Keep Your Cat Cool This Summer

When the thermometer shoots ever skyward during the summer months, your fur-covered feline may be at risk for the same kind of health problems that plague overly hot humans: heart difficulties, heat stroke, breathing issues and more. “Cats are like people,” says Humane Society spokesperson Nancy Peterson. “They can become dehydrated and suffer organ failure and die if they get too hot.” Because summer temperatures in general appear to be on the rise, likely due to global warming, it helps to be aware of the dangers heat poses for your cat and ready to enact measures necessary for keeping your cat cool.

First, here’s what not to do:

  • Don’t leave your cat in a parked car Don’t do this even for a few minutes. The inside of a car can heat up rapidly, making it much hotter than the outside temperature. Leaving the window open a few inches does not make the car cooler inside.
  • Don’t forget to leave fresh water for your cat Leave several bowls of water in the house so your cat will be sure to get plenty of it.
  • Don’t shave your cat’s fur Your feline’s fur offers some protection against sunburn. Cats that are pale or have light-skinned fur must stay out of the sun. “The ears and tips of noses of light-colored cats can get skin cancer,” says Bernadine Cruz, DVM, of Laguna Hills Animal Hospital, a member of the American Veterinary Medical Association. Applying sunscreen could help, but most cats will find a way to lick off the potentially toxic substance pretty quickly, says Dr. Cruz.
  • Don’t tether your cat outside Even if you think shade will protect your cat, the sun may shift, exposing the cat to direct sunlight before you realize it.
  • Don’t ignore signs of heat stroke “The signs include panting rapidly, having trouble breathing and increased heart rate,” says Peterson. “A cat may act like it’s drunk by walking strangely, and its gums will be redder than normal.” If you notice any of these symptoms, wrap your cat in a cool, wet towel, and get it to your veterinarian or an animal hospital as quickly as possible.

To ensure you never have to make that emergency visit, follow these suggestions for keeping your kitty cool:

Provide a Cool and Comfy Living Space

  • Cool down your house as much as possible before you leave for work. Cover the windows and leave the air conditioning on “low,” if you can.
  • If you don’t have air conditioning, place fans in the windows and run them on “exhaust” to circulate the air without sucking in the hot air from outside, suggests Karen Commings, author of The Cat Lover’s Survival Guide (Barron’s 2001).
  • Put small plastic containers filled with water in the freezer overnight. During the day, place these containers (now filled with blocks of ice) around your cat’s favorite sleeping spot.
  • Freeze a bottle of water and place it in your cat’s bed, or place a package of frozen peas just under the covering of your cat’s bed. (You could later eat the defrosted peas for dinner!)
  • If possible, allow your cat access to your basement, says Commings. This could particularly benefit older cats, which may not be as mobile, or able to locate a cool spot for themselves.
  • Consider keeping your cat in the bathroom during the day, says Dr. Cruz. Cats sometimes like to lie on the cool tiles, in the bathtub or in the sink.
  • If you have a screened-in patio where your cat likes to hang out, put up shades on the sides that face the sun. Provide plenty of fresh water. Check on the bowl throughout the day to make sure the water hasn’t evaporated.

Make Essential Car Trips Tolerable for Your Feline Passenger

  • If you have to go on a car trip with your cat, travel at night or early in the morning when it’s coolest, says Dr. Cruz.
  • Keep the car AC on, but make sure that the airflow actually reaches your cat’s carrier, Dr. Cruz advises.
  • Lay a wet towel over your cat’s carrier if you must travel with your pet in the car during the day.
  • Keep a spray bottle of cold water handy to wet your cat’s coat during any necessary car trips.
  • Fill the feed cups inside the carrier with crushed ice for extra cooling.
  • Buy a small battery-operated fan to attach to the outside of your cat’s carrier. Keep extra batteries on hand in case you need them.

Adjust Water, Play and Travel Schedules Accordingly

  • Place your cat’s food and water bowl away from sunlight, says Commings. Fill the water bowl with ice cubes to keep the water chilled for hours.
  • Keep activity to a minimum. Don’t encourage your kitty to play on hot days.
  • Monitor your cat when the heat soars. If possible, dash home on your lunch hour to make sure the water dish is filled and that your cat appears healthy and happy. If you’re going out in the evening, check in at home first. If you’re heading out for a day trip, such as a visit to the beach, enlist a neighbor to look in on your cat while you’re gone.

Even Cooler Tips (For Extreme Heat, 80 degrees Fahrenheit+)

  • Buy an electronic, drinking-fountain style water bowl, suggests Commings. “Add some ice cubes to the water to cool it down, too,” she says.
  • Consider buying a cat bed that stays comfortably cool with low-voltage electricity.
  • If you’re unsure that your house will be cool enough for your cat, line up a friend or cat sitter with a cooler home now who would be willing to keep your pet for the day.
  • AC busted? Take your kitty and check yourselves into a pet-friendly hotel for the night.

Summer heat can be stressful for everyone, but our cats depend on us to make sure they’re safe and healthy. Taking the steps to ensure that your kitty is cool and comfortable is an important part of being a responsible and loving pet owner. Your cat will thank you many times later in its usual way, with lots of head butts, purrs, affection and loyal companionship.

Climate Change and Your Cat's Health

Lisa Medwid, a film producer in Los Angeles, Calif., spends a lot of her time on the studio reading scripts and taking meetings. But not everything Medwid does on the lot is film project-related. She also sets up cages in and around sound stages so she can humanely trap feral cats and have them sterilized before returning them to their environment. "It's frustrating, because no matter how many cats I find and get to the vet, it seems like there is always at least one litter of feral kittens somewhere on the lot," Medwid says. "I've been here more than 10 years and I've never seen anything like this."

Medwid is not the only one who has noticed a sudden jump in the cat population. Shelters and rescue groups across the country are seeing a drastic increase in the number of litters being delivered to their doorsteps. While a few different factors influence such population increases, many experts suspect climate change is helping to fuel the kitty birthrate explosion.

According to Nancy Peterson of the Humane Society of the United States, the feline breeding season is impacted by temperature. She says, "In warmer climates, cats breed three times as opposed to two times a year. And as it gets warmer, they could breed even four times a year."

What you can do:
Medwid's advice to pet owners? "Spay and neuter your animals! With feral cats, it's pretty much out of our control, but if all pet owners would spay/neuter their kittens, we could go a long way towards getting the cat population under control."

Unfortunately, feline birthrate changes are not the only way global warming may be affecting our pets.

Fleas and Ticks
Few would disagree that fleas are a huge nuisance. But, you may not realize or worry that fleas, as carriers of fatal diseases like the Plague, could potentially become a serious health threat in the years to come. According to the Centers for Disease Control, cats, which catch the Plague from fleas, can transmit the disease to people. The Plague actually refers to a few different illnesses, the infamous Bubonic Plague being one of them. All are bacterial infections transmitted by parasites.

Other vector-borne diseases, such as Lyme disease (spread by ticks) and West Nile Virus, are linked to the seasons. With warmer weather occurring over a longer period of time, there is more opportunity for these diseases to spread. Although incidents of the Plague have been limited predominantly to the southwestern region of the country in recent years, a warmer climate could cause that to change. A foreboding sign is that this has been one of the worst years in recent history for fleas.

Andy Selfe, an equestrian in Warrenton, Va., who diligently administers flea control products to her cat and dogs, says, "From May on, the fleas were completely out of control. They were everywhere this summer and they got on everything and everyone." In July, she was one day late in applying a flea control product to her cat, Tom. Selfe says her pet became covered in fleas after she held him for only a few minutes.

What you can do:

  • Be diligent about administering your cat's flea treatment on the proper schedule.
  • Do not allow your pet access to the outdoors, especially to wooded and tall grass areas where ticks and fleas thrive.
  • During the warmer months, check your pet daily for ticks.

Take precautions, but don't go overboard. Peterson warns, "You should be really careful when administering flea medication. Consult your vet so as not to overdose your pet -- for example, by applying topical treatment, using a flea collar, and then treating your home."

Exposure to Extreme Temperatures and Weather
One of the more bizarre effects of global warming is freak cold spells and colder temperatures in some parts. According to Bonner Cohen, PhD, a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research in Washington, D.C., "The climate will warm up in some places and cool off in some places."

You may have also noticed an increase in hurricanes. For pets in areas prone to these storms, the weather conditions can be deadly. And, of course, there are the higher temperatures to contend with, which put your pet at greater risk for developing heat stroke.

What you can do:

  • Keep your cat indoors at all times.
  • Never leave your pet exposed to the elements or inside the car in extreme temperatures.
  • Always make sure your pet has access to plenty of water.
  • Make arrangements for your pet now in the event of a natural disaster.

The Good News
According to Cohen, "Cats exhibit remarkable success at weathering the various changes the climate has gone through. They have been through three ice ages and the global warming periods that followed." Global warming's full effect on domesticated cats, however, remains an ongoing, worldwide experiment. With a little precaution and care on your part, your cat has a much better chance of weathering the changes.

Emergency First Aid for Cats

The idea of something happening to your treasured feline is unfathomable. But accidents do occur and, like most things, there's no better time to be prepared than now when your cat is playing or snoozing safely at home, and not when it's in agony and you don't know what should be done. Here, Ann Hohenhaus, DVM, chairman of the department of medicine at The Animal Medical Center in New York City, offers her advice on what to do when your cat gets hurt at home.

Bites and Cuts
If another animal bites your cat, take a clean, absorbent bath towel or kitchen towel and immediately apply pressure to the wound. "Apply pressure enough to stop the bleeding," Dr. Hohenhaus says. "It's likely that your pet won't like it because there is pain associated with the injury causing the bleeding, but bite wounds don't usually bleed much." Whatever you do, make sure you soothe your cat while you apply pressure, especially if the cat starts to squirm." If the bleeding is so bad that you feel you have to apply pressure to stop it, it warrants an examination by a vet, Dr. Hohenhaus says. "Use common sense," Dr. Hohenhaus adds. "If it's a little cut -- like the ones you put toilet paper on to stop the bleeding -- you don't need to bring the cat to the vet." But you'll want to be sure to take your cat to the vet if the bleeding doesn't show signs of stopping. Finally, always keep your cat (and all of your pets) up to date on their rabies shots because rabies can be transmitted when an infected animal bites a person or another animal.

While choking is highly unusual, it can happen. You can try to remove the obstruction carefully with your fingers if you can see and identify it; however, placing your fingers in a cat's mouth is not recommended unless absolutely necessary due to the possibility of serious injury. If immediate action is needed, you can also perform a modified Heimlich maneuver on your cat, according to pet expert Warren Eckstein. First, he advises to straddle your pet from behind. Next, he says to form a fist below your cat's last rib. Gently, yet quickly, push upwards three to five times. This compresses your cat's abdomen and it should help to remove the object. If possible, Eckstein says it helps to have another person assisting, as this second individual can open the cat's mouth during the maneuver, making it easier for the obstruction to dislodge.

You'll know your cat has a possible fracture if it has a dangling limb, there's bone sticking out of the skin, the limb is turned the wrong way or the pet isn't using that particular limb. Your cat might have anything from a minor sprain to a full-blown fracture. Only a medical professional can really determine the severity of the situation, so you'll want to transport your cat safely to your vet or to an animal ER, if your vet suggests more immediate attention. To transport your cat safely to the vet, you'll want to place it in its carrier. If you can't get your pet into its carrier because of the injury, place your cat gently on a sturdy cutting board. Lift the cat on the board and place it in an empty laundry basket, cardboard box, picnic basket or any other sturdy container that will keep the cat from jostling too much on the ride to the vet's office. And be careful. Your cat may be scared and it might bite you. Biting is one way a cat can communicate distress. Consider wearing gloves when you transfer it into a carrying container.

Heatstroke and Burns
Cats don't usually experience heatstroke, but it can happen if you leave your kitty in a heavily heated home or car. If you return to find that your cat is listless, you'll want to cool it down and get it to the vet. One idea: Place ice packs in the cat carrier and transport it to the vet as soon as possible. If your cat has burned its paws walking across a stovetop, for example, the cat will generally heal on its own. "My cat jumped on an open oven door," Dr. Hohenhaus recalls. "His foot pad eventually peeled off and he healed fine." However, a worse burn might require veterinary intervention, so always err on the side of caution and call your vet.

Cats are notorious for chewing on lots of things, so a houseplant might tempt your pet, even if the plant is poisonous. "Lilies (Easter and others) are associated with kidney failure," Dr. Hohenhaus says. "To be safe, check out new plants before you get them, but if you think your cat may have ingested something poisonous, call the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center Hotline right away." To reach this service, phone 888-426-4435. You'll be asked to read the ingredients of the product to the poison control expert. They can tell you how hazardous the contents are to your cat's health and they can recommend what to do. There is a $55 fee for this service. That said, if your cat is having seizures, is losing consciousness or is having difficulty breathing, you might not have time to call the poison control hotline. Get your cat to the vet or to an emergency pet hospital right away.

Safe Evacuation for Your Pet

We've all seen the horror of what can happen to pets when disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina, strike. Aside from hurricanes, these events may include fires, floods, snowstorms, and earthquakes, as well as terrorist attacks, accidents involving toxic or hazardous materials, and so on. Should any of these things happen, you and your pet may be forced to evacuate your home. No one likes to dwell on worst-case scenarios, but planning now could save later heartache.

No matter where you live, you should make an evacuation plan. Even if the chances for disaster seem remote, you can have peace of mind knowing that you will be ready and that your cat won't get left behind in the confusion. Many people think felines are self-sufficient creatures. There is a belief that cats will be better off at home. This couldn't be further from the truth. If there is cause for you to evacuate, then your cat is definitely not safe left in your home. "Pets left behind can be lost, injured or killed," says Laura Bevan, director of the Southeast Regional Office of The Humane Society of the United States.

Emergency Backup
Talk to a reliable neighbor or local pet sitter. See if he or she would be willing to rescue your cat should you find yourself in a situation where you are unable to safely return home to get it yourself. Line up several alternates in case this individual must also evacuate or is otherwise unable should disaster strike.

Evacuation Kit
Your kit should contain a copy of your cat's vaccination records, a clean carrier, a comfortable collar with ID tag, a month's worth of medicine, and a week's worth of food, water, and kitty litter. The disposable boxes that come with litter are very handy and do not take up a lot of space. You will also want to include bowls, a scooper, a small blanket or bed, and at least one toy.

Be sure to store everything (except the carrier) in a lightweight waterproof bin to prevent items from getting wet. It's also a good idea to swap out the food and water every few months to prevent them from becoming stale.

Your cat may have to spend a fair amount of time in the carrier, so make sure there is enough space for a small litter box. Your cat should also be able to eat, stand up, and turn around inside the carrier without falling into the litter box.

Pet-friendly Places
The Red Cross is unable to permit pets in its shelters, which makes it all the more imperative that you should have a set place to go in the event of an evacuation. Bevan recommends, "Do your homework now to find friends, family or a hotel willing to accept animals, and head there if an evacuation is ordered."

Consider calling pet-friendly hotels outside of your immediate area. Find out exactly what their pet policies are. Talk to family members and friends who live outside your region. Even if you cannot stay with them, perhaps they would be willing to care for your cat for a period of time. You may also want to contact boarding and veterinary facilities away from your immediate area. Ask if they would be able to board your cat in an emergency.

Act Quickly
If a disaster happens and you think there is the slightest chance that you will need to evacuate your home, pick up your cat and place it safely in a room with little or no furniture, such as a bathroom. Doing this will make your cat easy to access if it turns out that you need to leave in a hurry. The last thing you want to do in an emergency is chase an understandably frightened cat.

Do not wait until the twelfth hour to evacuate. A disaster is one situation when it's better to be safe than sorry. In emergencies, hotels sell out very quickly, especially the lower-cost, long-term hotels and motels. The fact that you have a cat means your options are going to be even more limited. The sooner you can confirm your reservation, the better. Hotel chains that permit pets at most or all of their locations include Candlewood Suites, La Quinta Inn & Suites, Motel 6, Red Roof Inn and Residence Inn Marriott.

Defeat Fleas Now

Fleas can make the life of any cat miserable. Just one bite to a pet that is allergic to fleas can result in agony from constant rubbing and scratching of irritated skin. Also called "pruritus," this unpleasant itching can become so intense that pets will actually scratch until the skin bleeds. Here's what you need to know to help banish this fearsome foe from your pet's life.

The Flea Cycle
Fleas spend most of their lifetime off the pet. They go through a life cycle that includes egg and cocoon stages. While adult fleas are relatively easy to kill with insecticides, the egg and cocoon stages are very resistant.

The entire life cycle of the flea (from egg to larva, from larva to cocoon, from cocoon to adult) can vary from 14 days during warm, moist weather, to several weeks or months under extremes of climatic conditions.

The adult flea must dine on your pet's blood to survive. Fleas can jump from 16 to 36 inches. For their size, this is like a human jumping over the Washington Monument! Successful flea control must be directed at both the pet and its environment. And always coordinate treatments to break the life cycle of the flea.

Flea Bite Allergies
Fleas can cause a condition known as allergic dermatitis. Because some cats are allergic to flea saliva, a single flea bite causes the animal to chew and scratch the area where the flea has bitten. This can cause redness, sores and hair loss. One or two fleas on an allergic animal may trigger the same response as a hundred flea bites.

Some pets need medication to control the scratching and chewing until a flea control program can be started. Animals with severe allergic dermatitis may require intermittent use of prescription medications during those periods when fleas are most active: during hot and humid months. Remember, use of these medications is not a substitute for a flea control program.

Medical Problems Associated with Fleas
Flea bites can lead to further health issues. Here are just a few:

  • Skin Infections: "Hot spots" are frequently seen in animals with flea infestations. Hot spots can pop up from intense scratching and licking. Hot spots can also be found on non-allergic animals as the result of problems unrelated to fleas.
  • Tapeworms: Fleas are an essential link in the life cycle of the tapeworm in the cat. A good flea control program should accompany the treatment of your pet for tapeworms. The tapeworm is a segmented worm that is only occasionally passed whole. Instead, you will usually only see a number of individual white segments passed in the stool. These may have the appearance of rice grains.
  • Anemia: A pet heavily infested with fleas can lose a significant portion of its circulating blood. This may lead to decreased resistance to other disorders and cause your pet to act lethargic.

Flea Prevention & Control
In recent years, some extremely effective flea prevention products have been introduced. These work by either preventing fleas from reproducing or preventing fleas from biting.

Below is a list of the commonly used flea control methods and when used faithfully as directed, most pet owners report dramatic improvements in their pets' condition.

  • Powders. This method can be effective if used frequently and worked thoroughly into the coat. Powders also work well for spot treating your pet's bed and any small area it may frequent.
  • Dips. For flea dips to work well, concentrates should be diluted and sponged onto the pet, rather than actually dipping the pet into a solution. The pet should be thoroughly wet before the dip is applied. Sponge it on and let it dry; do not towel it off. Depending on the brand, this procedure may be repeated every 7 to 21 days. Always be sure to follow the manufacturer's dilution instructions exactly.
  • Flea Collars. This method can be effective on cats weighing less than 20 pounds. They are typically not as effective on pets that are allergic. "Dips" are usually more effective for allergic animals and since dips and collars should not be used together, dips are probably a better control method.
  • Shampoos. This treatment works well when used as directed. Shampoos typically do not have residual action, though, and should be followed by a topical dip, flea powder or use of a flea collar.
  • Foggers. These come in the form of aerosol "bombs" that are set off inside the home to eliminate fleas and eggs that may be in the carpet or furniture. Some foggers are available in a spray form to spray underneath furniture and on carpets. Be certain to follow the manufacturer's instructions carefully.
  • Yard sprays. These are liquid concentrates that can be diluted and sprayed in outdoor areas. Be sure to follow manufacturer's directions for proper dilution and application.

A Timeline for Success
For a thorough assault on fleas, try this sample schedule for a flea control and prevention program:

Day 1:

  • Treat pets
  • Fog house
  • Spray yard
  • Start flea prevention program

Day 15:

  • Repeat outdoor applications above, or as directed

Day 30:

  • Repeat topical and oral treatment of pets, or as directed

Be Safe and Take Precautions
When treating a flea problem, it's essential to be mindful of your pet's safety.  Follow these flea-fighting golden rules:

  • Follow all product directions carefully.
  • Do not use flea collars with dips, powders, or sprays, unless approved by your veterinarian.
  • Do not store the dip once it has been diluted. Safely discard any unused portions.
  • If you are not sure that a product is safe for your pet or home, consult your veterinarian before using it.

There's no question that fleas present a challenge to pet owners everywhere, but with a thorough control and prevention plan, your cat's life can be flea free.