Small pets at risk of heatstroke as global temperatures rise, study warns

Pet pug
Brachycephalic or flat-faced dogs like pugs, bulldogs, boxers, shih tzus etc are highly susceptible to heatstroke. (Picture: Unsplash)

Global warming is set to make life difficult for our furry friends with experts warning about the risk of heatstroke to smaller animals like guinea pigs, rabbits and dogs .

A new study suggests that not just dogs but also cats, guinea pigs, rabbits and ferrets are being taken to vets with the condition.

The researchers say their findings highlight the need for better public awareness of heatstroke and the risk to all animals and warn that cases will continue to rise as we face warmer weather due to climate change.

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The most common symptoms in all animals studied included abnormal breathing, lethargy, collapsing, and stomach issues, such as diarrhoea.

Cats seek out warm areas to sleep and can become trapped in greenhouses and sheds, the researchers say.

Pet rabbit
Flat-faced dogs and rabbits are especially at high risk for heatstroke. (Picture: Unsplash)

Caged pets such as rabbits, guinea pigs and ferrets are at risk of heatstroke due to confinement in hot accommodation, for example, if their housing provides limited access to shade or cooler temperatures.

‘There is a misconception that heatstroke in pets only relates to dogs in hot cars and we need to do more to raise awareness of risk factors not only for dogs but in the wider pet population,’ said Dr Anne Carter, a researcher at Nottingham Trent University.

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‘Owners of small animals such as rabbits, ferrets and guinea pigs may need to review their pet’s housing and take steps to keep their pets cool in the warmer months to reduce the risk of heatstroke,’ she said.

Cat and dog
Dogs, cats, guinea pigs, rabbits and ferrets are being taken to vets with heatstroke. (Picture: Unsplash)

A team at Nottingham Trent University analysed data relating to small animals seen by a group of UK vets between 2013 and 2018 and found that dogs were worst affected with 146 cases of heatstroke.

While three-quarters of these cases were attributed to the dogs being exercised, 7% were due to them being trapped in a hot car.

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Flat-faced dogs, such as bulldogs, were found to be particularly at risk, making up a fifth of cases, the study found.

The study also found that sixteen cats were seen by vets for heatstroke, with older cats — aged over 15 — accounting for the highest number of cases.

Pet hamsters
Owners of rabbits, ferrets and guinea pigs may need to review their pet’s housing to keep their pets cool in the warmer months. (Picture: Unsplash)

Hot weather also was responsible for eight guinea pigs, three rabbits and a pet ferret being treated for the heatstroke.

Unsurprisingly, the summer months saw the highest number of vet visits for heatstroke, with cases in dogs spanning between April and October.

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‘Heat-related illness can affect all pets and is likely to become more common as global temperatures rise,’ said Emily Hall, a researcher and vet.

‘Our findings highlight the need for better public awareness of heatstroke and the risk to all animals. The fact that brachycephalic (flat-faced) dogs and rabbits were overrepresented in our study suggests that owners of these animals should be particularly vigilant during hot weather,’ she added.

French bulldog

The data for the study was obtained from veterinary practices that participate in the ‘Small Animal Veterinary Surveillance Network’ (Savsnet).

Help your pet be as active as nature intended. Exercise and play time are necessary for your pet’s mental and physical well-being. If you don’t give your dog opportunities to be physically active, or if you don’t encourage exercise for your kitty and find ways to make it happen, you may well end up with a bored, destructive, overweight pet whose health will spiral downward throughout her lifetime.

As a result, the researchers argue the overall figures for heatstroke are likely to be far greater than reported in the study.

They also argue that many cases may not be seen by veterinary clinics because they go unrecognised by owners due to a lack of awareness of the potential risks and triggers.

The study, which also involved the University of Liverpool, is published in The Open Veterinary Journal.

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