By Margot Hunter

I HOPE everyone is still managing to stay safe and have time to enjoy some summer walks with your dogs and enjoy the companionship of your cats and other pets.

If we do have a warm spell, you need to take a few precautions to ensure the health and safety of your pets.

At Dunedin Vets, we have been trying to make the best of these strange times.

We ran a competition for clients to send us gorgeous photos of their pets and gave a canvas print to the winners (see images above).

At the surgery, we had a fancy dress day for our own pets.

Obviously, take care not to cause stress and discomfort to your pets.

Here are a few tips about how to keep your pets safe in summer:

– Ensure your pets have access to fresh, clean water at all times. This is true for dogs, cats, rabbits and all pets, including birds;

– Do not exercise dogs during the heat of the day. Allow them to rest at this time and stick to early-morning or evening walks;

– Provide shelter and shade for all pets, especially rabbits and guinea pigs housed outdoors;

– Have your dog’s coat clipped; groomers should be able to do this now;

– Do not leave pets in cars, even with the window open.

Here are just a few of the problems which may be encountered in warmer weather.

Heat stroke

Each year, we treat a number of pets suffering from heat stroke.

These are usually dogs which have been running around enjoying themselves and then suddenly collapse.

They may be panting profusely, with the tongue hanging from the mouth, salivating a lot, with the gums looking purplish coloured.

If you suspect your dog is suffering heat stroke, take them immediately to your vet, this is an emergency.

If you have cold water available, apply a wet cloth to your pet’s head.

Generally, dogs need to be cooled down slowly in a tepid shower, and sometimes injections to combat shock need to be administered.


This is a particular problem with white cats, but any pet with light-coloured areas at the extremities can be affected. As cats like to sunbathe, they are most at risk.

The ear tips and nose are particularly vulnerable to sunburn, which then can result in skin cancer, which may require surgery to remove or can be potentially fatal.

You can reduce the risk by keeping pets out of direct sunlight in the middle of the day and applying sun block to the at-risk areas.

Sun block for kids is fine or at Dunedin Vets we recommend aloe vera products, which are soothing as well as protective.

If you notice reddening or skin changes on your cat’s ear tips, contact your vet as soon as possible.

Fly strike

This condition can affect all species but is more commonly seen in rabbits. As rabbits re-ingest their faeces, sometimes soiling can occur around the back end.

In hot, humid weather, blue bottle flies can lay their eggs on this.

When they hatch out, the larvae or maggots can then start to feed on the animal’s skin, destroying it and damaging the underlying tissue.

If treated quickly, the animal can survive but frequently the condition is fatal. Make sure you examine your rabbit’s bottom daily.

There are some products available to try to prevent this, but nothing beats constant monitoring. Also check dogs and cats for soiling, hair mats and wounds where flies can also strike.

Grass seeds

In the summer months, dry meadow grass seeds or barley awns can become trapped in your pet’s coat.

They tend to have pointed ends and are elongated with barbs.

They can penetrate the skin, causing pain and often infection.

They often get lodged between the toes, especially in hairy pawed dogs, and move through the skin.

The armpit area is another area where they may be found.

All too commonly, owners notice their dog shaking the head and on examination a grass seed is found in the ear canal.

This can be so painful that it requires sedation to remove it.


Warm weather brings out the insects, which are very attractive to dogs and cats.

They may want to snap at them or play with them. This is not without problems.

The sting itself may be painful but can also cause allergic reactions.

If your pet is stung by a bee you can remove the sting, if you can see it, with tweezers but be careful not to squeeze the sac containing the irritant chemical; otherwise dab the affected area with a solution of bicarbonate of soda (baking soda).

If a wasp has stung your pet, dab the affected area with vinegar.

Monitor your pet for signs of swellings around the sting site or anywhere on the body.

Often pets appear with bumps all over (hives), especially if short-coated. Also check their breathing.

If you have any doubts about this being abnormal, contact your vet immediately.

Animals may react more severely on successive stings so bear this in mind as they may require emergency treatment.

Jellyfish, although not always common in the seas around us, can sometimes occur in large numbers and these can cause severe allergic reactions. They can cause vomiting and collapse, and urgent veterinary supportive treatment is required. These stings can be fatal.


This may sound a strange hazard for pets, but there are many possible problems which can occur at the family barbecue.

The most obvious concern is ensuring your pet is kept away from hot charcoal.

Bear in mind this can take some time to cool down afterwards and tasty meat juices on hot coals can lead to very severe mouth burns.

Administer cold water immediately and take your pet to your vet for a check up and pain relief should this occur.

Cooked chop, rib, lamb and chicken bones must not be given to pets, nor corn on the cob.

These are notorious for causing severe digestive problems, from uncomfortable constipation to major digestive tract obstructions. This may require surgical removal.

We have already had to operate on three dogs with corn cobs stuck during lockdown.

Onions, believe it or not, can actually kill dogs. If the dog eats a bowl of chopped onions ready to add to the burgers, it can result in a type of anaemia which is very difficult to treat and at the least your pet will require intensive veterinary care.

At Dunedin Vets, as with most veterinary practices, we are now allowing clients into the surgery in a controlled and limited manner.

Please follow directions and advice given by staff to keep you and them safe and to ensure your pets obtain the best possible treatment.

Stay safe and enjoy the summer as best you can.