Although your cat probably loves to sunbathe, too much heat isn’t good for them in the warmer months. With the help of Petplan veterinary expert Brian Faulkner, we find out how to stop them losing their cool – and the signs to look out for if your cat is suffering from heatstroke.
Most cats are sun worshippers who love nothing better than stretching out in a sliver of sunlight on the carpet or catching a few rays on the patio. In fact, our feline friends are hardwired to enjoy warmer weather, having evolved in hotter countries. This ancestry means most cats cope fairly well on summer days in the UK.
But when temperatures are scorching, it’s important to ensure your cat can keep their cool and look out for signs that they may be overheating. Be especially alert if your cat is long-haired, elderly or has health issues.
How do cats regulate body temperature?
On a sweltering day, you might notice your cat behaving differently. Adult cats typically sleep for around 16 hours a day, but your pet may need more shuteye when the mercury rises, as snoozing helps them to conserve energy and avoid overheating. Let them rest and save playtimes until the cooler evening.
Don’t be surprised if your cat starts grooming more. Did you know the process of washing actually helps your cat cool down? As the saliva on their freshly licked fur evaporates, it has a cooling action – just like sweat on our own bodies.
Grooming also removes loose fur, preventing overheating as your cat sheds more in warm weather. They might appreciate extra brushing to help with this process and improve airflow through their coat. Elderly and long-haired cats may need help with grooming if their fur is prone to matting, or if they struggle to remove loose hair on their own.
Some cats breathe through their mouth when hot to take in cooler air. But if your cat is still mouth-breathing or panting when the temperature drops, get them checked by a vet, as this can be a sign of a heart problem or respiratory infection.
Summer safety for cats
Just like dogs, cats can quickly overheat in hot spaces, so these can be a summer health hazard for your pet. Conservatories, greenhouses, cars and caravans pose a similar risk, so make sure your cat never gets shut inside. If you’re opening upstairs windows to let the breeze in, safety mesh or netting will prevent your curious pet falling from a height.
Cats can get sunburn and even skin cancer, with hairless breeds and those with pale noses and ears and white fur on their head particularly at risk. If possible, keep your cat out of the sun during the hottest part of the day, between 11am and 3pm. If you can’t stop them sunbathing, apply specialist cat sunscreen (never human sunscreen) to their ears, nose and thin-furred areas.
How to keep a cat cool in hot weather
There’s lots you can do to help your cat stay chilled when the temperature soars.
- Place water bowls in different parts of the house, away from their food, and regularly top them up with cold water to keep them hydrated. Add ice cubes to keep their drinks cooler for longer – or you could treat them to a cat water fountain.
- You can also use ice cubes for feline fun in hot weather – a playful cat will enjoy batting them about on a shiny floor. (Clear up afterwards so no one slips over!) Or try making your own meaty ice treats.
- If you have a tiled floor, your cat will probably spread out on it in hot weather to bring their temperature down. Help them stay comfortable by creating cool zones, keeping the curtains or blinds closed to block the sun, and perhaps using a fan.
- You can buy cooling pet beds and mats, but it’s also easy to make your own by wrapping an ice pack or frozen hot water bottle in a towel or blanket. Let your cat decide how close they want to get, and never place ice directly on their skin. Some cats like to be stroked gently with a damp towel or flannel when the temperature is particularly hot.
- Outside or inside, create shady spots where your cat can shelter from the sun’s rays.
Symptoms of heatstroke in cats
Fortunately, heatstroke is rare in cats, but it’s important to be aware of the symptoms in case your cat does suffer. Older cats are more likely to be affected by hot weather, as they’re more vulnerable to dehydration. Take action if you notice any of these:
- extreme lethargy
- sweaty paws
- heavy panting
- rapid pulse
- staggering gait
If you notice any of these symptoms of cat heatstroke, or you’re worried about your cat’s health in the heat, seek veterinary attention. For immediate care, take your cat to a cool place, switch on a fan, stroke their fur with a damp towel or flannel, and give them plenty of water.