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Popsicles and wet towels: How to keep your pets safe in a heat wave

As ill-adapted as our homes, offices and trains may be to the heat waves currently sweeping Europe, most people are already clear on the public health messages.

Drinking water and limiting time in hot temperatures are at the top of the list. But as a society of pet lovers, what can we do to care for the animals in our lives? Just like us, dogs, cats, and other beloved critters can suffer from heat stroke, so hydration and shade are key.

Because being outside is so uncomfortable, you may also need to adjust your usual habits, including going for walks. “You don’t have to walk your dogs in this heat,” said Battersea Dogs and Cats Home welfare manager Rebecca Verne yesterday. “It’s really not worth the risk of taking them outside.”

However, the oppressive heat doesn’t mean your pets need to be cooped up either; there are plenty of ways to get creative while staying cool, as some of these great tips show.

Make tasty cold sandwiches

Just as iced coffees and cucumber drinks are demanded by hot humans, you can easily satisfy the needs of your pets as well. Ice cubes in the bowl of water are a refreshing place to start.

Dog owner and journalist Marthe de Ferrer suggests freezing yogurt in ice cubes and adding it to her food in the morning. Filling a kong (hollow dog toy) and a ‘lick mat’ with wet dog food and freezing it has also been a joy for her partner.

Frozen treats aren’t limited to canines, either. Battersea has a simple recipe for cat-friendly ice lollies.

Walk the dogs in the morning (if you do)

Dogs need a walk at least once a day. But while exercise is, of course, essential to your health and well-being, priorities have to change in extreme heat.

Many more dogs develop heatstroke in hot rides than while stuck in hot cars, so walking in the cooler times of the day is recommended, ideally in shaded areas with access to ponds or streams. Early morning rides are best as temperatures are cooler than at night.

If you don’t feel safe, touch the pavement with your hand: if it’s too hot for you, it’s definitely too hot for your dog’s paws.

“It’s really about mental stimulation rather than physical exercise when it’s so hot,” the Battersea wellness manager added.

Basic training exercises like sniffing games (hiding treats around the house) and scattered feeding can keep your dogs busy, Marthe says. She though warns against trying to teach dogs new tricks when they are about to overheat. Who among us would want to do advanced sudoku at +35C?

Keep your pets cool at home

The first port of call for animals in cages or sheds is, of course, to get them out of the sun.

Also keep an eye on your cats, who tend to wander into awkward situations, such as an open conservatory, shed, or cool spot under a car. (Car owners should take note of this.)

“People always think of cats relaxing in the sun and enjoying the warmth, but they can also struggle with temperatures,” says Bridie Williams, Rehoming and Welfare Manager at Battersea Cats and Dogs Home.

“If they start showing things like fidgeting a bit, being flat, breathing fast […]It’s important that you call your vet.”

Dogs don’t always know what’s best for them either, so be sure to move a sunbathing dog into the shade. Not only are they at risk of heat stroke, but dogs, even long-haired ones, and especially white-coated ones, are susceptible to sunburn. Dog sunscreen is available at stores like Pets at Home.

There are also a variety of things you can do to keep them cool on the inside. Cooling jackets, wet towels and cool mats can be used as suits. And most humans and dogs agree that cold showers are a godsend.

Don’t forget about wildlife during the heat wave

Pets aren’t the only animals that need a helping hand during a heat wave, in our increasingly less temperate part of the world.

The British Hedgehog Preservation Society is urging people to leave shallow water bowls for hedgehogs and other wildlife. Thinking of even smaller creatures, they suggest adding some pebbles to ensure insects can escape too.

“If you can,” the RSPB tweets, “you can help wildlife at home during a heatwave by providing water, feeding birds a little food often and keeping feeders clean, and creating shady spots in your outdoor space.

A birdbath is the easiest way to hydrate birds, he adds. The best ones are located in safe spaces, are at least 12 inches in diameter, have sloping sides, and use a rock or two for birds to perch on. Be sure to keep it clean and change the water daily, and the songbirds will thank you for your service.

Watch the video above to learn more tips for keeping your pets happy in the heat.

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