Being able to make the most of the warmer weather for any length of time can be a real joy. Unfortunately, pets can be at increased risk of injury and illness during the summer months.
We asked one of our Registered Veterinary Nurses, Kelly, for advice and first aid tips for some of the most common summertime pet emergencies.
Heat stroke results from a sudden rise in body temperature (hyperthermia) when an animal is no longer able to self-regulate their temperature. More commonly seen in dogs, obese pets and brachycephalic (flat-faced) breeds are most frequently affected.
As heat stroke can be fatal, it’s important to recognise the early signs in order to seek medical help as soon as possible.
Signs of heat stroke can include:
- Increased temperature (feeling hot to touch)
- Rapid, heavy panting
- Weakness or collapse
- Dark (red or purple) gums and tongue
- Vomiting and/or diarrhoea
- Other symptoms to look out for include: restlessness or distress (such as barking or whining), excessive thirst, racing heart, glassy eyes, seizure or unconsciousness.
If you suspect that your pet is suffering from heat stroke, you should immediately move them to a cool, shaded area and contact your vet urgently.
You will likely be advised to cool your dog’s head and body by wetting with tepid water, and to continue this on the journey to the vets. Be careful not to use, or immerse the dog in, very cold water as this can lead to their body temperature decreasing too rapidly, which could be equally harmful. You can also offer them a small amount of cool water to drink, but do not allow them to gulp down excessive amounts as this could cause vomiting and further dehydration.
As always, prevention is better than cure, so make sure your pets always have a cool, shaded area to retreat to and access to fresh drinking water. For dogs, try to restrict exercise on hot days, and go for a walk in the early morning or evening when it is cooler. It is also advisable to avoid long car journeys if possible and, of course, never leave a dog in a parked car.
Most insect bites cause only minor irritation and can be treated at home. Apply an ice pack (wrapped in a clean towel) or a cold damp towel to the area to reduce pain and swelling. Monitor your pet for signs of an allergic reaction (swelling to the face, difficulty breathing, sickness, disorientation or collapse) and contact your vet if necessary for advice and any treatment.
Wasp and bee stings
Cats and dogs sometimes see wasps and bees as furry little playthings, but their curiosity carries the risk of them being stung! For bee stings, remove the stinger (wasps do not leave a stinger behind) by scraping a credit card or similar over the affected area. Don’t use tweezers as this can result in more venom being released into the body.
Bathe the area to neutralise the sting. For bee stings, use bicarbonate of soda mixed with a small amount of water, and for wasp stings, use vinegar and apply with a cotton wool ball. You can also apply an ice pack (wrapped in a clean towel) or a cold damp towel to the affected area for around 10 minutes to help reduce pain and swelling.
Contact your vet if your pet has been stung in the mouth or throat, has been stung multiple times or is showing signs of a severe allergic reaction. Keep an eye on your pet for at least 24 hours as the reaction can sometimes be delayed.
Never give your pet antihistamines, unless directed to do so by your vet.
Sunburn and paw burns
We are all aware of the perils of summer sun, so look out for your pets when the heat ramps up! Prevention of sunburn is much better than treatment, so protect your pet by ensuring that they have a shaded area to go to. For those with short hair, white hair or pink ears, you can also apply pet-specific sun cream* when they venture outside. If your pet does burn, you can apply a cool compress, such as a cold flannel, to soothe the area.
*Beware of using human sun creams as some include ingredients such as salicylates, zinc oxide and propylene glycol which are toxic to pets. Paw burns are painful and dogs are particularly at risk when walked along hot pavements or on sand.
Again, prevention is the best policy. A good way to check whether a pavement is too hot for your dog is to place the back of your hand on the ground for 5 seconds – if it is too hot for you, it is too hot for your pet! It is advisable to walk dogs early in the morning or later in the evening when it is cooler, or walk on grass instead.
For light burns, use cold compresses or cool running water to cool the burn; however, severe burns to paw pads are likely to require veterinary attention, so contact your vet as soon as possible.