It’s always summer somewhere. And with this year’s heatwaves, you and your cat need to be extra careful and make sure you keep cool, whether you’re at home or in the car. Especially if you’re without air conditioning.
The good news is there are lots of ways to keep your cat cool: keep air flowing and the blinds drawn; ensure water is readily available, offer ice treats and use thermal pads; keep your cat groomed; and choose your travel times wisely to avoid the worst of the heat.
Heatstroke in Cats
First, though, know the symptoms of heatstroke in cats. Overheating can be serious, and escalate quickly into a fatal condition. First signs tends to be lethargy and panting; next may be drooling, fever and vomiting. You need to get your cat to a veterinarian on an emergency basis, otherwise her organs can shut down, resulting in collapse and death.
Heatstroke can occur more quickly in a car, but even your house can be dangerous. If you don’t have the air conditioning on during a heatwave, temperatures inside can reach the same dangerous levels as those outdoors. While panting in cats is normal behavior (as with dogs, it’s their way of lowering body temperature), excessive panting, or quick panting accompanied by signs of anxiety, is a warning sign.
Cats have two other means of cooling themselves: one if by licking their fur; the other is by perspiring through the pads of their feet. You’ll see them licking, of course, but you’ll have to check the pads to see if they’re damp. If all three (panting, licking and perspiring) are happening, you need to help your cat cool down.
Cooling a Cat In Your House
There are several ways to help your cat cool off in the house without air conditioning on a hot summer day.
Windows Open, Curtains Closed
First, make sure your cat has access to fresh water at all times.
Next, if there’s any possibility of cross ventilation and you’ve got screened-in windows, keep them all wide open to catch breezes and keep air moving.
Then, keep all curtains and blinds closed. This is especially important for windows that allow direct sunlight in. Time of day matters too of course, and it’s not just south-facing windows that can let heat-building sun in. Afternoon and evening sun that enters west-facing windows can be quite strong in summer, and heat up your house as well. Space blankets can be used in a pinch, with the shiny side facing out, to reflect heat from the room.
Generally windows that face east get moderate or early morning sun, and you can leave the blinds open on these. If you’re lucky enough to have a tree close enough to your windows that provides constant shade, you’ve got a source of natural cooling whatever direction the window faces.
If you’re struggling to keep your house livable in a heatwave, keep lights off as much as possible, make sure the basement (the coolest spot in the house) is accessible to you and your cat and take advantage of any breezes by hanging a wet sheet in front of an open window. It won’t look great, but it’ll make a real difference in that room’s temperature.
Fans, Ice and Floors
As long as there’s circulation, even hot air can feel comfortable. Use a mix of oscillating and non-oscillating portable fans to provide air movement and cooling. A ceiling fan is incredibly helpful too: just remember that it needs to be running in a counter-clockwise direction as you look up at it so that the air blows straight down.
Your cat may choose to sit directly under or in front of a fan for maximum relief, or it may be enough just have have the air circulating in the room for her to feel the benefit.
In addition to your cat’s water, leave some ice cubes in a dish. As they melt, they provide him with cool water and some cats will play with ice cubes. You can freeze wet cat food too: Just fill a dedicated ice cube tray with cat food, put plastic wrap on top to prevent freezer burn and freeze.
On hot days, there’s nothing like a cool wood or tile floor to splay out on. A room without direct sun and with a fan circulating the air is perfect. If there are any throw rugs, remove them. Your cat can lie down with her belly on the floor. Don’t try to snuggle; you’ll ruin the effect and overheat her, earning a rebuff (at the very least).
You’ve heard about putting ice in front of a standing fan: the blowing air will cool as it passes on top of the ice pack or pack of frozen veggies. You can similarly use a wrapped ice pack or cooling gel pad for your cat to use as a bed.
Keep playtime and exercise brief and have them take place during the cooler hours of the day. This can be crucial when it comes to very young kittens and older cats, who are more vulnerable to heatstroke than young adult cats. Also, if you’ve just fed your cat, give her a little time to digest her food before starting to play.
It makes sense that your cat’s tangle-free coat can help keep him cool, so groom you cat often in hot weather. You can even dampen your cat’s coat by petting him with a wet cloth. It seems a bit odd, but when cats self-groom, their saliva is actually a thermoregulating layer on their fur.
If you’re able to shave your cat, that would go a long way to keeping her cooler. Even shorthair cats have thick fur, so clipping the coat would be useful. Pet owners swear by the Oster: see it on Amazon here.
Keeping Your Cat Cool In Your Car
While you can use a lot of the same tips, keeping your cat cool in your car has a few specific pointers.
If you’ve got an air conditioner, just keep it running at all times in the summer. This is especially important at rest stops. In August, I took an 8-hour road trip with a foster cat (delivering her to her adoptive home), and took turns with my husband when we stopped a couple of times for quick bathroom breaks. The only time we actually turned off the a/c was when we had to fill up the tank.
Shades and Portable Fans
Even with air conditioning, it’s still a good idea to try to keep direct sun off your cat. The carrier should do the bulk of this, but you can your car cooler with a sun deflectors in the passenger windows. Obviously, if your car’s air conditioning isn’t working, you’ll definitely need to use those shades and when you do stop at rest areas, try to find a shaded area to park in.
A light sheet covering the carrier is another idea: it’ll allow air to circulate, but will also protect the cat carrier from sitting in direct sun. And don’t forget the cooling mat. The one I like is filled with a non-toxic environmentally friendly semisolid homeothermic gel, which doesn’t need charging or refrigeration. You just put it inside the carrier and your cat can lie down on it directly.
You can buy small portable fans for your car. They can be mounted permanently or attached with a clip or suction cup to the windshield, console or dash, and plugged into your lighter or power socket. One fan can be mounted to the headrest so that it’s directly pointed at the rear passenger seat. There’s even mini air conditioner that can be mounted on a non-slip mat using adhesive tape and plugged into the lighter outlet.
Plan for the Unexpected
If you are planning to drive long distances in a heatwave, get your car checked before your trip. Have the battery and coolant system checked, as well as your engine oil, transmission fluid, power steering and brake fluids.
Carry a litter box, extra water and cat food in case you need to stay somewhere overnight unexpectedly. Travel early morning or late afternoon to avoid the worst of the heat.