How to Keep Your Cat Safe This Summer: A Vet’s Guide to Heat, Parasites & More

by | Jun 30, 2024

Liza Cahn, DVM

Summertime brings sunshine, warmth, and outdoor fun, but it’s important to remember that our feline friends have unique needs when it comes to staying safe and healthy during this season. Some of the things we love most about summer, such as the hot weather, tasty treats, and fireworks, can actually pose a threat to our cats. Learn about essential cat summer safety tips to keep your cat protected. 

Heatstroke and Dehydration 

Heatstroke is a life-threatening condition in which the body temperature becomes too high (over 104 F), leading to severe complications such as organ damage, seizures, and death. While the term heat stroke may conjure up an image of a dog left in a hot car, it’s important to remember that cats are also susceptible, especially brachycephalic breeds (those with short noses, such as Persians), young kittens or seniors, and those with underlying medical conditions. Whether your cat is indoors only or goes outside, it’s important to make sure that they always have access to shelter, shade, and fresh water. Be vigilant for signs of cat heatstroke, like panting, lethargy, drooling, vomiting, red gums, disorientation, seizures, and collapse. If you suspect your cat has heatstroke, urgent veterinary care is needed. 

Water is an essential nutrient, and while it’s always important to make sure that your cat has easy access to plenty of fresh water, this is especially true during hot weather. Cats with underlying medical conditions, such as kidney disease, diabetes, or gastrointestinal disease, are at higher risk of dehydration. Feeding a canned diet or flavoring water with a small amount of tuna water or low-sodium chicken broth can also help increase your cat’s fluid intake. If you notice signs of dehydration, such as dry, tacky gums, sunken eyes, and prolonged skin tent, contact your veterinarian. 

Sunburn

Just like us, cats can also get sunburned from being in the hot sun for long periods of time. Cats with white or light colored fur are especially susceptible to sunburn, which can lead to skin damage or even skin cancer, especially on non-furred areas such as ears, nose, and belly. To help prevent sun damage and heat stroke, it’s best to keep your cat indoors during the hottest part of the day (typically 10 am to 4 pm) and apply a pet-safe sunscreen if needed. 

Pesky Parasites

Summer is peak season for fleas, ticks, and mosquitoes, and these tiny critters can cause big problems for your cat. Fleas can lead to severe itching, skin irritation, and even anemia, while ticks can transmit dangerous diseases, like Lyme, to both pets and people. Mosquitoes, meanwhile, pose the threat of heartworm disease, a serious and potentially fatal condition in cats.

Fortunately, there are many effective ways to protect your cat from these pests. Broad-spectrum flea, heartworm, and intestinal parasite preventatives come in various forms, including topical treatments that are applied to the skin, oral medications, and collars. Keep in mind that certain products made for dogs are toxic for cats. Prescription products from your veterinarian are the safest and most effective way to keep your cat parasite-free, and should be used year-round on both indoor and outdoor cats. 

Summer Gatherings and Parties

Any change in routine can be stressful for cats, and this includes parties or gatherings. Consider keeping your cat in a separate room with food, water, and litter. If you do choose to let your cat mingle with guests, they may feel safer with a hiding place, a high perch from which to watch the festivities, and an easy escape route. 

With doors opening and closing frequently, it’s easy for a cat to slip out unnoticed. Microchipping your cat is a simple, safe, and effective way to protect them if they ever get lost. These tiny chips are injected under the skin and contain a unique ID number that can be scanned at shelters or vet clinics. In addition to having your vet implant the microchip, it’s crucial to register your contact information in a national database, and make sure that it remains up to date. If you have an outdoor cat, it’s also a good idea to have them wear a break-away collar with ID tags.

Tempting Treats

Chocolate, grapes, onions, garlic, xylitol (a sugar substitute), fatty foods, alcohol, salt, corn on the cob, and meat with bones are common barbeque delicacies that are especially dangerous to your cat. Ingestion can lead to minor issues such as gastrointestinal upset or more severe conditions including anemia, pancreatitis, organ failure, and life-threatening intestinal obstructions. Educate your guests about not sharing human food with your cat, keep these items out of reach, and secure garbage bins to prevent your cat from scavenging any leftovers. If you would like your cat to partake, it’s generally safe to offer them small pieces of plain (unseasoned) cooked meat, veggies, and fruits. Just avoid anything on this list and check with your vet if you have any questions or concerns. 

Plants and Pesticides 

Summer often brings a burst of greenery and flowers, but it’s important to be aware of potential hazards in your garden or bouquet. Many common plants, such as lilies, tulips, and azaleas, are toxic to cats and can cause serious illness if ingested. Lillies are especially dangerous – a bite out of a petal, licking pollen off their nose, or even drinking water from a vase that contained lilies can cause fatal kidney failure in cats. Before bringing new plants into your home or allowing your cat to roam outdoors, check the ASPCA’s list of toxic and non-toxic plants.

Additionally, be mindful of the pesticides and herbicides you use around your home and garden. These chemicals can be harmful to cats if ingested or absorbed through the skin. Opt for pet-safe alternatives or keep your cat indoors during and after application. 

Fireworks 

While we find them exciting, the loud noises and bright flashes of fireworks and cats do not mix, and can lead to a terrifying experience. If you know fireworks are planned in your area, prioritize your cat’s safety by keeping them indoors in a quiet, safe room, with all their needs met. Close the curtains to minimize visual stimuli and create a cozy haven with familiar bedding, toys, and hiding places. Consider playing calming music or white noise to help drown out the sounds of the explosions. 

For cats who are particularly sensitive to loud noises, consider calming aids such as pheromone diffusers, calming supplements or treats, and talk to your vet about prescription anti-anxiety medications. If you think your cat could benefit from medication, be sure to talk to your vet about this well in advance of when you need it. 

Water Safety

While some cats might enjoy a supervised dip in shallow water, most are not natural swimmers and fear water. Never force your cat into water and always supervise them closely around pools, ponds, or other bodies of water. Additionally, be mindful of the chemicals used to treat pools. Chlorine and other chemicals can irritate your cat’s skin and eyes, and if ingested, they can cause serious health problems. If you’re around water with your cat, be sure to offer plenty of fresh water for them to drink, so they aren’t tempted by pools, ponds, or puddles. 

Travel Safety

If you’re planning a summer getaway with your cat, be sure to confine them in a secure carrier during travel, update their identification tags and microchip registration, make sure you have the required documents (such as rabies and health certificates) for interstate or international travel, and take breaks for rest and bathroom needs. Consult your veterinarian for advice on travel medications or other specific recommendations for your cat. As travel can be extremely stressful for cats, it’s often best to leave them at home with a trusted pet sitter. 

Cat Summer Enrichment

 

Whether your cat is indoors only, or you’re trying to avoid the hottest time of day, it’s essential to provide them with exercise, enrichment, and mental stimulation. 

  • Make some tasty frozen treats.
  • Invest in interactive toys, such as puzzle feeders that dispense meals or treats.
  • Hide toys and treats around the house to bring out your cat’s natural hunting instincts. 
  • Cardboard boxes, paper bags, and tunnels can provide hours of fun.
  • Don’t forget the classics: a feather wand, catnip, or a simple toy can go a long way in keeping your cat entertained and active.
  • Provide high perches by the windows or in other visually stimulating areas. 
  • Take your cat out on a leash or use a catio during the cooler parts of the day. 

Whatever you choose, there are plenty of ways to keep your cat engaged, happy, and healthy this summer. 

 

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