4 Jan 2024

How best to look after your pet's skin

From Summer Times, 11:30 am on 4 January 2024

If you can't leave your hand palm-up on the pavement for five seconds, it's too hot to walk your dog, says Dr Kat Littlewood, a Massey University lecturer in animal welfare and veterinary specialist.

"We don't want to see our dogs out in the middle of the day in the heat because yes, it's not great for them … When do we want to go for a walk? when it's cooler in the evening or in the morning. Do that with dogs, as well."

close up of dog's face

Photo: Lum3n / Pexels

How to treat skin irritation

In the summertime, dogs and cats can easily get skin irritations due to seasonal allergies or long grass, Kat says.

Sometimes it can be tricky to work out what is irritating them, but if they get a rash first try and keep them away from long grass, she suggests.

"A lot of us actually have allergies to long grass or to long weeds ... but we wash our hands a lot and get rid of that residue. Cats and dogs don't wash that off half as much so it's going to be staying on there."

Kat recommends giving your pet a rinse-down with water if they've been in long grass or when their skin is irritated.

"As someone that has sensitive skin myself, I definitely have to rinse myself off after I've been in seawater because the salt can dry on my skin and irritate it. So just thinking you know, like, for people that have sensitive skin, what do we do - we make sure we wash after we've been in harsh environments, we might apply barrier cream as well, get some creams that might help. So it's very similar."

Hot spots (skin infections) on dogs are quite common and if they're not healing, a vet can help.

"The vet would clip the area and just cool it down and apply some ointment ... we'll take a skin scrape as well to make sure there's no infection or any other bugs … Some of these skin conditions actually can result in an infection, with little bugs can start coming into the area. But yeah, definitely have a visit to the vet and see if we can cut that area and then clean it up."

Avoid giving human medicine

There are special antihistamines for dogs and cats but consult a vet before using those, Kat says.

"If I gave my cat ibuprofen, for example, that'd be really bad ... it's really bad for their kidneys. Some of the drugs that we use are just too much for our animals. So definitely be really careful and make sure you're talking to a vet about which [over-the-counter] drugs are safe to use."

As far as natural remedies for animal skin, oatmeal baths are a good first option, Kat says.

"Oatmeal baths can be quite soothing for a lot of animals and I find them quite helpful myself. Sometimes when it gets worse, we might need to have some medication that we can only get from a vet on prescription."

An orange fluffy cat lies on their back with their eyes shut and a paw resting on their cheek.

Photo: Unsplash

Last month, senior veterinarian doctor Ian Schraa spoke to RNZ about keeping pets safe this summer:

Don't leave your dog in a hot car

Schraa gave a stern warning to the owners of Pekingese, pugs, bulldogs and French bulldogs who he says can expire very quickly when overheated.

"It can happen with any dog but those short-nose dogs which are quite popular these days, especially the Frenchies, it's really tragic ... Those dogs can go in 10 minutes, especially if it's a hot day.

"Basically try not have your dog in the car if you're not there. But if you do, you should have it in the shade with a window open so air can circulate."

Be aware of hot paws

Walking on hot pavements with bare feet is tough for humans - and our furry friends can also burn their paws and get ulcers.

Schraa said the main thing was to not overdo the walks and build up their paw tolerance slowly.

"When we walk a dog, often we'll have walked a kilometre and they'll have worked two because they're all over the place if they're off-lead."

"It's like us, our feet harden up over summer, they're a bit soft at the start and the sand feels hot but the soles get thicker as we walk around in bare feet. It's getting them used to it but not overdoing it."

He recommends walking your dog at dusk or dawn when it's cooler outdoors.

Your pet may need sunblock, too

Pets with white or ginger fur need to be monitored a bit for sun exposure, Schraa said.

"Unfortunately, skin cancer in cats is quite common on the tips of their ears and nose, especially if they're white or poorly pigmented," said Schraa.

"It's not a melanoma like in humans ... it's a sunburn initially and then it becomes cancerous and it's a sore that doesn't heal itself."

"The best thing is prevention. We can't do the slip, slop, slap like for humans but we can put sunblock on and there are animal-specific ones ... on their ears, round their nose and those white dogs, if they're a sunbather, on their bellies."

Watch out for toxic algae

While you're out enjoying the sunshine with your pets this summer, Schraa warns owners to watch out for toxic algae in stagnant water.

"That's a real problem these days in New Zealand... That happens where there's stagnant water and the water evaporates and the concentration of the algae increases and the dog laps it up."

"It's very fast, they can die within thirty minutes. So you should have your dog on a lead."