The forecasters are predicting a serious heatwave this week, leading to people and pets getting hot under the collar. We are constantly searching for novel ways to cool our pets. In recent years cooling coats, collars and beds have appeared. The recent increase in people buying clothing and accessories for their pets increases their appeal.
Why are dogs more prone to heat stress than us?
If we wore a thick coat on a summer’s day like our pets do, we would struggle to keep cool, especially in a hot car, or on a run.
Dogs have a few sweat glands in their pads, but they really only effectively lose heat by panting. This means their natural cooling mechanism is limited and more quickly overwhelmed than ours.
Some breed characteristics may make cooling a challenge. Flat nosed (brachycephalic) breeds such as pugs, shih-tzus and bulldogs, are more at risk. Obese animals or those with dense fur are also more susceptible. Elderly pets or those suffering with breathing issues have a lower threshold for suffering heat stroke. However, any pet can suffer heat stroke if exposed to hot temperatures, a lack of ventilation, or drinking water.
Pets can’t change their environment so it’s our responsibility to create a safe and cool environment. If they are exercising and having fun, they will often not stop when they get hot until it is too late. We must use common sense, reducing exercise on hot days. This is especially important if exercising with your pet.
Can cooling coats and cooling beds help prevent heat stroke?
There are many different brands of cooling coats. Most work on the same principle of evaporation as panting or sweating. Most of them contain a comfortable cooling layer in contact with the dog that’s dry to touch. There is then an absorbent layer that takes on water when soaked for a few minutes. Lastly, there is an outer layer where water evaporates. As the heat of the day slowly evaporates the moisture from the coat, excess heat is drawn from the dog’s body, leaving them cooler even in high temperatures. Coats should be light, comfortable, well fitted, breathable, and machine washable.
Cooling collars and bandanas often use the same design as cooling coats, although some use ice or frozen gel instead of water. Theoretically, as this area contains major vessels that supply the body and the brain, cooling this area alone will have a larger than expected effect on general body and brain cooling. Human studies suggest cooling the neck area reduces vasoconstriction of the carotid artery, helping to prevent heat stroke induced reduction of blood supply to the brain. Most dogs are less hairy around their necks giving better skin to collar contact. These collars may be more comfortable than full coats.
Cool mats are also available. These usually work on a different principle using a gel which actively absorbs heat from the dog’s body and is activated by the pressure of the dogs weight.
What are the pitfalls to these products?
There is little independent research on these products. Although some manufacturers have performed limited field studies, they are not validated and may be flawed. Until more research has been performed conclusions are based on theory, opinion, and common sense.
Coats may not remain wet for long, so must be checked regularly. Once all the water has evaporated and the coat becomes dry, it’s effectively just a normal coat and will make your dog warmer.
Beds also only cool for a certain length of time before they need recharging. Be sure to select a cool bed with a non-toxic filling, just incase your dog chews it. If your pet chooses not to sit on them they will clearly not help, but, on the flip side, if your dog feels chilly they can move, an advantage over cooling coats.
Although cool coats and beds may aid cooling, over-reliance on them is dangerous. They are not a panacea for heat stroke prevention, and they are not a treatment for heat stroke.
They can be used as part of a sensible strategy for heat stroke avoidance, alongside other possibly cheaper, easier, and more tried and tested tips:
- Never leave dogs in parked cars. Dogs can die within 15 minutes in a parked car.
- Make sure dogs always have adequate water to drink. They need more on a warm day, so always take water with you when travelling.
- Avoid exercising dogs in the heat of the day.
- Spray them with water to keep them cool.
- Provide shade and ventilation. Move small pets to the coolest part of the house or garden.
- If your pet has thick fur, consider a summer trim to help them keep cool.
- Contact a vet immediately if they do not respond to efforts to cool them down.
What signs may my dog have with heat stroke?
Dogs will pant more, often with their lips curled back. They may drool or foam at the mouth and also appear anxious, restless, or distressed. As it progresses their gums may become bright red, and they may become uncoordinated. Eventually tremors or seizures lead to death.
What should I do if I think my pet has heat stroke?
If you think your pet has heat stroke ring your vet practice immediately. They will want to see your pet in order to start to cool them gradually and give them intravenous fluids if needed. The vet may want you to perform first aid. According to one study those actively cooled before arriving at the vets had a lower mortality rate (19%) than those not cooled prior to arrival (49%).
Heat stroke first aid:
- Move them to a cool place.
- Offer them cool water.
- Pour cool water over them or hose them. It is important that the water is cool and not so cold as to cause shivering which would worsen the situation.
- If possible put them in front of a fan.
- Get your pet to the nearest vet.