Hot dogs are obvious, they pant, they sweat, but unlike their canine cousins, cats are never obvious. A cat that becomes overheated will try to cool down by staying out of the sun, keeping still and drinking water. Being unable to sweat, these ineffective methods are their only choices, so if a cat is stuck in a boiling hot house or car it will quickly become overheated and at risk of heatstroke. So how can you help your kitty friend keep cool when the heat is on?
Provide a Cool Environment
- Keep the curtains or blinds closed in one room to keep it cool
- Run a fan or turn on the air conditioning
- Leave windows and doors open as much as possible to create a through breeze
- Place fans in front of open windows and doors to move air through the house and to cool it down
- Make sure fan blades are safely secured inside cages so they are safe for your cat
- Keep your cat indoors during the hottest part of the day, 10am-4pm
- Provide different spots in cooler areas, both close to and further away from fans, air con or windows
- In the garden, provide shaded spots for all ties of day as the sun moves round, you could use umbrellas, gazebos, and even tables or large pot plants
Create a cool, dark retreat pod for your cat by placing a large cardboard box on its side in a quiet, out of the way place. In a closet, behind a chair, or in another cool spot would be ideal. Place a piece of cotton or thin terry towel in the bottom. You can also place an ice pack inside a sock or cotton bag and pop it in there for added cool, but make sure it's the rigid plastic type that kitty won't be able to pierce.
Let your cat choose their best spot: many will lie in the wash basin as the porcelain stays cool even when it's hot everywhere else. Tiled floors are also popular, so leave bathroom, kitchen and laundry/utility room doors open. If they find a good spot and are happy, let them be. You can always wash your hands elsewhere, surely?
Save playing games and having fun for late evening and allow your cat to be completely sedentary on hot days. Ten minutes with the laser pen or tiger tail before bedtime is better than wearing a hot cat out during the day. Encourage them to take it easy and in a multi-cat household, encourage everyone to find their own cool spot to avoid fights. A Feliway plug-in might help keep the peace when hot and bothered tempers fray.
Inside Out: Water
Provide several dishes of clean, fresh drinking water at all times. Wide bowls, such as dog bowls or even pasta bowls, are ideal. Cats don't like their whiskers to touch the sides of the bowl, so wider dishes will encourage them to drink more.
Change the water at least once a day, and keep it topped up at all times. Some cats may prefer to drink cold water from the fridge, or even to drink from a short tumbler glass (our Misha is one of these!) Try placing ice cubes in your cat's water dishes to keep the temperature down as air temperature soars, but be lead by your cat as some will hate this.
You could also invest in a cat drinking fountain as a lot of cats prefer to drink running water. These can either be plumbed in or have a reservoir to store the water in. Research carefully before buying. You could also leave the bath tap dripping into a container in the bath as many cats and kittens will happily lap from the drip as well as the container, and may even play in the water when hot. Bliss for hot potato paws!
Your cat may show preference for wet food when it's hot as the moisture content is obviously higher than dried. Even if you usually only serve dried food, it may be worth offering wet too for the period of hot weather. Return to your cat's food bowls after they have finished and discard or refrigerate any leftover wet food to avoid flies and bacteria.
Always check outbuildings such as sheds and greenhouses before you close the doors and windows so that a cat, either your own or someone else's, isn't trapped in a space that will heat up fast.
Cool a hot cat down with damp towels. Simply dampen a cloth or thin towel with cool water and gently stroke your cat from head to base of tail. Some cats may even enjoy lying on the damp towel.
Brush longer haired cats every day. Matted fur traps heat and stops the flow of cool air through the cat's coat. First thing in the morning is the best time for this. Do NOT shave your cat, as this will expose their skin to the sun, risking burning and cancer. That fur actually works to keep the heat out, which is why cats' hair often stands on end to let the air through. Check for fleas and ticks regularly and treat accordingly.
Check your cats paw pads for insect stings and sunburn daily. If stung by a bee, remove the stinger carefully with tweezers, then cover in a paste made from bicarbonate of soda and water. For wasp stings, bathe the area with diluted lemon juice or vinegar.
Ideally, your cat should not travel in a car during hot weather, but if unavoidable (e.g. you are moving house), keep the air conditioning on or the windows open for ventilation, and do not cover the cat carrier at all. Consider making your journey at night, and bring iced water along to give to your cat regularly. Never, whatever the temperature, leave a cat unattended in a car.
But what if the worst happens, how can you recognise heatstroke?
- excessive panting
- rapid breathing
- bright pink ears
- hot paw pads
- inability to stand
If you think your cat is suffering from heatstroke, place her on a cool surface, such as a tiled floor, immediately. Place a fan nearby and direct it towards your cat to start removing some of the heat. Then wipe her down with cool damp cloths and place cool some over her paws. Supply cool drinking water, but not too cold as the extreme change of temperature may cause shock. If she is too weak to drink, try to moisten her gums with a wet cloth or your finger. DO NOT dunk your cat in water.
Having done all this, call your vet for advice. She may need to be admitted for observation and be given intravenous fluids.
Help your feline friend enjoy the summer with you with our top tips for preventing heatstroke.