out and about in the car with your pet and need to get out, take them with you – even if it’s just for 10 minutes.”