Animals and the Summer Heat
Author: Fiona La Trobe Date Posted:29 March 2022
We all know that for most parts of Australia, summer is not about surfing and cocktails by the pool. Most of us find ourselves strategizing to spend as little time as possible in the blistering heat – while still managing to keep a job!
Thanks to that massive hole in our ozone layer, many places in Australia spend nine months of the year with a top temperature over 35 degrees. If you’re anything like me, keeping yourself hydrated is a challenge… thankfully, animals are generally more sensible than we are.
As Aussies we are renowned for our love of animals – whether they be pets, livestock, or wildlife.
So how can we be making those ultra-hot days and heatwaves a little easier for the critters around us?
A recent survey found it’s not considered acceptable to have your herd of cows or your flock of sheep in your house, so we have compiled a list of other strategies for both livestock and pets. Some of these strategies can be attributed to “Common Sense” - who I’m sure I saw an obituary for some time ago – or to “No Brainer”, but some of them you may not have thought of…
- Provide Cool Water for Livestock
- Put those troughs in the shade.
- Don’t have shady trees? Try some shade sails over your water troughs.
- Check automatic waterers regularly.
- Install sprinklers or misters by water troughs or in a shaded area.
- Make giant ice blocks in old ice cream containers and pop them in water troughs.
- Provide Shade
- Shade is the #2 way to reduce heat stress (after water)
- Don’t have much in the way of shady trees? Plant some! It’s not immediate shade, but they’ll provide shade for future hot seasons.
- Build an open-sided shade structure. This can be as simple as four posts with a shade cloth secured over them, or a lightweight movable frame.
- Mud Baths & Frozen treats
- Creating mud baths for cattle and pigs can be a great way for them to cool down. The mud also forms a barrier against the sun. Your livestock will love it!
- Freeze excess fruit or vegetables as a tasty snack.
- Feed up early in the morning or later in the afternoon. Feed digestion causes heat production, so not feeding in the hottest part of the day can really make a difference.
Pets can be a lot easier to keep cool than livestock... though that does depend on the pet!
Some pampered pets may never live a day out in the elements, some may prefer the great outdoors to being inside. So, for the ones who prefer to be outside…
- If you have birds in an aviary, they’ll love a light spray with the hose.
- Install a mister kit. These are quite inexpensive, use very little water and are efficient at cooling. Once you’ve kitted out the pet’s area, you can set some up on your verandah for your people.
- Dogs (and even cats sometimes!) will relish in a shallow pool of water in the shade. If you don’t have a trough in your urban backyard, those clam shell sand pits are perfect – and they’re quite inexpensive.
- Pop a block of ice in your pet’s water bowl to keep it cool
- Provide Shade
- Yes, we’re a broken record… Somewhere shady with good ventilation is great.
- Protect heir Faces & Ears
- Dogs and cats with light pigmentation around their heads are susceptible to sunburn and skin cancer. You can use sunscreen before they go outside, or limit their time in the sun to early morning and evening.
- Stay Away from Cars!
- This is definitely one of “No Brainer’s” points… Avoid taking your pet anywhere in a car during hot weather if you can. NEVER leave your pet in a car. Not even for a few minutes. What if you get distracted? Delayed? If you are getting out of the car, they need to be out of the car too.
- Take Care of your Wildlife
- Put a bird bath in your yard. The locals will love it. There’s nothing quite as delightful as a bird splashing around.
- Is the temperature soaring? Put a shallow water dish at ground level for your local mammals and lizards. I have half a dozen blue tongues that frequent my yard. They do a great job keeping the snails and slugs at bay.
- Just because native animals are native, it doesn’t mean they don’t suffer from heat stress - and realistically, we’ve built our home in their home - so offer them some refreshment!
- Are you adding new plants to your yard? Planning a makeover? Plant native trees and plants. They are generally more drought tolerant and they will provide habitat for the wildlife around your home. Birds, butterflies, and bees will appreciate the oasis you create for them, and your home will look beautiful too.
It's not just the sun we have to look out for…
In Australia, we have an amazing array of poisonous creatures, just to keep us on our toes. In hot weather, the number one danger is snakes - in both rural and suburban settings. For some reason the perception remains that snake bite incidents mostly occur in rural areas. However, Melbourne Uni's Facts, Stats, and Stories explain that nearly 50% of snakebite incidents occur in an urban environment. The University of Melbourne’s Mapping Australia's Snake Bites for Pets reported that most snakebites in dogs (73 percent) happened in pet owners’ backyards! Your dogs and cats are natural born hunters, so they are much more likely to get bitten than you are.
Here are some tips to make sure your pets don’t become statistics.
- Prepare your yard for Summer
- Keep possible hiding places clear and your grass cut short.
- Aviaries and chicken coops attract rats and mice, and they attract snakes, so have a strategy to manage those vermin!
- Dogs and Snake Bite
Dogs are twice as likely to die from a snake bite than a cat. If you have seen your dog in the vicinity of a snake, take them immediately to a vet. A vet can perform a quick blood test to confirm whether or not your dog has been bitten. Don’t wait to see side effects - by the time you see side effects, it is often too late to save them. The chance of recovery is greater when treated early, so don’t wait. It is better to be safe than sorry. If just one person reads this and tells me that their dog survived because they read this and acted on it, I will be happy!
- Before you head out for a walk find a sunny patch of footpath and check how hot it is. If it’s too hot to hold the back of your hand against for 10 seconds – it’s too hot to walk your dog.
- Keep your dog on a short leash in parks or bushland.
- Do not allow them to wander, especially near water.
- Cats and Snakebite
With cats you have a little more leeway - snake venom does not affect them as quickly as it does dogs.
Don’t think that bites only happen in the heat of the day either – snakes are most active at dusk and dawn.
On a personal note, one of our cats was bitten at night in his cat run. We never saw the snake, but he woke us up by being very vocal – which was very out of character. We took him to a 24-hour vet based on that one symptom - and he had indeed been bitten by a brown snake. We were lucky - he made a full recovery. You know your pet best. Look for anything out of the ordinary and take them to a vet immediately if you suspect they may have been bitten.
Snakebite symptoms in cats and dogs may include:
- Vocalization (cats)
- Sudden weakness/ collapse
- Shaking or twitching
- Loss of bladder control
- Dilated pupils
- Blood in urine
Bites and Lice
Summertime is peak flea and tick season. Treatments are so easy now! Keep their treatment up to date and they’ll be happy little critters all summer long.
Fireworks and Thunderstorms
We love a good firework show – and most of us love nature’s light shows too – but some of our furry friends aren’t so keen. Most people are aware that some pets - especially dogs - may be very frightened by fireworks and thunderstorms. Response to this fear ranges from hiding or shaking to complete panic. This may result in escape from what you think is an escape-proof yard or injury to themselves or your property.
If you know your dog does not handle fireworks and thunderstorms well, you probably already have a plan for this time of year, and a place prepared where you know they will be safe.
If you have a new addition to your family, be ready to observe them if you know there will be fireworks nearby, or there is a storm on the way.
Consider these tips in advance so that you are prepared if your normally chilled-out pet has a complete panic attack on you.
- Be nearby so you can reassure them that they are not in danger. Lots of cuddles and pats usually do the trick, and maybe some treats to distract them.
- Keep them in an area that is familiar where they feel safe. This could be a bedroom, laundry, or kennel.
- If your pet will be outside during fireworks or a thunderstorm, make sure that there are no objects in your yard that they could injure themselves on if they panic.
- It’s a “No Brainer” that you should have secure fencing, so I won’t labour that point.
- “Common Sense” tells me that your pet is already microchipped. That means they can be safely returned to you if they do escape in sheer panic.
- If you find your new family member is excessively fearful or panic stricken, and in danger of injuring themselves, consult your vet. Medication may be an option that you can have on hand for future stressful events.
If you live in a bushfire-prone area, it is SO important to have a Bushfire Action Plan.
I know, you already have one, don’t you?
Because it’s a “No Brainer” and “Common Sense” is a friend of yours.
So, you’ve already made sure your whole family knows what to do in the case of an emergency.
They all know how to safely evacuate your pets, and where your pets will be in the event of a bush fire alert.
You’ve done practice drills and you know that in the event of a real emergency, everyone knows what to do and (hopefully) won't panic.
Excellent! I’m glad we had this conversation.
That is the end of my pearls of wisdom for today. If you have anything to add, or you’d like to share your own experience or pet survival story, we’d love to hear it. I think we all tend to learn better from stories than we do from “lessons” - so share your story here with our Allingtons community! You may help someone more than you will ever know!