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Keep Your Cat Cool This Summer

And other summer safety tips.

by Jodi Helmer
May 22, 2021
Cat sitting outside in the grass, looking at the camera
Justin Mullet / Stocksy

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We’re not the only ones desperate to go outside and get after it this season. Your cat has big plans that include trading a lukewarm windowsill for a sunbaked stoop, lazing away the long days, and cruising the neighborhood on hot summer nights. But before you turn them loose on the great outdoors (if you live in the city, walk your cat on a leash), you’ll want to be a responsible pet parent. Here, the top five summer safety tips from a vet.

1. Protect against fleas

You wouldn’t go outside in the summer without slathering on SPF. Your cat needs protection too — though not so much from the sun. Applying regular flea and tick preventives prevents your kitty from becoming parasite catnip. 

“While they are important year round for outdoor cats, preventives are essential in the summer when flea and tick populations are at their peak,” according to Dr. Zarah Hedge, DVM, vice president and chief medical officer at the San Diego Humane Society. Fleas can spread disease, and it’s not only your cat that’s at risk. “Cats with fleas can transmit a bacterial infection called ‘cat-scratch fever’ (sounds awesome) to people by scratching themselves, then scratching their owners. The best thing to protect your cat’s health — and yours — is to put them on flea preventives.” Not convinced? Fleas and ticks can jump from your cat to your carpet, couch, bedding…and infestations are not easy to stop.

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2. Avoid pest poisons

Chipmunks, mice, snakes and other slithering, scampering creatures your cat would love to get their paws on are abundant in the summertime. You might be tempted to put out rodent traps, but the same poisons that kill rodents can be just as fatal for your cat. Pest poison can cause coughing, trouble breathing, diarrhea, vomiting, bleeding from the nose or rectum, and death. “Humane, non-lethal pest control methods, including live traps, are a safer option,” says Dr. Hedge. But even if you steer clear of rodenticides, your neighbors may use them. If you notice signs of illness, Dr. Hedge suggests taking your cat to the emergency vet.

3. Eliminate toxic plants

Before choosing plants and flowers to add a pop of color to your garden, remember that a lot of them — including lilies, tulips, azaleas, and gladiolus — are toxic to cats. They can cause symptoms that run the gamut from vomiting and seizures to kidney failure and heart attacks. Even if you don’t think your cat will be tempted to treat your garden like a salad bar, Dr. Hedge suggests avoiding growing these toxic plants just in case. “Dogs tend to be more indiscriminate eaters than cats, but kittens can be very exploratory and are more likely to get into trouble,” she says.

4. Prevent heatstroke

Too much fun in the sun can put your cat at risk for heatstroke. Brachycephalic breeds like Persian, Himalayan, and Burmese cats often have trouble breathing due to their flat, ‘smushed’ facial structure and getting overheated can make it worse.

“When dogs get hot, they pant to cool down,” says Dr. Hedge says. “Cats are obligate nasal breathers so panting is not normal behavior — it means they are really hot.” To prevent overheating, keep your home air-conditioned on warm days. If you have an outdoor cat, consider installing a pet door so they can retire inside if it gets too hot out. Providing access to cool water and shady spots will help too.

5. Beware of other cats

As it happens, cat fights can be between cats. If your cat is not spayed or neutered (you should fix that — literally) they may encounter some competition on their hunt for summer romance. “When you spay or neuter your cat, they aren’t going to have the hormonal drive to mate and the subsequent urge to fight for one,” explains Dr. Hedge. It also prevents unwanted litters that exacerbate the stray cat problem.

Unneutered cats also roam larger territories, which can spark turf wars with other cats. Fighting can lead to bite wounds, infections, and abscesses, and also increases the risk of transmitting infectious diseases like feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV). Not to mention, expensive vet bills.

You might not be able to approve their feline friends when your cat is wandering about, but you can minimize the number of cats that come calling in your yard. Dr. Hedge suggests humane deterrents such as bringing pet food bowls in at night, covering the trash, installing motion-activated sprinklers, and planting lavender, rosemary, or citrus — their scents naturally deter cats.

Jodi Helmer

Jodi Helmer is a North Carolina-based freelance writer who shares her home with an embarrassing number of rescue dogs and relies on four feral cats to patrol the barn. When she isn’t refilling food and water dishes, Jodi writes about animals for Scientific American, Sierra, WebMD, AKC Family Dog, Living the Country Life, and Out Here.