Sunday, January 27, 2019

Companion animals need more than cool water to cope with climate change

dog, heat stress, heat stroke, climate change, one welfare
Record-breaking temperatures are the new norm. Just like us, animals suffer with the heat.

Each time a heatwave approaches, I am asked for advice about how to prevent heat stress in animals.

The practical tips that pet owners can take to protect their animal companions range from ensuring animals are have appropriate shelter that protects them from the heat to providing fresh, clean, cool water for drinking and (for some species) bathing.

But beyond the steps needed to protect animals in a heatwave, it is vital to understand that extreme weather is becoming the norm. It is no longer the exception.

Protecting animals from heat stress is no longer a matter of planning for companion animals for a handful of odd hot days over summer.

We need to recognise that climate change is making heatwaves more severe and frequent, and that we need to stop climate change to stop things from getting unbearably hot for animals, humans and the environment that sustains us. Aside from the risk of heat stress, extreme weather is associated with a higher bush fire risk. Bush fires are associated with high morbidity and mortality rates of animals (particularly wildlife but also livestock and sometimes companion animals).

The evidence is clear that our climate is changing. 2018 was Australia’s third warmest year on record, and also had the earliest ever total fire ban ever declared in NSW. Nine of Australia’s hottest ten years have occurred since 2005.

In the short term we need to cope with the heat, but we also need to take immediate action to tackle the root cause of the problem: burning fossil fuels for energy, which produce the greenhouse gas pollution that contributes to climate change. We need to urgently phase out polluting coal, oil, and gas in favour of clean and safe renewable energy if we are to protect Australia’s animals (companion animals, farm animals and wildlife), humans and the environment we occupy in the longer term.

This truly is a One Welfare issue and we need to prevail on politicians to tackle this problem.

If you’re not convinced, here are some trends reported in the Bureau of Meterology’s Annual Climate Statement (you can view it here). 

  • 2018 was Australia’s third-warmest year on record (recording started in 1910), with an area-averaged mean temperature that was 1.14 degrees Celsius above the 1961 – 1900 average.
  • Longer term, the 11-year mean average temperature for 2008-2018 was the highest on record (0.77 degrees Celsius above average).
For tips on preventing and treating heat stress in companion animals, check out my previous post here.