How Global Warming Affects Your Pet

global warmingThis year, 2016, is on track to be one of the warmest on record. While not everyone ascribes to the global warming theory, those that do will be concerned about the impact of climate change on their pets’ well-being.

Expansion of Disease Vectors
Some diseases, like canine influenza, are transmitted from one dog to another. Diseases like heartworms and Lyme disease require a vector. A vector is a small organism responsible for transmitting a disease. Mosquitoes transmit heartworms via their bite and ticks transmit Lyme disease the same way. Global warming could increase the number of disease vectors if the warmer environment sends vector reproduction into overdrive. Global warming can also expand the range of vector as they move north with the warmer weather. The net is an explosion of vector-borne disease in pets.

Habitat Changes
Another factor potentially affecting vector and the diseases they carry is habitat changes resulting from changes in climate. Populations of vectors are kept in check by larger animals such as birds, bats and large insects. Climate changes can modify the number of vector predators and if the modification results in a decrease in predators, the vectors will increase. An increase in vectors is likely to result in an increase in the disease they transmit.

Feline Overpopulation
In female cats, the mating season is tied to the longer days of springtime; however some experts report a feral kitten and cat population explosion that appears to coincide with higher environmental temperatures. The cause of the population explosion is unclear. Does the warmer weather increase the number of kittens born or do more kittens survive because winter is more temperate? If more kittens survive winter and become adults, there are then more cats to reproduce the following spring, setting up a vicious cycle of feline overpopulation.

Pets and Natural Disasters
One feature of global warming is an increase in natural disasters like flooding, landslides and forest fires. When these natural disasters displace humans, pets suffer. Following Hurricane Katrina, many pets were separated from their families and never reclaimed. As a direct result of Katrina, when many folks would not evacuate because their pets were not welcome in storm shelters, an animal facility was built at a Louisiana state prison. Now, pets displaced by the recent flooding in Baton Rouge whose families have moved to shelters which cannot accommodate them are being moved to the prison facility. Inmate trustees will care for them until they can be reunited with their families. But not every locale has such a good system for managing displaced pets during a crisis and an increase in natural disasters will result in more homeless pets.

Changes in Human Behavior
Higher ambient temperatures change our behavior, which in turn impacts our pets. When the temperature soars in the summer, we keep our pets inside, avoiding heatstroke and heat exhaustion. But the lack of exercise can result in obesity and the lack of mental stimulation in boredom and behavior disorders like separation anxiety.

Like the potential impact of global warming on humans, the effect on pets may be significant and may directly impact their health. Just another really good reason to support measures to decrease our carbon footprints and pawprints!

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