How to keep your pets cool in summer
Now that it’s summer, it’s time to look at the health issues that affect our pets in hot weather. In the heat, we are more likely to see skin problems (itchy, hot, damp or dry skin), trauma such as cat fights on balmy nights, heat stroke in some dogs, snake bite or problems associated with fleas or ticks. We also see old cats succumb to kidney disease.
In traditional Chinese medicine, changes in weather — manifesting as wind, cold, damp, dryness or heat — especially if they occur suddenly or are extreme, can exacerbate underlying imbalances. Therefore, hot, dry weather may lead to signs of heat invasion, such as reduced urination, dry skin, constipation, skin and ear problems. Humidity may lead to a tendency to Damp with greasy, smelly ears and hot spots, sluggish behaviour and oily skin.
In TCM you can help achieve harmony and reduce the impact of changes in season by making changes in nutrition and in your pet’s environment to support them as they adapt to the change, so minimising their stress.
Traditional Chinese medicine characterises foods (and herbs) as either warming, neutral, cooling, hot or cold. If dogs and cats are sensitive to heat and they continue to eat heating food, they are more likely to exhibit signs of excess heat. In summer, with hot and either damp or dry weather, it makes sense to consider feeding your pet foods that are more cooling and either drying or moisturising, depending on your pet and the weather conditions in your area. Warming foods should be avoided. These include commercial cooked dried foods and warming proteins such as lamb, chicken, chicken liver and beef.
If dogs and cats are sensitive to heat and they continue to eat heating food, they are more likely to exhibit signs of excess heat.
Cooling diets may contain more vegetables and be lower in saturated fat. Cooling proteins include lean pork, rabbit, duck, lamb liver, eggs and cottage cheese. Neutral proteins include oily fish such as mackerel or sardines, salmon and tuna. Cooling carbohydrates may include buckwheat, millet, pearl barley and white potato. Neutral carbohydrates are brown rice and quinoa.
Most vegetables are more cooling. According to Ihor Basko’s book Fresh Food and Ancient Wisdom, vegetables to avoid in summer are parsnip, kale, green beans and parsley.
When compiling diets for my patients with suspected food allergies, I find using this TCM approach may result in the best diet for my patient. Diets also need to be complete or balanced. It’s best to work with your holistic vet if considering a homemade approach to feeding your pet, but even modifying your pet’s diet by adding some of these foods, can help.
Cooling herbs and supplements to add to your pet’s diet in summer include chlorella, spirulina, dandelion leaf, spinach, celery and nettle leaf.
Water and washes
Provide extra sources of fresh water, even if your pet doesn’t seem to need it. For dogs or cats with kidney disease, I encourage liquids by offering them salt-free homemade broths or “juices”, eg diluted springwater from a tin of tuna. Cats, especially, are notoriously poor drinkers.
Environmental support for hot weather is really about common sense. Provide your pet with plenty of water and shelter from the heat. Older animals in particular are less able to cope with extremes of temperature and should be kept in a cool environment on hot days.
Avoid exercise in the heat. Even mid-morning is too much for some dogs. Darker-haired dogs seem to be more sensitive to heat and it goes without saying that you do not leave animals in parked cars.
Take steps to reduce the flea and tick exposure for your pet. Minimise the chemical load if you can, but do what you need to do. When using pesticides, it’s all about the risk versus the benefit for your pet. If you live in an environment where the risk from paralysis ticks is high, it may be safer to use strong anti-tick preventers. (Add in liver support and plenty of liquids to support organs of detoxification.) However, if you never see any fleas, there may be no need to use a strong flea insecticide.
Cooling topical treatments include aloe gel, calendula cream, gotu kola cream and papaw ointment.
Pink-nosed, light-eared cats, and dogs with short fur are prone to sunburn and sun cancer and should avoid high UV exposure. A rule of thumb is indoors between 11am and 3pm. There are sunblocks you can try, but in my experience these are either licked off or cause skin irritation.
Some dogs feel better with a summer haircut. Swimming and washing can help cool dogs. I don’t generally recommend washing cats unless they are used to it. If washing regularly, use gentle, soap-free shampoos and follow with conditioners, or use oil rubs to reduce the drying effect. Rinsing with cool water, oatmeal and tea (black or calendula) can all help cool hot, itchy dogs.
Cooling topical treatments include aloe gel, calendula cream, gotu kola cream and papaw ointment. Apple cider vinegar wipes (use makeup pads soaked in apple cider vinegar diluted with water 1:3) can be used to settle yeast infections in feet and around mouths, or the inside tops of ears.
Through nutrition and herbs, management of your pet’s Home and lifestyle, and use of topical remedies and washes when required, you can help your pet adjust to and get through the summer heat.