The summer months in California, Arizona, and Nevada are hot, sunny, and dry. From mid-July to mid-September high temperatures frequently reach the 80s and 90s and occasionally even stretch into the triple digits, each year leading to heat-related illnesses and deaths for both people and their pets. High temperatures can also lead to dehydration, especially for those who live in hot, dry climates. As pet parents, we want our feline family members to remain as healthy and happy as possible, for as long as possible.
When you can’t be there, we can! Give yourself the gift of peace of mind, and call the cat-care experts at The Comforted Kitty before booking your next trip out of town.
While cats may seem indestructible at times, developing an elevated body temperature can quickly result in heat exhaustion and sometimes even progress to heat stroke—a life-threatening medical condition. Cats have a higher natural body temperature, so it takes more to elevate it to dangerous levels, but with fewer sweat glands, and most of those concentrated in the pads of the feet, it can be more difficult for cats to bring their temperatures back down as well. By understanding the causes and symptoms of summer hazards like dehydration, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke, we can better protect and care for our feline family members.
Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke
Heat exhaustion is triggered when the body is exposed to high heat for a prolonged period of time. It is often characterized by panting, an elevated heart rate, and either dry mouth or unexplained drooling. As the cat’s internal temperature rises, the condition changes from heat exhaustion to heat stroke, a serious and sometimes fatal condition. If your cat exhibits any of the following symptoms, get your pet out of the heat and contact a veterinary professional immediately.
- Abdominal pain
- Dry mouth
- Extremely pale or white gums
- Fever (especially over 104)
- Loss of appetite
- Noisy, shallow breathing
- Sticky saliva
- Trouble swallowing
- Wet paw prints (from excessive sweating)
While you are contacting the veterinarian, you can try to safely reduce your cat’s core temperature in a few ways. You can offer them small licks of ice water, wipe them down with a damp washcloth, or apply wrapped cold packs to the back of the legs, the belly, or to the back of the head and the neck.
Dehydration occurs when moisture is lost from the body faster than it’s replaced. In many cases, cats become dehydrated because they don’t simply don’t ingest enough fluids throughout the day to replace the fluids lost by sweating, but other conditions can also cause dehydration. Symptoms like panting, minor tenting of the skin, and rapid breathing can all indicate that your pet is suffering a case of mild dehydration. Worsening dehydration may result in loss of energy, sunken eyes, and a refusal to eat or drink. While heat exhaustion and heat stroke are directly triggered by heat, dehydration can occur with or without high temperatures. Increased temperatures do, however, increase the chance that dehydration will become a problem.
If your pet is showing signs of dehydration, you can encourage them to get some liquid into their system by adding a small amount of chicken broth or tuna juice to their water, offering them wet food instead of dry, or offering them water in a different type of bowl. You should also inform your veterinarian about any symptoms your cat is exhibiting. They may ask you to visit the office with your cat to rule out diseases like diabetes, chronic kidney disease, and hyperthyroidism.
While pet parents in hot climates like California, Arizona, and Nevada must have a good working knowledge about what to do in the event that their furbabies develop heat exhaustion or dehydration, it is even more crucial to understand how to prevent the conditions from occurring in the first place.
Any cat can be affected by extreme temperatures, but some cats are more prone to problems than others. Keep an extra close eye on cats that are overweight, brachycephalic, thick-furred, or elderly, as well as those that have never been exposed to extreme heat.
Here are a few effective ways to prevent dehydration, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke.
Keep your Cat Indoors
Keeping your feline family member indoors during the warm summer days not only protects them from the worst of the heat it also protects them from becoming the victim of larger predators, like coyotes and mountain lions. It’s important to note, however, that heat exhaustion can occur indoors as well, particularly if there isn’t any air conditioning in the building or the air conditioning is turned off. If you can, leave the air conditioning running, even if you aren’t home.
Pet parents who can’t reconcile with the idea of keeping their cat cooped up inside should at least limit their pet’s exposure to the outdoors during the hottest months, letting them out during the dusk or dawn hours, when it’s cooler out, or training them to walk on a leash, for their own safety.
Exercise at Night
Move any daytime playtime to the evening to take advantage of the cooler temperatures after the sun goes down. Encourage them to conserve energy by napping during the warmer daytime temperatures.
Provide Plenty of Water and Liquid
Cats aren’t known for their love of water, and for many cats, that preferenc seems to extend to drinking water as well. Adding flavorings like chicken broth or tuna juice may entice your cat to drink more water, as can adding a fountain into the home, or leaving a kitchen or bathroom faucet dripping. Switching from kibble to wet food provides your cat with a lot more hydration, and most cats welcome the change. Cats that are reluctant to try wet food may be tempted by mixing the soft food with kibble or by offering puree-style treats that contain a high ratio of liquids to solids.
Pet parents who anticipate being gone for work all day may want to set out bowls of frozen water along with the regular bowls of water. The frozen water will melt throughout the day and will provide additional relief from the heat by remaining cooler than the unfrozen water. This technique is effective indoors and outdoors.
One of your cat’s best tools for controlling their body temperature is their fur. In the winter it provides warmth and in the summer it insulates from the heat. Brushing and combing your cat helps to keep their coat in top shape, removing tangles and knots that might otherwise interfere with its ability to regulate your cat’s temperature.
The dangers associated with the summer sun are present not only for our feline family members, but for feral and other neighborhood cats as well. Despite a previously bad rap, feral cats can be beneficial to a neighborhood. A colony of outdoor cats can reduce the number of rodents in the area, and may serve to decrease isolation by encouraging connections between neighbors who might not otherwise interact. Feral kittens can often be socialized to become household pets once they are old enough. Making neighborhoods feline-friendly benefits not only feral community cats but also any household pets who either are allowed to wander freely or managed to sneak outside.
There are many free or inexpensive things that neighborhoods can do to protect their community cats from the scorching summer sun. A plethora of shady spots in the neighborhood will help keep cats that are outside cool and comfortable and some neighborhoods even create sanctuaries, complete with feral cat houses, within their boundaries for their neighborhood cat colony. This helps to better observe changes in the feral population, capture individual cats for examination and treatment, and control population growth by getting adult cats spayed or neutered. Strategically placing regularly replaced bowls of water or ice water in the neighborhood can help keep friendly felines both hydrated and cooled.
The dry heat of summer can be dangerous for man and beast alike. You can help cats throughout the neighborhood by offering fresh water and safe, shady spots outdoors. You can help your precious pets handle the sweltering summer sun by providing them with cool, comfortable spaces, ensuring they have plenty of hydration available at all times, and keeping them indoors during the worst of the heat.
Feeling anxious about leaving your cat at home alone? Save yourself the stress! Contact The Comforted Kitty today for your free meet and greet appointment!