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The Vet Is In: Keeping Cats Cool in Summer

Warmer weather is here! We asked a vet for tips on keeping cats cool in summer and how to prevent other seasonal hazards like bug bites and heartworm.

Dr. Marty Becker  |  Jun 12th 2017


Cats and summertime seem to go together, don’t they? In countless Internet memes, videos, and cartoons, we see cats stretched out in a sunny spot, soaking up the rays. But while cats descend from desert animals and are more tolerant of heat than dogs, they have some special needs when the temperature rises. Ensure your cat is comfortable well into the dog days of summer with my best tips for keeping cats cool in summer, plus how to prevent other seasonal mishaps.

Keep Cats Cool with Fresh Water and Shade

Whether they live indoors only or have access to a safely secured yard, cats need plenty of fresh water and shade on hot days. Place water in an area where it will stay cool throughout the day. Add some ice cubes to the bowl; your cat might enjoy batting at them, which will help cool his paws. Even better, get him a pet water fountain. Cats love running water, and they are more likely to drink it because they can see and hear it — not the case when it’s just sitting there in a bowl. It might also taste fresher and cooler because it’s oxygenated.

A cat relaxes on a hammock in summer.

Heatstroke in Cats Can Happen

Cats are more likely to relax when the sun is high in the sky, but they can fall victim to heatstroke. Here’s two things you should know:

  • A cat’s body temperature — normally 100 to 103 degrees Fahrenheit — can quickly rise to dangerous levels if he has an extremely short face (like Persians), if he’s left in a car on a hot day, or he’s accidentally shut up in a hot shed or garage.
  • Your cat might have heatstroke if his breathing sounds rapid or noisy, his gums appear bright red, and he is drooling thickly. He might seem weak and might vomit or have diarrhea. Rub him down with cool water, and get him to the veterinarian right away.

Prevent Summer Bug Bites in Cats

Does your cat hunt bugs or lizards? He probably scores a fair amount of the time, and some bugs can be a good source of protein, but he runs the risk of a painful bite or sting if he messes with the wrong critter.

A gray cat gets a flea treatment.

Talk to your vet about the best flea meds for your cat. Cat gets flea medication by Shutterstock

Your cat’s mouth or face can swell up like a cosmetic procedure gone wrong if he tries to take a bite out of a bee or wasp; ladybugs can cause chemical burns in a cat’s mouth or digestive tract; and the bite of venomous spiders like black widows, brown recluses, and tarantulas can be the kiss of death — or at least highly painful with a long recovery time. Cats seem to be especially susceptible to spider bites, so beware if you live in an area with many arachnids.

Of course, fleas and ticks are always a concern in summer. Their bites can cause severe itching — followed by frantic scratching — and can spread disease. Fortunately, prevention is easy with a monthly spot-on or oral medication. Ask your veterinarian about the best product for your environment and your cat’s special needs.

Heartworm Disease Can Affect Cats, Too

Heartworm disease is not limited to dogs. We see it increasingly in cats, anywhere it’s found in dogs — which is not only in the South. Heartworm has been found in all 50 states.

Any cat can get heartworm disease, even if he lives indoors. All it takes is a bite from
a mosquito that has bitten a heartworm-infected dog.

An orange tabby cat and a dog hang out together.

Photo by Shutterstock

Cats with heartworm disease usually have respiratory signs, such as coughing or wheezing. They may be lethargic or lose weight. Cats with severe cases can develop congestive heart failure.

Heartworm disease can be prevented with medication, but once the heartworms have set up housekeeping in the body, no treatment is available for cats. Prevention is truly the gold standard here.

Should You Shave Your Cat to Keep Him Cool in the Summer?

Cats’ fur flies as they drop their winter fur for a cooler summer ’do. This is especially noticeable in long-haired cats.

An orange tabby cat licks a brown tabby cat.

Photo by Shutterstock

Most cats manage fur removal with their specialized rough tongue, but you can help by brushing him every day or two. Removing excess fur helps prevent the formation of hairballs, which are not only unpleasant to step on in bare feet but can also cause intestinal blockages if so much builds up that your cat can’t pass the ingested fur. Regular brushing also allows you to remove fur at the time and place of your choosing instead of your cat dropping it through-out the house on your furniture and clothing.

You might wonder if you can shave your cat to keep him cool in summer.

Some cats sport “lion” trims — a mane of fur around the neck, a smooth body, and a pouf on the end of the tail — but it’s not a procedure you want to try at home. Cats have paper-thin skin, so an accidental nick can be a bloody nuisance. Find a professional groomer who loves and specializes in cats, and ask for references.

A shaved "lion cut" cat.

At this point, you might be thinking that a hairless cat is a better bet, but their sensitive skin requires more protection from the sun. If you have a hairless cat, one with a lion trim, or one who is white or light-colored, prevent sunburn any time he goes outdoors by applying pet-safe sunscreen to exposed areas, including ears, nose, and belly for cats who like to sprawl on their back. It’s also a good idea to limit the amount of time he spends in direct sun.

Now, chill, kitty.

About the author: Dr. Marty Becker, “America’s Veterinarian,” has spent his life working toward better health for pets and the people who love them. The author of 24 books, Dr. Becker was the resident veterinary contributor on Good Morning America for 17 years. He is currently a member of the board of directors of the American Humane Association, as well as its chief veterinary correspondent; a founding member of Core Team Oz for The Dr. Oz Show; and a member of the Dr. Oz Medical Advisory Board. When his schedule allows, he practices at North Idaho Animal Hospital. Connect with him on Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest, Twitter, and Google Plus.

Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in the July/August 2016 issue of Catster print magazine. Click here to subscribe to Catster magazine.