Forget cool cats - this season's best-dressed pets in the UAE are dogs decked out with ingenious clothing that can combat the soaring summer heat and its dangerous effects, writes Rym Ghazal.
Fluffy, a German shepherd, would whimper and dread going out for walks during the day, preferring to stay indoors until sunset.
Then Annie, her caretaker, bought Fluffy a cooling collar that she saw at a pet store, and while Fluffy tried to bite it initially, she got accustomed to it and now likes it.
"I see a difference. She is happy to go out now with this special collar as it is keeping her cool around her neck, and I think she likes its red colour," says Annie, who works in marketing.
"It is not a huge difference; she still pants and does get hot, but it helps keep her cool," she says.
So Fluffy - or Butch or Stanley, or whatever the dog's name may be - can enjoy cooler walks wearing specialised cooling collars, vests or mats that can now be found across UAE pet stores.
Dutch-based company IZI BodyCooling, which has specialised in cooling products for people - for both sporting and medical purposes - since 2008, has recently expanded its range to include pet products.
Coming in red or blue, and in different sizes, the special non-toxic cooling compounds in the products are activated by either submerging them in cold water or by putting them in the freezer. They then provide cooling effects for up to 24 hours.
"It doesn't mean you can leave them longer in the heat or go out at the hottest times of the day," warns Dr Rachel Ballantyne, the scientific support manager at the Saint Vincent Group, a wholesale distributor of pet-related supplies that brought over these special cooling devices.
With temperatures reaching 50°C at the moment, not taking proper care of pets in the heat can result in dehydration, heatstroke and even death.
Prices for the IZI products across the range vary depending on the size and make-up, from a small cooling collar fleece for Dh51 up to a large fleece cooling vest for Dh303.
There are several types that work in slightly different ways. For instance, the cooling bandana consists of a collar with "hydrogel" and a bandana of fleece. The fleece part just needs to be submerged in cold water and squeezed out gently, then cools the dog by evaporation. The hydrogel cools with a patented two-in-one principle of evaporation and freezing; after putting it into water, you put it in the fridge or freezer, and, when worn by the dog, it will slowly melt over time.
But Ballantyne says the vests are no replacement for common sense.
"Under no circumstance should a pet be left inside a car, even with open windows, nor outside in the garden during the peak hours. No collar or vest or mat will help a pet in such a hot situation."
The British Veterinary Centre in Abu Dhabi also carries a variety of cooling vests for dogs. The Guardian Gear vests range from Dh109 for small sizes to Dh136 for extra large, specifically covering a dog's neck and upper bellies - areas that shed heat faster - with cooling effects lasting for up to six hours under normal conditions; though, the UAE summer can hardly be considered "normal".
"The vests are definitely effective," says Britney Santos, an intern at the centre. "They last for about an hour after I take them out of the freezer, but I wouldn't want to be out for an hour myself, so it works well."
Santos has a collie and a Shetland sheepdog; not exactly breeds native to hot regions, but she is well aware of their limitations and takes extra precautions to protect them from the heat.
"We keep them inside except for short walks," she says. "If we walk them, we go early morning or late evening, and we make sure the vests are on and they get lots of water."
Dr Ahmad Jakish, a veterinarian at the Abu Dhabi clinic, says too many people don't understand what it takes to keep dogs safe.
"We get at least two [heat-stress cases with dogs] a month, sometimes more. There are times when I get two in the same day. Unfortunately, they are usually very bad cases. Ninety per cent of the time we can't save them.
"Once they come in, we try to cool them down right away; we turn the fan on, we put ice packs on them, we put an IV line in and give them a lot of fluids. But by the time an owner realises the dog is in danger, it's usually too late."
Signs of hyperthermia include excessive panting, seeking shade, stumbling, staggering gait, redness of tongue or gums, excessive grooming (in cats) and, in extreme cases, collapse, coma and death.
All pets must be provided with water and shade, or they risk getting heat stress or hyperthermia. But some breeds need more than that.
"Many of the breeds here are not meant to live here," says Jakish. "Huskies, for example; they can't last 30 minutes out in the heat. People should stop bringing these animals into the country and focus more on other breeds, such as the saluki. It was bred for this region. That's one of the biggest problems; plus, they leave them outdoors, never indoors. A husky needs AC, it has to be indoors. There are other dogs: German shepherds, golden retrievers; they struggle here. They need to be in the house."
Ballantyne explains that summers pose a risk to dogs because of how their bodies deal with heat.
"What your pet feels at pavement level can be more than 10°C hotter than what we feel at our head level, owing to heat reflected from the ground," says Ballantyne. "Dogs do not sweat to lose heat, so they find it harder to maintain the correct body temperature in the heat. They can only lose heat through panting and through sweat glands in their paws."
The collars and vests are too big for cats, but the IZI cooling mats can be used for our feline friends, depending on the need.
Though non-toxic, meanwhile, the pet's use of the cooling products should be supervised at all times.
In general, during the summer, out of mercy and in line with Islamic teaching, fresh water should be left out or given to thirsty animals. On two separate narrations in the Quran, the virtue of saving the life of a dog by giving it water and quenching its thirst are mentioned. On one occasion, a man is blessed by Allah for giving water to a thirsty dog. The other is a prostitute, who fills her shoe with water and gives it to a dog that was lolling its tongue in thirst. For this deed, she was granted the ultimate reward of heaven.
"Pet owners should be careful with their pets even before the really hot weather sets in, as it may feel OK for us, but it is too hot for our pets," says Ballantyne.
"People should walk their dogs on grass and away from hard pavements as much as they can. Some buy their pets booties that help, but regardless, whatever they put on to help them cool off, caution should be taken to avoid hot times of the day and leaving them out in the heat for a long time."
Equipped with her special collar, Fluffy may soon also be getting a pair of booties, as summer temperatures and the humidity have reached their uncomfortable peaks.
"Pets are family. I will get Fluffy whatever she needs to feel comfortable," says Annie. "Hopefully I can find booties that will match the red cooling collar."
Never leave your dog in a parked car The heat inside a car without air conditioning can be 10°C hotter or more than the outside air. Plus, the pooch may get excited by passers-by, working themselves up and becoming even hotter
Avoid midday heat Take advantage of the cooler temperatures in the morning or the evening for walks; this will help your comfort levels, as well
Keep them hydrated Keep bowls of fresh, cool water at home at all times for Fido, but bring a bottle and a small bowl along for walks, too
Use doggie booties Have you ever tried to walk across sand or asphalt in your bare feet in summer? Help your dog out by fitting them with pet booties to protect their paws from the searing heat
Know your dog Pets with flatter faces, such as pugs, Pekingese or Boston terriers, cannot pant as effectively as other breeds, which makes it more difficult to cool down. Older and overweight dogs may also require more attention to the signs of dehydration when outside
Cooling from the bottom up A nice, cool spray of water or cold towel works wonders, but don’t forget your dog’s belly and paws, as he sheds heat faster there than from his back
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