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How can I protect my pet during a French heatwave?

The Local France
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How can I protect my pet during a French heatwave?
A dog drinks from a fountain in Paris on July 13, 2022 amid another heatwave in France. (Photo by BERTRAND GUAY / AFP)

As the climate crisis intensifies France is seeing longer and hotter summers, with temperatures that can be dangerous to life and health - and not only for humans.


As the mercury rises outside, you might be thinking it is a good time to give your pet a haircut. But think twice before pulling out the scissors, as your animal's thick coat actually helps it regulate both cold and heat.

However, there are some important things to do and be aware of to help our furry friends during heatwaves.

First and foremost: dogs and cats are different when it comes to heat. Cats actually handle hot temperatures better than dogs - both with regard to physiology and behaviour. Cats' urinary systems favour better retention of water than canines, and when when the temperatures rise, our feline friends will instinctively take refuge in the coolest place they can find. 


That being said, neither animal is able to cool itself sufficiently in hot weather, as they cannot sweat the same way humans do. Dogs and cats can sweat from their paws - which is one of the ways they manage to regulate their temperature - but mostly, they try to keep cool through breathing and panting, which costs a lot of energy.  

Therefore, you will likely need to help your pet stay cool during a canicule.

Keep them hydrated - Offer plenty of fresh water, and change it frequently, not allowing it to evaporate or get too warm. Veterinarians do not recommend freezing water because of concerns about digestive problems or a sudden temperature shock. If you will not be home, leave several water points across your living space so that your pet has lots of options.

If your pet generally eats dry and dehydrated kibbles, you could try wet food or moistening the kibbles with water to get them a little extra hydration. Both dogs and cats can eat cucumber - a vegetable that is 96 percent water and filled with vitamins and electrolytes. You can consider giving your pet some cucumber snacks. 

Keep them inside and out of sunlight - For dogs, avoid walks in the sun. Instead, try to go during the coolest times of the day - early morning or late at night - and stay in the shade. You should also avoid asphalt sidewalks when temperatures are high, as your pet could burn their paws. For indoor/outdoor cats, do not let them outside during the hottest hours of the day.

Cool them down - You can cool your pet down by patting them with a wet towel or glove. You can also freeze a water bottle, wrap it in a towel, and allow your pet to lay on it. An alternative might be wetting a bath mat to give your pet a cool place to lay. This is especially important for older and ill dogs, as they are more sensitive to heat.

There are also several gadgets you can buy - like cooling vests, cold mats, and cooling blankets to help your pet handle the heat. 

No parked cars - Never leave an animal in a parked car - even if it is in the shade or the windows are down. Temperatures can rise very quickly and can become deadly.

Give them access to a cool area - Make sure your pet has access to a shady area that is out of direct sunlight. If you have a tiled room, the floor will likely be cooler and a good place for your pet to lie down. Ventilate your living space as much as possible, but do not be surprised if your pet is afraid of the fan. Try to create a decent enough air current so that there is airflow even if your pet does not want to be in the room with the fan.

For cats, if you live in a small or poorly insulated location, you can create a 'cool shelter' by moistening a towel and placing it on a clothesline to build a small, dark cool space. 

Be mindful of hairless pets or those with light-fur - You might be surprised to learn that your furry friend can also get a sunburn. If your pet is hairless or has pale fur, consider asking your veterinarian for pet-friendly sunscreen. Unfortunately, you cannot share your SPF with your pet.

Toys and treats - For dogs, there are several frozen treats on sale, which is a great, fun way to keep your pet cool. For cats, you could consider building a little 'Kitty pool' out of a plastic bin or box. Add water and some floating toys - perhaps a ping pong - and see if your cat will try to go fishing. Entertaining for both you and your pet!


Watch out for signs of heat stroke

If you are worried your pet might have heat stroke, keep an eye out for panting, particularly the fast, laboured type. If your pet seems particularly lethargic or seems to be stumbling this is also a warning sign of heat stroke.

Their lips and gums can be a key indicator - if they turn red then your pet could be suffering from a heat stroke and will need to be cooled down as soon as possible. If their lips become blue or white, you should get to the veterinarian urgently. In the meantime, you can begin gradually cooling using a damp towel and giving them small amounts of water.

What about other domestic animals?

For other animals, like those that live in cages, try to keep the cage in the shade and consider draping a damp towel over top to help cool it down - though don't forget to remove the towel once it is no longer cool or damp.

For fish, keep an eye on the temperature of the water in the tank so that it does not get too high.


Useful terms:

Heat stroke - coup de chaleur

Hydrate - s'hydrater

Sweat - Transpiration

Paws - Les pattes

Pads of paws - Les coussinets

Fur - Fourrure (or les poils)

Water bowl - la gamelle

To pant - Haleter 


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