Joe Inglis BVSc MRCVS is the vet for the One Show, This Morning and BBC Breakfast. He runs his own line of natural pet food called Pet’s Kitchen.
It’s been scorching here in Gloucestershire recently, and while the hot weather has been enjoyed by most of the population, it has not been so welcome for all, particularly for pets who find it difficult to cope with such extremes of temperature. In the surgery recently I’ve seen a few pets suffering from the effects of too much sun – a dog with mild heatstroke, a cat with sunburnt ear tips, and then there was Harry the bunny who was brought in last Friday in a real state by his owner, an elderly lady called Miss Jones.
‘I’ve been out all day and when I got home Harry was just lying on the ground,’ explained Miss Jones who was obviously very distressed by what had happened, ‘I don’t know what can have happened to him.’
By this point Harry had obviously improved a little and was sitting up in his cage, but he was still definitely not right, breathing heavily and looking decidedly dull and lethargic. I gently lifted him out of the cage and as soon as I did so I could tell what his problem was as his skin was burning hot to the touch.
‘He’s got heatstroke,’ I said to Miss Jones, ‘I need to get him cool quickly so I’ll take him out the back and get him in some water.’
After quickly checking his temperature (which was 3 degrees above normal) I carried the baking hot rabbit through to the back of the surgery and ran some water in a sink. I lowered Harry gently down into the refreshing water and he immediately lay down and let the cool water lap around him, obviously enjoying the experience. After ten minutes his temperature was down to just a degree above normal and he was clearly feeling much brighter so I wet down the rest of his fur and returned him to Miss Jones, who was very relieved to see him looking so much better.
‘You need to be really careful in this weather,’ I told Miss Jones before she left, ‘rabbits can easily overheat if they don’t have shade and plenty of water, so make sure he can get out of the sun and get himself wet when you are out.’’
I hope she heeds my advice, as although Harry pulled through this time, he was very close to being dangerously overheated and I suspect if he’d been left for another half hour or so in the hot sun he might have gone too far to help. Heatstroke can rapidly be fatal and I’ve seen a few cases in my career when pets have simply got too hot to treat and they have died which is always a tragic experience to deal with. The most important thing for owners to understand is the importance of shade, fresh air and water – provided pets have access to these three essentials, heatstroke shouldn’t be a problem. If pets do overheat, the best thing to do is to get them out of the sun and wet them using cool water (but not ice cold as this shuts down the circulation to the skin).
If you are worried about heatstroke or any other problems in your pet, please contact your vet or use our Interactive Symptom Guide to help you decide what to do next.