Summertime is officially here, so it’s time to get outside and enjoy the sun with your cats, dogs and other furry friends. However, as UK temperatures rise, and heatwaves become more common, there are a few things to be aware of to ensure that you and your pet have a fun and safe summertime, whatever the weather.
Pets and pet owners alike love the long, lazy days of summer – a chance for walks, outdoor swimming and snoozing or playing in the garden under the sun. However, your pet can be at greater risk from certain health hazards at this time of year - particularly dogs when it comes to walkies in the hot weather.
Whatever the weather, a comprehensive pet insurance policy can give you added peace of mind that you'll be able to get your dog, cat or rabbit the best care should they need it this summer.
We’ve developed a handy tool to let you know whether or not it’s safe to take your dog out in the sun - based on live, local temperatures!
The Weather Furcast
Introducing The Weather Furcast! Our interactive weather forecast for dog owners allows you to select your dog type and location, and you’ll see the Furmometer’s sliding scale change to reflect your local temperature, advising whether it’s safe to go out for walkies or not.
The green paw: A green alert level means it’s safe to go for walks based on the current weather temperature.
The amber paw: An amber alert means you should take caution - it may be best to wait until a cooler part of the day like the evening when the temperature has settled. If unsure about the heat, press the back of your hand against the pavement and hold for around five seconds. If it’s too hot for you to touch, it’s too hot for your pet’s paws, so wait a while longer for walkies, or stick to grassy tracks.
The red paw: A red alert means avoid the sun at this time - these temperatures could even cause your dog serious harm, so it’s best to keep them cool and indoors for the time being.
Some dog breeds are more vulnerable to the heat than others. Brachycephalic (short-faced) breeds such as Pugs, Boxers, Bulldogs, Boston Terriers, Chihuahuas, and King Charles Spaniels often struggle more with breathing, which makes it harder for them to regulate their body temperature.
Thick-coated breeds – including Huskies, St Bernards, Bernese Mountain Dogs, Alaskan Malamutes, Samoyeds and Chow Chows – also cope less well with higher temperatures, having been bred to be at home in colder climates. Heat risks can also be heightened if your dog has a black coat (which absorbs more light and heat), is overweight, or is young or elderly.
Cats and heat
Whilst we won’t be walking our cats this summer, it’s important to ensure they’re not spending time in hazardous heat too. Generally cats are better at knowing when the temperature is a little too hot for them and will bring themselves indoors or find shade, but do keep an eye out, and avoid leaving them shut outside on days when the weather is particularly hot.
Keeping your pet hydrated in the heat
Just like humans, most pets need to drink more in hotter weather – sometimes as much as double or even triple their normal intake. The most common reason for pets becoming dehydrated is that they simply don’t have enough access to water, perhaps because they’ve finished off their bowl too quickly.
How to help
- Make sure you top up water bowls regularly, and if you’re leaving your pet alone, then provide an extra bowl or two, in case one gets tipped over.
- For dogs, if you’re going on a long walk or car journey when the weather forecast is looking hot, invest in a travel bowl and take a bottle of water along.
- If your cat prefers running water, offer drinks from the tap, or splash out on a cat water fountain. Providing wet cat food, not just dry kibbles, can also increase their fluid intake.
How to keep pets cool in summer
Unlike us, cats and dogs don’t sweat through their skin. They rely on less efficient cooling methods, such as panting and sweating through their paws, which means they are much more prone than us to heat exhaustion, heatstroke and heat-related death in summer.
How to help
- During hot weather, limit exercise to early morning and evening, and avoid the hottest part of the day.
- Regularly groom your cat or dog
- Never leave your dog unattended in your car on a warm day – temperatures can rapidly reach dangerous levels
- Cats can find their way into uncomfortably warm places they shouldn’t, such as non-ventilated greenhouses, sheds or cars, and then get trapped. On a hot day, this can cause heatstroke, and may even prove fatal so make sure to check on their whereabouts.
How to protect your pets from sunburn
Just because our pets are a bit hairier than us, it doesn’t mean they can’t get sunburn! Fur coats are a good form of protection against UV rays, but if your dog or cat has a very short or light-coloured coat (i.e. white cats with pink ears and noses), or any areas of hairless skin, they could be at risk – particularly on sensitive areas like noses and ears.
How to help
- If your pet is susceptible, it’s easy to prevent: apply a layer of pet-friendly sunscreen, 30 minutes before going outside.
- If you’re out all day, reapply sunscreen every four to six hours, or after your dog has gone swimming.
- Make sure your pet has plenty of shade, rather than lying in direct sunlight – it may be safest to avoid sun exposure between 10am and 4pm.
- As in humans, sun damage can cause skin cancer in cats. If you notice black crusty patches, non-healing sores or unexplained scabs on your cat’s ears, nose or eyelids, get them checked out by a vet – these could be signs of a cancer called squamous cell carcinoma (SSC).
Dealing with summer bites and stings
We’re not the only ones who love the summer weather – Britain’s insect and parasite population thinks summer is party time, too! Dogs and cats are particularly vulnerable to fleas, and lively dogs who like to burrow in hedgerows, and cats who enjoy roaming are more at risk of picking these up from passing wildlife. Meanwhile, some regions harbour ticks, which lurk in tall grass before attaching onto unsuspecting animals.
Bees and wasps can also be an irresistible plaything for a curious kitty or daring dog, but the game can result in a painful sting – most commonly on the paws or around the mouth. Although they cause discomfort and swelling, wasp and bee stings aren’t usually dangerous. Get to the vet straight away, though, if your cat or dog is stung inside the mouth or on the throat – where the swelling could constrict the airway – or if they collapse, vomit, struggle to breathe or show other signs of an allergic reaction.
Snake bites are also more likely to occur in summer and are probably more common than you think. Adventurous canines and active cats who love bounding through the undergrowth risk encountering Britain’s only venomous snake, the adder – and can sometimes provoke an attack by trying to play.
How to help
- Whilst flea and tick bites aren’t venemous, their saliva can cause significant irritation and distress, so dogs and cats need protection against these parasites - make sure you’re up to speed on dealing with these and other pests.
- Treat stings swiftly and seek veterinary attention if your dog or cat has received numerous stings or is showing signs of a reaction, such as breathing difficulties or a swollen throat.
- Symptoms of adder bites include pain and swelling around the affected area, as well as vomiting and diarrhoea, pale gums, panting or drooling, seizures and breathing difficulties. Seek veterinary attention immediately if you’re worried, as adder venom can occasionally be fatal.
Watch out for plants that are harmful
Beautiful blooms are one of the joys of summer, but some flowers are toxic to our feline friends and canine companions. Some common plants – including buttercups, foxgloves, privet, ragwort, rhododendron and many types of bulbs – can be harmful if ingested.
Another potentially dangerous summer hazard is blue-green algae, which can appear in ponds and lakes during hot weather. And grass seed can often get lodged in paws or ears, causing irritation and injury.
How to help
- Keep an eye on what’s being chewed or dug up! If you’re worried that your dog or cat has eaten something they shouldn’t, get in touch with a vet. Symptoms of plant-related toxicity can vary widely in style and severity, ranging from digestive upsets such as vomiting and diarrhoea to dermatitis, excitability, depression, breathing difficulties, heart problems or coma.
- Never let your dog or cat drink from, or swim in, water with a blueish green ‘scum’ or ‘pea soup’ on the surface, as some forms of blue-green algae can be highly toxic.
- Read our advice about grass seed injuries and check your pet over after walks to avoid problems.
Download our fun infographic and keep it close to hand as a useful reminder on how you can keep your dog safe this summer. For more advice on cats, check out our five top tips for best summer care, and for rabbit owners, you’ll find summer support here.