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Summer pet safety: Go go gadget or no go gadget pet?

Summer can be the perfect time to enjoy special moments with your pets. We all get a sense of energy from the light evenings and the warmth in the air. 

However the sunny months can pose a problem for some pets, one of the most worrying being heatstroke. Characterised by heavy panting, a racing pulse, thick saliva, vomiting and lethargy or collapse, heatstroke is a medical emergency and veterinary help should be sought immediately. So we got to thinking about what tricks people have up their sleeves to protect their pets from the summer’s heat, including the more novel ways of doing so. There are a number of pet gadgets available on the market, but are they worth their weight - or their cost?

Cool mats for cool pets? You can buy mats, filled with a gel-like substance that responds to the weight of your pet when they lie on them. A chemical reaction occurs and the gel becomes cool to touch. This is a product which we can actually see being of use to some pet owners, especially those with large dogs who struggle to stay cool even in the shade. One word of caution however, active cooling (or indeed warming) of pets should be carried out with great care if they are unable to move away from the source. Placing an immobile pet on a cooling pad could cause discomfort and distress if moving is out of their control. In the case of heat pads, it is not uncommon to cause burning injuries to pets in this way.

Baseball caps for dogs: a convenient way of keeping the sun off their face or a bizarre fashion accessory? You can now buy peaked caps with adjustable straps and holes for your dog’s ears. Designed to keep the sun out of the eyes of a dog, we can't help but think that in hot temperatures these caps might be cumbersome and make the head area feel warmer rather than cooler. This could be especially true for brachycephalic breeds (short-nosed dogs) where there are commonly extra rolls of skin around the head and neck area. If the day is warm enough to cause concern, we feel that dogs should be kept out of the direct sun and heat altogether, so as to provide effective protection from the sun for the entire body. We have to say, that suitable shade wins every time over and above doggy baseball caps, even if we are a little 'old hat' on this one.

Pet sunscreen, a fad or a phenomenon? Some dogs have areas of pale skin that is vulnerable to sunburn either because they suffer with illnesses such as alopecia or Cushing's disease (where hair becomes brittle and/or sparse), or because it's the way they are bred. The Chinese crested dog, for example, or the Sphinx cat, are both comparatively hairless. Should they find themselves spending time in the sun, hairless pets and those with pink skin are at an increased risk of developing skin cancer - just as we are. What’s more, if you need to apply sunscreen to your pet, then a product designed specifically for animals is by far and away the safest thing to use. Different species find different ingredients toxic and reputable pet sunscreen will take this into consideration. That said, and at the risk of repeating ourselves, we should not be fooled into a false sense of sun safety and we would not recommend that any pet spend any length of time in the direct summer sunshine anyway. Sunscreen or shade? We know which we’d choose. However there could be a place for sunscreen to complement shade in this case.

Dog booties are an interesting addition to a pooch’s wardrobe and there are some instances when they could come in handy. Dogs with injured feet or those who spend much of their time walking on rough terrain often find them to be a protective god send. In summer when the sun has been baking tarmac surfaces, it is possible to burn your pet’s feet by walking them over it. The five second rule is invaluable in these circumstances; if you are unable to keep the back of your hand in contact with tarmac for five seconds due to heat, then it is too hot for your dog’s toes too! Walking dogs in these temperatures is not recommended due to the risk of heatstroke, however if it is completely unavoidable, booties for pooches could be useful.

Pet temperature alarms, a heroic helping hand! Cars can be hot even when in motion and the space that your dog occupies can be vastly different in temperature to that which you’re in. A dog in the boot might not feel the effects of the air-con or fresh air flow that you do, especially in slow or standstill traffic, and it can be highly dangerous to them. Temperature alarms will sound if your dog’s space becomes uncomfortably hot. Whilst they are a great idea, they are not a safeguard against dogs overheating in hot, parked cars and this should never be risked.

So we think that some gadgets on the market could be useful for pet owners in the summer months. However nothing replaces good old-fashion common sense and a bit of shade. Fresh water should always be available for pets and they should never be left in any form of heat from which they can’t escape.