A recent heat wave has kept most of the USA in temperatures well above 80 degrees Fahrenheit and brought pet issues with the heat to the forefront. For example, anyone who has been paying attention to pets in the media this summer has seen a renewed focus on warning owners not to leave dogs in hot cars. It’s great for this problem to get a lot of publicity, and hopefully fewer dogs will suffer heatstroke or even death as more people are aware of how easily this can happen. Obviously, the same rules apply to cats. Here are six things to keep in mind to keep your "cool cat" comfortable and healthy in the hottest days of summer.
1. Cats in Cars
If you are bringing your cat to the veterinarian, groomer, or boarding facility, do not leave him or her in the carrier while you run other errands during the summer. It only takes 10 minutes for the temperature in your car to rise 20 degrees Fahrenheit and cracking the windows does not mitigate the temperature rise. If it is sunny and over 60 degrees, do not leave your pet in the car.
2. Ventilation at Home
What about at home, though? How hot is too hot for cats? Cats are generally quite heat-tolerant since they evolved in the desert and can thrive in almost any country in the world. Most of the time, your cat will be fine at home on a very hot day, even without air conditioning. It’s important to make sure they have a well-ventilated area, though, because a sunny closed room or an attic space directly under the roof can mimic a closed car and intensify the heat. If you’re able to provide air conditioning, that’s optimal, but even leaving a fan on and a window open (with a pet-proof screen!) will help them to be more comfortable.
It’s important for cats to have access to fresh water all year, but it’s especially important in the warmer months. Make sure that you refresh the water in the water bowl at least once a day to make sure the water source is inviting. Some cats very much enjoy ice cubes in their water bowls, or even as toys to lick at and play with on the floor. Freezing cubes of cat-safe (ie. garlic and onion-free) chicken broth or tuna juice can also encourage cats to have a cool and hydrating treat. Providing a cat fountain may also tempt your cat to drink more. Finally, adding a splash of water to your cat’s canned food is a good idea year-round to ensure adequate hydration.
For cats who go outside, make sure they have access to a shady area or are able to come inside whenever they feel like they have gotten enough sun. Make sure fresh water is also available outdoors so that your cat doesn’t have to choose between coming inside and staying hydrated.
5. Health-challenged Cats
Just as for humans, some types of cats may have extra trouble with the heat and warrant special attention. Elderly cats and cats with kidney disease can be more prone to dehydration, which can be exacerbated in the hotter months. These cats must always have easy access to inviting sources of fresh water. It’s also a good idea to limit the time they spend outdoors or even lying in sunbeams when it’s very hot because they may not realize they are getting overheated or dehydrated. Cats with allergic bronchial disease (asthma) or congestive heart failure may have more trouble breathing in hot and humid weather. Air conditioning is a good idea because it cools, dehumidifies and filters allergens out of the air. Paying special attention to the effort that goes into breathing is also warranted. Call your veterinarian if you feel that your cat’s breathing looks more labored or rapid.
Heatstroke in cats is rare but it’s important to know what to look for. It’s not unusual for cats to be less active or eat a little less than normal during the hot weather, but if your cat is very lethargic, hiding, or has a severely decreased appetite, he could be starting to experience heat exhaustion. More severe cases of heatstroke can show symptoms of shock like collapse, difficulty breathing, vomiting and diarrhea. Seek veterinary care immediately to make sure your cat’s temperature is not elevated above normal and to receive appropriate care if necessary.
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