Helping Your Cat Tolerate Summer Heat

Author: Lora Schuldt, DVM

July 9, 2014

Summer Cat

The effects of hot weather on cats isn’t a topic you’d think we have to discuss often in the Seattle area, but it’s actually our usually mild climate that can result in more stress on your kitty when it does heat up.

Two factors unique to our area are that we experience wide fluctuations in temperature during a heat wave, and that we do not regularly employ air conditioning. For a cat, it is a challenge to adjust to temperature changes of up to 20 degrees over the course of the day. They cannot quickly alter the amount of insulation they have (fur, body fat), nor do they respond by panting or drinking cool water as a dog would. So, what can we expect to see in a cat with heat stress, and what can we do to help?

First, it is important to know the common, normal adaptions to heat that housecats exhibit. Greatly reduced activity during the day and appetite decreases are what we see most. Sometimes it is hard to differentiate this from signs of illness, so it takes careful observation of a cat’s symptoms and behavior. If a cat’s lethargy and inappetence do not seem to improve in the late evening (between 9 and 11 pm), then we should be a little more worried.

Other symptoms we can see in normal cats include increased regurgitation of hairballs, changes in the stool (mild constipation or slightly soft stool), and increased grooming of the fur to create an evaporative cooling effect.

The heat can place much greater stress on cats with health problems. The appetite loss that comes with a heat wave can be catastrophic in a cat with diabetes, hyperthyroidism, pancreatitis, or hepatic lipidosis. The increases in respiratory and heart rates that occur with warm weather can put a cat with heart or lung disease at increased risk of uncomfortable symptoms. Overweight cats are often intolerant of heat, and many of our geriatric patients with chronic kidney disease will face the potential of serious dehydration.

Some techniques to help your cat cope with a heat wave include:

  • Feed canned food meals, and offer food during the cooler parts of the day
  • Add 1-2 tbsp of water to each meal to increase hydration
  • Use a hairball remedy daily to prevent constipation and allow easier passage of hairballs
  • Try to keep your residence as well-ventilated and shaded as possible, and make sure cats can access cooler parts of the home during the hottest time of the day
  • Increase the availability of water bowls and fountains
  • The use of wet towels, ice packs, and fans has the potential to stress your cat more, so be judicious when using these techniques
  • Be ready to seek veterinary attention for your chronically ill cat, who may experience more serious consequences of heat stress