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Installing air conditioning in UK buildings is a fairly new practice. In fact, even now, only a relatively small percentage of buildings have permanent air conditioning. Air conditioning is, however, increasingly being retrofitted into existing buildings. Its benefits are appreciated by everyone. They are particularly important for more vulnerable humans and also family pets.
Pets in the UK
Pet ownership is popular in most of the world. It’s certainly popular in the UK. According to statistics from the PDSA, in 2022, 52% of UK adults owned at least one pet. Dogs were still in the top spot with 27% of UK adults owning one. Cats were a close second at 24%. Other species currently lag way behind with even the popular rabbit only coming in at 2%.
With that said, it’s worth noting that the UK government recently updated the law to make it easier for renters to have pets. It will be very interesting to see if this results in an increase in ownership of flat-friendly pets (such as rabbits).
How heat affects pets
How heat affects pets depends mostly on their physiology and partly on their age and overall health. The three main factors that influence heat tolerance are size, the ability to sweat and the ability to pant.
The reason size plays a role is that it typically influences the surface area-to-volume ratio. The surface area of an animal is the area of its outer skin, including any fur or feathers, that is exposed to the surrounding environment. The volume is the amount of space that is occupied by the animal’s body.
Small animals tend to have a low surface area in relation to their overall volume. This means that they find it more difficult to dissipate heat. Dogs tend to have a lower surface area-to-volume ratio than cats. This is one of the reasons why they are more vulnerable to heat.
Ability to sweat
In many species, including humans, sweat plays a crucial role in dissipating heat. Dogs do not sweat as efficiently as cats. This is another major reason why they are less able to tolerate heat. Some animals cannot sweat at all. This includes some species that are popular as pets, such as rabbits and guinea pigs.
Most species have some ability to sweat but how effectively they can do so depends on their body covering. In particular, breeds/types with short hair will generally find it much easier to sweat than breeds/types with long hair.
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Ability to pant
Panting can release excess heat through the respiratory system. This is the main way dogs reduce their body temperature.
Unfortunately for dogs in the UK, the effectiveness of panting decreases as humidity levels increases. Likewise, the presence of pollutants in the air (e.g., pollen and dust) can also make panting more difficult. It’s also worth highlighting that flat-faced dogs tend to breathe less effectively than dogs with pointed faces. This makes them especially vulnerable to heat.
Cats have more effective respiratory systems than dogs, so this is less of a problem for them. That said, as with dogs, cats who have flatter faces breathe less efficiently than cats who have pointed faces. This means that a flat-faced cat may actually have more problems with excessive heat than a dog with a pointed face.
Age and overall health
Young animals of any species are relatively small. They are therefore more vulnerable to overheating. Older animals and animals in poor health can also find it harder to dissipate heat effectively.
How excess heat can affect pets (and their owners)
There are three main ways that excess heat can affect pets and hence their owners. These are behavioural issues, dehydration, and heat stroke.
Excess heat makes pets uncomfortable. This discomfort can manifest itself in behavioural issues. What this means in practice will depend on the individual pet rather than the species. No matter what the symptoms, however, it is still unhealthy mentally and possibly physically for the pet. It may also be uncomfortable or even dangerous for the owners.
In pets, the most obvious symptom of dehydration is usually lethargy (to the point of fatigue). You may also notice a high heartbeat, muscle spasms and/or signs that your pet is in pain. The pain is likely to be caused by muscle cramps.
You can, of course, relieve dehydration by getting your pet to drink. They will probably want to do this anyway. This will, however, require you either to be present or for your pet to be able to access fresh water without your help. There are automatic water dispensers, but these can malfunction. If they do and you are not there, your pet could be in serious trouble.
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The symptoms of heat stroke are similar to the symptoms of dehydration but more extreme. For example, spasms may become seizures. Your pet may become sick and/or lose consciousness. Heat stroke is extremely serious. In fact, it can easily be fatal. You must therefore do everything possible to prevent it. If it does happen, you must act immediately to cool and hydrate your pet.
Air conditioning and pets
Air conditioning can be a safe and beneficial option for pets, particularly during hot summer months. However, it’s important to take certain precautions to ensure their safety and well-being.
Dominic Little, Director of Chill Air Conditioning commented, “Air conditioning is not just safe for pets, it actively benefits them. Of course, the installation must be done in a pet-friendly way. This includes controlling the temperature carefully, changing air filters regularly, performing regular maintenance checks, and ensuring the noise levels are not too high.”
Some examples of this should it include, ensuring cables are out of site and protected from curious paws and teeth. This is, however, standard safety procedure in any case. By following these precautions, you can help keep your pets safe and comfortable while enjoying the benefits of air conditioning in your home.
Air con or fans?
Many pet owners will already be using fans to keep their pets cool in hot weather. Fans are certainly a lot better than nothing. Air conditioning does, however, offer three key advantages over them.
Firstly, air conditioning actually does cool the air. Fans just move air with the result that warm air is pushed to a new location and replaced by less warm air. Air conditioning also cools larger spaces more effectively than fans.
Secondly, air conditioning actually cleans the air. This is particularly relevant in summer when the air can be filled with pollutants such as pollen and dust.
Thirdly, air conditioning can dehumidify the air. This makes breathing easier for everyone, particularly for dogs.