Protect Pets, Strays From Heatwave

t was the plaintive meowing that drew Judith Xavier to the little  kitten – white with a few black spots – in a drain, exhausted and shivering from the heat and then rain.

“She was about two weeks old. She looked like she had just opened her eyes,” she told Bernama.

She took the kitten to the vet but the kitten was too exhausted and had been exposed to the elements for too long. The kitten could not eat or drink and soon died.

Judith has been the manager of Seri Talam Cat Gallery and Cafe in Taman Sri Rampai here, which takes in stray cats, for years so she has seen her fair share of kitten and cat deaths while trying to rescue them.

Yet the kitten’s death upset her because it had been dumped to weather the harsh elements at such a young age. 

Keep cats and other pets indoors for their safety from the heatwave and other dangers. Illustrative photo. -- fotoBERNAMA (2024) COPYRIGHT RESERVED

Judith said the cats in the cafe gallery, which houses 140 cats, are feeling the heat as well, preferring to lie on the cool bathroom floor. Outside, more stray cats are seeking relief in the building where the cafe is located.

Although the heatwave – which occurs when temperatures of 35 degrees Celsius and above are recorded over three continuous days –  that Malaysia has been experiencing since March is waning, Judith and other animal experts warn that pet owners and animal lovers should still take steps to protect the animals’ health and well-being.  



In a statement issued on Tuesday (April 23), the Malaysian Meteorological Department (MET Malaysia) said the heatwave is ongoing albeit nearing the end. Despite that, many hot spots remain in Malaysia. To date, 51 cases of heat-related illnesses have been reported including 13 heat stroke cases. There were three heat-related deaths.

There is no data on pets and strays but they suffer from the heatwave nonetheless. Animal groups say most of the strays in Malaysia are abandoned or dumped pets, whose numbers spiked after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Malaysian Small Animal Veterinary Association (MSAVA) President Dr. Tan Check Nam and a pet dog. Supplied photo.

Malaysian Small Animal Veterinary Association president Dr Tan Check Nam told Bernama that heat most commonly affected dogs, cats and rabbits. 

“And the most common sign that an animal is under heat stress is that it can get dehydrated. And also if we don’t really manage the condition well, then the animal will have heat stroke,” he continued.

Symptoms include vomiting, salivating more than usual, and neurological signs like seizures and diarrhoea. Untreated, the animal can die or sustain damage to the liver and kidneys. Obesity can also affect how well the animal can deal with heat.

As dogs and cats are natural purgers, as in they will vomit to clear the system of unwanted food, fur or material, it may be difficult for some pet owners to ascertain whether their pet is coughing up a hairball, for instance, or feeling ill from the heat.

Dr Tan said the serious vomiting would come with other symptoms. such as lethargy and loss of appetite.

To prevent heat-related illnesses, he said pets should be kept indoors as much as possible with access to plenty of clean water. He stressed rabbits also need water.

“Owners think rabbits don't need to drink water. They (think rabbits) can take water from fruits or from some vegetables. So they never offer water to rabbits,” he said. 

He also cautioned that rabbits suffering from heat stroke will exhibit different symptoms from cats and dogs. The main one is paralysis.

Rabbits need to drink water, especially in hot conditions. --fotoBERNAMA (2024) HAKCIPTA TERPELIHARA

Stray Animals Foundation Malaysia president R. Kalaivanan told Bernama the same advice applies to strays.

“(If possible,) people should bring them indoors, or put them in shaded areas with proper ventilation. They must also have clean water,” he said. 

He said they should also brush and groom the animals due to fur shedding as this would help the animals keep cool.

His organisation, which also accepts reports of animal cruelty, provides drinking water at stray feeding stations in some locations in the Klang Valley. Its other activities include street feeding programmes for strays and assisting animal shelters.  

Kalaivanan added that pet owners or animal lovers should avoid engaging the animals in outdoor activities during the hottest part of the day.

Locking or leaving a pet in the car under the hot sun is another no-no.

Likening it to a microwave, Dr Tan said animals, like small children, can quickly deteriorate within 10 to 15 minutes in a hot environment.

Dr Tan, who runs a veterinary practice in Johor, said he sees more dogs suffering from heat-related illnesses than cats, even though the number of heat stroke cases among pets has reduced compared to pre-COVID-19 times.  



The dangers to pets and strays during a heatwave are not restricted to just heat stroke. Although heat stroke affects cats less than dogs, the dangers to cats can come in many ways.

“(Being) outdoors is a bigger threat to cats than heat stroke,” said Dr Tan. “If you leave your cat out, I think (they are more at risk of) car accidents, or being bitten by dogs.”

Stray dogs. Illustrative photo. --fotoBERNAMA (2024) COPYRIGHT RESERVED

Judith agreed, saying she has seen many cats hiding under cars to escape the heat and then getting run over.

As such, the experts urged families not to turn their pets into temporary strays when they go on vacation, for example, during the school holidays. The first term school holidays are set to begin May 24 and end June 2.

Judith said it is dangerous for families to leave their pets, usually cats, outdoors to fend for themselves when they go on a vacation. And if the pet is not spayed or neutered, they may get pregnant and their offspring dumped.

“(The pets) don't know what to do when you dump them. They actually don't know how to care for themselves. They don't know how to, like, you know, fend for themselves. So they tend to get into higher risk,” she said.

She added she would see the number of strays around her cafe spiking during long holidays.

One option is to board a pet at a pet hotel. However, Dr Tan cautioned that not all pets are suited for boarding places as some animals may be too high-strung and anxious to deal with unfamiliar noises and scents.

“If it is up to me, the best environment for pets will still be at home. Because if you bring them to the pet boarding centre, definitely it is a change of environment. It stresses the animals,” he said.




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