Living in South Florida as I do, you think I’d be used to hot weather. Truth is, I hate extreme heat every bit as much as any self-respecting northern latitude lover might. Which is bad for me, seeing as climate change predictions call for more extreme weather everywhere, but especially in already relatively extreme locales like mine.
Unfortunately, it’s not just the heat. Rising tides, more frequent and forceful storms, and the general unpredictability of it all isn’t just bad for business as usual and life as we know it, it’s also proving bad for animal health – or so say some animal health experts.
Some animal scientists contend it’s not just polar bears that might be cast adrift by warming weather in some spots and shifting water levels in others. Indeed, I’ve heard climate change associated with everything from a dramatic increase in heat stroke among dogs to a worrying uptick in ticks and the diseases they carry.
To be sure, wildlife is far more at risk than our domesticated pets. But that doesn’t mean dogs and cats won’t suffer. It’s inevitable that any progressive and potentially dramatic destabilization in the already-disorderly nature of the weather is bound to exert its influence on the health of our entire planet –– pets included.
But where do experts predict the serious trouble lies?
It’s a pressing question for veterinarians, seeing as our working lives revolve around animal health, but it’s also, indisputably, an urgent matter for anyone whose personal lives are pet-centric. Hence, why I thought I’d offer you a brief primer on how the animals in our lives may one day be affected by the changing planet we live on (if they’ve not been already).
To that end, here are some areas of intense speculation:
High-impact natural disasters
Because natural disasters like storms, floods, and droughts usually have a disproportionate impact on animal health, climate change threatens our domesticated animal populations unduly.
So-called high-impact disasters like Superstorm Sandy are a perfect example of how domesticated animals fare worse than their humans. Not only have a great many dogs and cats been remanded to shelter care in Sandy’s wake, but an entire population of lab mice drowned in a basement-level laboratory at New York University.
This, among other recent examples of animal displacement and death, illustrates perfectly how natural disasters can have an outsized influence on animal lives.
Less dramatic climatic events
Though less dramatic than high-impact events like hurricanes, droughts and other slow-moving disasters have killed countless US animals in recent years. The rising cost of grain, for example, has led to more equine abandonment and outright starvation than most Americans know. In fact, drought and the steep cost of horse feed is almost certainly the single biggest driving force behind the call to bring back equine slaughter.
Because climates are not only warming northward but shifting also from wet to dry and vice versa, disease-causing parasites, pathogens, and the animals that carry them are also on the move. The upshot for the US, at least, is a wider range for these diseases, most of which animals –– pets included –– are much more at risk for.
Tick-borne diseases, for example, are already on the rise. In fact, Lyme disease in North America is making an especially big splash in places once considered Lyme-free. The range of heartworm is also moving northward as the mosquito’s range expands into uncharted territories.
Climate change’s single biggest impact on domesticated animal populations may be to the domesticated cat. A longer feline reproductive season way well yield a seasonal explosion in kitten populations heretofore unheard of in some locales.
The direct effects of heat can be staggering, especially to dogs. As more of the US is exposed to increasing temperatures, owners once unaware of the very real risk of heat stroke for their pets may confront crises they’re not yet equipped to deal with due to simple ignorance.
Both long- and short-term effects of climate change will invariably mean human migration as sea levels rise, storms crush homes, and humans are displaced. As we all unfortunately recognize, when humans move, many animals are left behind. An increasingly transient mass of humanity does not bode well for pets.
Though your pets may seem safe inside your home, rest assured that plenty more will be at greater risk than ever before. Do your part to mitigate the risk of serious disease, trauma, and death by paying attention to how your area’s climate is changing. Do you know which way your weather’s headed?