Blog Post Thursday 21 May 2020
With winter rapidly approaching, we’re going to be pulling out the heaters and cleaning out those central heating and air conditioning units. For those of us with pets it also brings the inevitable concern regarding heaters; pets – like their owners – tend to love the warmth that heaters provide. They’re also less inclined to practice safe use of them. Cats, dogs, and other pets love stretching out and dozing right in front of a heater, and this can be dangerous.
Animals, much like people, tend to find the cold far more intolerable than the heat (until it gets too hot). Of course, in the wild animals don’t have heaters to rely on, have a different solution genetically wired into them; they huddle with others of their kind, using the transfer of heat from being in contact with one another to keep everyone warm.
So when a pet determines that a heater is a source of heat, if they’re feeling cold they will naturally try to huddle with it. Unfortunately that can cause problems, with fur getting too hot and, in extreme cases, the pet experiencing burns or heat stroke.
Different kinds of animals have different ways of responding to being too hot. A dog, for example, will begin panting heavily, become extremely thirsty, vomit, or collapse from a lack of energy. Cats may breathe out of their mouth, look wobbly when walking, or have red gums. A rabbit’s ears will become hot to the touch or they may develop wetness around the nose area. Birds will try holding their wings away from their bodies in an attempt to cool themselves down. It’s important to understand the warning signs for your pet, and keep an eye out for those signs if they’re spending time close to the heater.
There’s no hard-and-fast rule regarding how long pets should spend close to a heater. It depends on the kind of animal, as well as factors such as the strength of the heater, the thickness of the pet’s fur, and just how close the pet likes to get. Many animals can lounge at a reasonable distance from the heater for hours comfortably. Others – especially older pets - can try to get very close to a heat source and you need to keep a close eye on them, because they won’t necessarily realise they’re doing damage to themselves until it’s too late.
The big question is what you can do to protect your pet, particularly when the reason that they like to sit near the heater is for the comfort it provides. It can feel cruel to actively prevent them from enjoying that. The good news is that they’re a couple of things that you can do which will help keep the pet safe and comfortable.
1) Make the bedding snuggly – remember that pets like to feel like they’re huddling for warmth, so if the bedding has a nice, warm walls to snuggle up against, the pet can feel like they’re getting “doing their bit” to staying warm.
2) Remove the physical heater from the environment – this won’t be available to every household, but if there’s no physical heater that’s radiating the warmth, a pet can’t get too close to it. A central heating or air conditioning unit in the room, for example, can help keep the temperature comfortable without offering a single location that the pet can sleep near that can cause it to overheat.
3) Gate off the dangerous distance to the heater – a simple gate around the perimeter that will force the pet to stay a safe distance from the heat source itself can be remarkably effective. Combine it with the bedding by placing the bedding just on the other side of the gate and watch your pet be comfortably warm and cozy all night long… in complete safety.
4) Never leave the pet alone in a room that is heated – even if you’re able to prevent your pet from being able to physically contact the heater, it’s still important that you don’t stop observing for the signs that they might be overheating or struggling. Because fur is designed to trap in heat, a pet that starts to overheat can get sick very quickly. If you do need to leave a pet in a room alone, or leave the heaters on overnight, make sure that you control the heat so that it’s at the low end of comfortable through the evening.
Pets overheating are an unfortunately common problem that can cause trips to the vet (or worse) through the winter. That’s not to say pets shouldn’t enjoy the warmth of heaters (or that your house needs to be left to freeze over for their safety). Understanding why the pet is attracted to the source of the heat, knowing the warning signs to look out for, and taking common-sense precautions will all be enough to protect the health of everyone and every animal in the household this winter.