What you need to know about exercising your pet in summer
We all look forward to summer’s warmer weather and playing with our furry bestie in the sunshine. But during the hotter months, we need to be more cautious when exercising our pets.
Play and exercise are important for your pet no matter what time of year it is. It’s a great way to bond with your cat or dog and it helps keep them healthy and happy. Summer weather – including harsh sun and hot temperatures – bring different challenges to pet play and exercise time.
Dogs and Cats are homeotherms, which means they keep a fairly constant body temperature. If your pet feels too hot for too long and can’t maintain their ideal internal body temperature, they could become unwell and suffer from heatstroke.1
Cats, whose ancestors came from the desert, handle hot weather better than dogs.2 They’re savvier when it comes to regulating their body temperature, seeking out cool and shady spots and grooming themselves more regularly.
In very hot weather, cats can overheat. Some breeds (for example, short-nose Persian cats), or cats with health or weight problems are likely to struggle more than others to regulate their body temperature. Ensuring your cat has access to shade and water is important. If your cat wants to play games with you, play indoors or in a cool and shady area.
Dogs regulate their body temperature through sweating and panting.3 Effective panting is particularly important for dogs to cool themselves down. Brachycephalic (flat-faced) breeds like Bulldogs and Chow Chow are at higher risk of heatstroke because they tend to find breathing more difficult than dogs with longer muzzles (like Labradors).4 This means you’ll need to be extra-cautious when the mercury rises and keep an eye on your pet for signs of overheating.
Tips for exercising your pet in hot weather
When it comes to exercising your pet (particularly dogs) in summer, there are a few tips you can follow to make sure your pet is comfortable and having fun in the sun.
Watch out for hot pavements
Pavements and tarmac can get up to double that of the air temperature (e.g. on a 21°C day, the pavement can be up to 42°C). If you’re walking your dog, stick to grassy, shaded areas where you can.
Touch the pavement with the back of your hand for several seconds – if it feels hot to you, chances are the surface is too hot for your dog to walk on.
|Air Temp.||Pavement Temp.|
|18°C||Up to 36°C|
|19°C||Up to 38°C|
|20°C||Up to 40°C|
|21°C||Up to 42°C|
|22°C||Up to 44°C|
|23°C||Up to 46°C|
|24°C||Up to 48°C|
|25°C||Up to 50°C|
|26°C||Up to 52°C|
Exercise early morning or late evening
Early afternoon is the hottest part of the day in New Zealand, so it’s best to avoid walking or playing with your pet outside at this time of day. Early morning and late evening (or night-time, if you’re a night owl) typically have the coolest temperatures during summer and are the best times to exercise your pet.
Keep your pet hydrated
Make sure your pet stays hydrated and has access to plenty of fresh, clean water.
Most cats love to drink from running water. A cat water fountain could be a good way to encourage your cat to drink if they’re reluctant.
When you’re out walking your dog, bring a bottle of water and a collapsible bowl so you’ll be confident that your pooch can drink whenever they want to.
Take it slow and choose shorter walks (or shorter playtimes)
Though some pets are more at risk, any cat or dog can develop heatstroke if left or exercised in hot weather. If you think it’s too hot, it’s better to be overcautious – don't exercise your pet outdoors. Play indoor games, or hang out in a shaded area of your garden if you have one (tip: a children’s paddling pool is a fun way of helping your pet stay cool).
If you do go for a walk or want to play games in the sun, keep it short and take it easy. Save high-speed games of fetch or chase for the cooler autumn months.
Know the signs of heatstroke
Watch out for signs of heatstroke or overheating. If you notice your pet is showing signs of extreme discomfort or overheating, take action immediately to cool them down and get veterinary advice as soon as you can.
Heatstroke happens when a pet can’t cool themselves down or control their body temperature. The signs are:
- Excessive or noisy panting/breathing
- Bulging eyes
- Very dark gums and tongue (their tongue may also look very long)
- Extreme discomfort or distress
- Dizziness, lying down more or collapsing
- Diarrhoea and/or vomiting
Have fun with your pet this summer
There’s no set temperate that’s considered ‘too hot’ for pets. Other factors like humidity can affect how hot the day feels. Your pet’s breed, age and health all have an impact on how they’re able to handle hotter weather. Be observant and responsive to your pet’s needs.
While exercise and play are an important part of a healthy pet’s daily routine, it is okay to skip walkies or playtime if it’s too hot. Stay hydrated and hang out in the shade instead.
1 Dogs and cats can usually deal with the heat but their owners must be careful, by Barbara Eilsee Najar, Washington Post, accessed October 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/dogs-and-cats-can-usually-deal-with-the-heat-but-their-owners-must-be-careful/2012/07/09/gJQAlOqtYW_story.html
2 Debarking pet myths: summer heat is no problem for cats, Diamond, accessed October 2022, https://www.diamondpet.com/blog/culture/myths/summer-heat-is-no-problem-for-cats-debunked/
3 How Do Dogs Regulate Their Body Temperature and Is Sweating Important?, Dr David Marlin, https://drdavidmarlin.com/how-do-dogs-regulate-their-body-temperature-and-is-sweating-important/
4 Nine dog breeds at higher risk of heatstroke – and what you can do to prevent it, The Conversation, Emily J Hall, Anne Carter and Dan O’Neill, accessed October 2022, https://theconversation.com/nine-dog-breeds-at-higher-risk-of-heatstroke-and-what-you-can-do-to-prevent-it-139501