Stifling summer weather can be as hazardous to kitties as is to people and dogs. Learn how to protect your feline friend from dehydration and heat stroke.
Cats are the epitome of cool, but that doesn’t necessarily apply during the heat of summer. Although felines evolved in desert environments, and have a built-in mechanism for cooling off – the saliva they use to groom their fur evaporates and cools them – they can still suffer when the weather turns hot and humid. This is especially true of many indoor cats. Cats that live outside instinctively seek out cool locations such as underbrush and shady woodlands, but indoor cats are often limited in their ability to find cool spots to crash.
Check out this list of tips to help your kitty stay comfortable in the heat:
• In excessive heat, especially in southern climates, air conditioning is a godsend for both humans and animals. Use it if your cat seems uncomfortable, especially if he’s older or overweight.
• If you don’t have air conditioning, invest in some fans. Make sure they can’t be knocked over.
• Allow your cat access to cool spots in the house. For example, your basement is probably cooler than an upstairs bedroom. Hardwood floors or tiled surfaces are cooler than carpeting. Some cats even seek out porcelain sinks and bathtubs to snooze in during heat spells.
• Open windows allow housebound kitties to enjoy cool breezes, but make sure screens are secure. Many cats have fallen through unsecured screens or open windows, sometimes from dangerous heights. Just this spring, a kitty named Sugar who lives in a Boston high rise plunged 19 stories from an open window. Thanks to her natural “flying squirrel” ability, she survived with only a bruised lung. But why take the chance? Check screens and windows regularly to make sure they’re safe. Keep a cat tree near the window, or install a window perch, so your cat can enjoy the air in comfort.
• A shady, screened porch is a great place for cats to hang out, but again, make sure the screens are secure.
• Another alternative is an outdoor cat enclosure. Just be sure it offers plenty of shade on hot days, and that you provide your cat with a bowl of clean, fresh water.
• Since shedding is at its peak this time of year, regular combing or brushing is a must. If you have a long-haired kitty that’s prone to serious matting, consider a “lion cut.” It may look a bit odd, but she’ll be cooler and her fur will grow back in. Just don’t embarrass her by telling her how funny she looks!
• Baths are another option, depending on your cat’s level of tolerance. They’re also helpful for soothing itchiness and drowning fleas, another common problem in warm weather. In lieu of a bath, try wiping down your cat’s fur with a damp washcloth – it’s like heavy-duty saliva!
• Consider a cooling bed. These are usually made for dogs, but they can work just as well for cats. You can also try filling a hot water bottle with cool (not cold) water and tuck it into a bed or under a blanket or cushion.
• Consider feeding smaller, more frequent meals, and toss a few ice cubes in your kitty’s water bowl to keep it nice and cool. To help prevent dehydration, be sure to change your cat’s water every day, and add a bit of moisture (either water or the liquid from canned fish) to his meals, especially if he’s accustomed to eating dry food. Some cats prefer running water, so consider a pet fountain.
• Since temperatures usually drop in the evenings, think about taking your kitty out for a stroll after dinner to catch the cooler breezes – secure in a harness, of course, and only if she’s comfortable being outside. Kitty strollers are another safe way to give your cat some fresh air.
• Finally, it should go without saying that it’s very dangerous to leave a cat in a hot car. Even with the windows cracked open, interior temperatures rise very quickly. If you’re traveling with your cat, whether it’s to the vet or the cottage, make sure you remove her carrier from the car whenever you park, even if you’re only stopping for a few minutes. It just takes some common sense and a little extra effort to help your cat stay cool this summer!
Sally E. Bahner specializes in cat-related issues, specifically nutrition, holistic care and behavior. She has offered her services as a feline behavior and care consultant and gives classes on cat care. Sally is the resident cat behavior expert on Tracie Hotchner’s Cat Chat radio program, and a member of the Cat Writers’ Association and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants.