Helping animals cope with those not-so-happy, hazy days

TAKING CARE: Animals, just like people, can be seriously affected by smoke haze.
TAKING CARE: Animals, just like people, can be seriously affected by smoke haze.

Australians have been experiencing more extreme summer weather conditions than in previous years, with multiple states and territories affected by bushfires, smoke haze and extreme heat.

Read on to discover what impact heat and smoke can have on your pets, and how you can help them and wildlife during this time.

How do smoke and extreme heat affect pets?

Smokey conditions can have negative health impacts on your pets including difficulty breathing and inflammation, with animals suffering from preexisting respiratory or cardiovascular conditions at higher risk. Flat-faced (brachycephalic) breeds of dog and cat such as pugs, French bulldogs, Persian cats and others are also at a higher risk of being impacted.

Your pet may be suffering from the effects of smoke if they are coughing or gagging, breathing faster or with an open mouth, have eye irritation or excessive watering or nasal discharge, are lethargic, weak or wobbly, disorientated or showing reduced appetite or thirst. If you observe any of these signs, contact your vet immediately.

Extremely hot weather can also cause heatstroke in pets, and it's very important to be aware of your pets' comfort during days with high temperature forecasts.

If your pet is showing any of the following stress signs, see your vet immediately: relentless panting, drooling, increased heart rate, vomiting/diarrhoea, dizziness, tremors, seizures. You can see a full list on the RSPCA's Knowledgebase.

Brachycephalic breeds of dogs and cats are very susceptible to heat stress, and can suffer heat stress in temperatures as low as 23 degrees Celsius. If you have a flat-faced breed of dog or cat, it's important to be extra cautious when it comes to preventing heat stress.

It's also important to note that air travel for pets during hot conditions can pose a risk of heat stress, especially if your pet is a brachycephalic breed. Talk to your vet before travelling with your pet to make sure you're aware of any potential risks to your pet's health.

Keep pets comfortable

During hot weather, it's important to take steps to keep your pet comfortable and prevent heat stress. Walk dogs early in the morning or evening to avoid the hottest parts of the day and test the pavement with the back of your hand before walking, to protect your dog's feet from being burned.

Provide plenty of fresh water, and bring them indoors for as much of the day as possible. Most importantly, do not ever leave your dog (or any animal) alone in a vehicle.

During days of smoke haze, avoid letting pets outside, and try and keep them cool and indoors for as long as possible. Make sure they have plenty to entertain them including food puzzles and toys so they don't get bored and frustrated while indoors.

If smoke is heavy and persistent, it is safer not to exercise your dog, or at least limit any exertion. This applies also to horses, who may also need to rest for up to six weeks after smoke has cleared from their airways to fully recover.

Remember, small pets such as rabbits, guinea pigs and birds are also very susceptible to heat stress and smoke-related illnesses. Try and move their cage/enclosure indoors if possible, or at the very least provide plenty of shade and cover. Make sure to check regularly on their water supply.

If at any point you're concerned about your pet's health, seek veterinary advice immediately.

How to help wildlife

Just as our pets suffer in extremely hot and smokey conditions, so do our wildlife. To help wildlife stay cool and hydrated, provide large containers of fresh, clean water outdoors, preferably away from where your pets may eat or sleep.

Make sure that your containers have a stick or rocks in them, and beside them to help smaller animals climb in and out to access the water. If you see any animals that appear to be in distress, contact your local wildlife rescue organisation for their help. Find out who to call near your home.