A cat that becomes overheated in summer can suffer from dehydration, shallow breathing, and can even get heatstroke. Keeping your cat cool is an important part of ensuring that he/she enjoys a safe and happy summer, especially if there’s a heat wave.
Keep your cat calm.
A cat that is running about too much during a really hot day or during a heatwave will soon become exhausted and dehydrated. Encourage it to calm down by providing a relaxed, indoor place that is both cool and darkened (see the next step). Do not initiate play when it is in an agitated state; you may need to sit with it, for a bit, to help it self-calm.
Create a “snug retreat”.
This is a place where your cat can retreat to and relax and feel safe. It is simple to make – place a cardboard box on its side and put it somewhere that is quiet and out of the way such as in a closet, behind a chair, or near a cool spot in the house. Line it with a terry towel or other cotton, breathable natural fabric that is not too warm. Stick an ice pack inside a sock and place it into the snug retreat underneath the towel for added cooling effect.
- Another good idea is to place towels or sheets over the spots the cat usually likes to sit, to create a cool barrier between their fur and the normally warmer surfaces.
- A hot water bottle can be filled with very cold water and left out for it to lie on.
Ensure that your garden or yard has some shady spots for your outdoor cat to enjoy.
It will find them readily enough, provided you supply them. If your plants are too young to throw enough shade yet, or you do not have a garden, at least set up some shade cloth over a comfortable spot under which your cat can lie; choose somewhere that gets a gentle breeze. Water should always be easily accessible and available in the outside area, as well as indoors.
- If you have an outdoor cat, be scrupulous about checking outdoor buildings and greenhouses before shutting them after use. If you accidentally lock in your cat, the building could overheat, if it is a shed or other uninsulated or unventilated building, and this might prove fatal.
Allow your cat to choose a cool spot.
Cats are smart about comfort at all times, including during the heat. Cats love to curl up in the bathtub or sink because porcelain stays cool even when it is hot outside. They will also prefer tiled areas of the house, such as the bathroom, laundry, and kitchen. Some cats will even find the freezer and flop themselves over it. Do not reprimand your cat for picking the coolest spot in the house – be grateful that it is working out how to cool down using its own initiative.
Cool your cat down with dampened towels.
Most cats do not like getting wet, but you can at least help cool their fur down, a little, with dampened towels. Simply dampen a cloth or paper towel and gently stroke your cat with the cloth or towel from the top of its head and down the back. Do this a couple of times a day if it is very hot.
- The places where cats get the warmest are their bellies, the pads on their paws, their armpits, under their chins, and on the outside of their ears. Concentrate on keeping these spots cool.
- Another way to use a small kitchen towel is to soak it with water and place it in the freezer. When the towel gets cold enough, lay it out on a smooth kitchen or bathroom floor for your cat to lie on; if it is too cold for your cat, leave it there as it will warm up enough over time. Do not force your cat onto it – simply introduce the cat to it, and if it likes it, it can make up its own mind.
Brush your cat daily.
Matted fur traps heat; ensuring that the fur is not matted and allows air to flow freely through it will help to keep your cat cool. This is especially important for long-haired breeds of cats.
- Avoid shaving your cat to the skin as this will expose your cat to the sun and can result in sunburn and risks skin cancer.
Use your usual cooling methods to help keep your cat cool too.
If have air conditioning or fans, keeping your cat indoors will ensure that it is benefiting from the cooling, too. Many of the things you do, usually, to keep the house cool for yourself, also benefit your cat; such as keeping the blinds, drapes, and most doors closed. Just be sure to allow it the choice to exit if it feels too cold, so that it can go into a warmer room when it pleases, as air-conditioning and fans can make things too cold and irritating for a cat, after a while. And be sure that your cat is actually inside and not stuck out in the heat if you do not have a cat door!
- It is recommended to keep your cat inside during the hottest part of summer days, namely between 10am and 3pm (or 11am and 4pm for some places).
Provide access to a good, constant supply of water for hydration.
Dehydration is a real risk for cats during the heat of summer, so constant access to water is essential. Fill the water bowl and check that it is always filled during hot weather (indeed, a cat should have access to clean water at all times of the year).
- You could try adding ice cubes to a second bowl of water. Not all cats will appreciate this but it is worth trying and if it likes it, the cat has access to some very cool water. However, do not make this the only source of water, because if it finds it too cold, it will get dehydrated by avoiding it. You might be able to encourage licking of, and drinking from, ice cubes if you flavor them with chicken or beef stock.
Create cool play.
Even in the heat it is possible to find a way to cool down through play. A really fun game is to toss a couple of ice cubes on the floor in front of your cat. Watch him play with them as they scatter away from him and he chases them. Be sure to do this in a cool indoor environment.
Avoid heatstroke conditions.
Cats are very susceptible to heatstroke in excessive heat conditions due to their small body weight and comparatively high surface area. Heatstroke is a fever brought on by the failure of the body’s normal temperature regulation system due to being in overly high temperatures. The most common cause of heatstroke is being left in a hot, poorly ventilated area, usually a car or a hot room. Do not leave a cat in a car during the heat of summer without ventilation and in the baking sun, and never leave a cat in a car, unattended. For long journeys in the car (if you are moving house, etc.), keep the air conditioning on, or the windows open, for ventilation while traveling, and don’t cover up the cat carrier in any way that impedes air flow through the cat carrier’s holes. It is a good idea to include a towel- or sock-wrapped ice-pack in with the carrier to help keep him cool. If you must stop briefly, park in the shade, roll down the windows completely, and do not leave the cat unattended. If you need to make a brief toilet-stop or rest-break, set the carrier down under a tree, on grass, when you stop during journeys, and have everyone keep an eye on him, as well as giving him some water.
- The symptoms of heatstroke in a cat include agitation, extreme distress, stretching out and panting heavily, skin hot to the touch, vomiting, glazed eyes, drooling and staggering. Untreated, the cat will collapse into a coma and die. If you see any of these signs, get to the veterinary clinic immediately.
- If you need to treat your cat quickly before going to the vet, act fast:
- If he’s mildly affected, get him to a cool indoor environment with a constant flow of cool air, and keep him calm.
- If he’s severely affected, use a fine misting spray from a hose or sprayer, or pour bowls of water over him with care. Wrap him with wet towels except for the nose and mouth and keep adding cold water or ice packs and get him to the vet. In particular, the head must be kept cool and wet because heatstroke can “cook” the brain and cause brain death. However, do not immerse the cat in cold water.
- Offer small amounts of water only once the cat is conscious and has cooled down; never give liquid to an unconscious animal.