In a new study from Nottingham Trent University, experts warn that dogs are not the only pets that are susceptible to heat exhaustion. The researchers found that small pets such as rabbits, cats, guinea pigs have an increasingly high risk of heatstroke as global temperatures rise.
In collaboration with experts at the University of Liverpool, the researchers analyzed data on dogs and small animals that were taken to a group of UK vets between 2013 and 2018.
The results of the analysis showed that dogs were the most frequent victims of heatstroke, with 146 cases on record. In about 75 percent of cases, the dogs became overheated during exercise, while seven percent of the dogs had been trapped in a hot car.
According to the study, bulldogs and other flat-faced dogs are particularly vulnerable to heat exhaustion, as these pets were involved in 20 percent of the heatstroke cases.
The greatest number of heat stroke cases among cats were tied to older cats over the age of 15. Guinea pigs, rabbits and a pet ferret had also been treated for heatstroke.
“There is a misconception that heatstroke in pets only relates to dogs in hot cars and we need to do more to raise awareness of risk factors not only for dogs but in the wider pet population,” said study co-author Dr. Anne Carter.
“Owners of small animals such as rabbits, ferrets and guinea pigs may need to review their pet’s housing and take steps to keep their pets cool in the warmer months to reduce the risk of heatstroke.”
The most common symptoms shared by the heatstroke victims included abnormal breathing, lethargy, collapsing, and diarrhea.
The researchers noted that cats seek out warm areas to sleep and can become trapped in greenhouses and sheds. The study authors also pointed out that caged pets are at risk of heatstroke due to confinement in hot accommodation, such as when their housing provides limited access to shade or cooler temperatures.
The researchers say their findings highlight the need for better public awareness of heatstroke and the risk to all animals, and warn that cases will continue to rise as global warming continues.
“Heat-related illness can affect all pets and is likely to become more common as global temperatures rise,” said study co-author Emily Hall. “Our findings highlight the need for better public awareness of heatstroke and the risk to all animals.”
“The fact that brachycephalic (flat-faced) dogs and rabbits were overrepresented in our study suggests that owners of these animals should be particularly vigilant during hot weather.”
The study is published in the Open Veterinary Journal.