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Summertime Tips

Look what the cat dragged in!

Summertime safety for your cat, by Carina Norris.


We all know that cats love warmth, they always manage to find the cosiest spot to sleep and the sunniest sunbathing spot. But summer can bring hazards for our feline friends, and cats unfortunately can't slap on the sunscreen and are unaware of the dangers of a long hot summer. They need our help to be safe.

Feline sun-worshipers:

The moment the sun comes out, your cat will probably make a beeline for the sunniest spot in the garden, and be content to spend hours basking. However, it is a good idea to encourage your pet into the shade during the hottest part of the day. Or if it refuses to stay in the shade, perhaps it is safer to keep the cat in the house for a few hours (say, between 11am and 2pm), and preferably until the temperature has cooled down later in the afternoon.

Cats don’t seem very ‘sensible’ when it comes to heat. You’ll see them toasting themselves by the fire in winter, and in summer they will lay in the sun for far longer than is safe for them. Stone paths and patios can get very hot during the day and may even cause burns to tender, thin furred tummies.

Glass cold frames and greenhouses can also be a danger for sun-seeking cats. A cat may sunbathe inside a greenhouse as the temperature rises to dangerous levels, and may become trapped inside if the door shuts on it. Glass and metalwork can also get very hot, as your cat may discover to its cost if it basks on top of a cold frame. Flimsy glass may even break under the weight of a basking cat.

Indoor sunbathing:

If your cat has access to a balcony during the summer make sure that there is a permanent area of shade - a large empty cardboard box turned on its side makes a simple shelter. Do not shut your cat out on the balcony where it cannot escape if the sun becomes too much for it.

Cats which sunbathe on open windowsills are also in danger from falling if a bird or an insect distracts them, for example. If you must leave the window open, leave it open just a crack, or fit the window with a fine mesh ‘fly screen’, which is designed to let fresh air in and keep insects out. It also keeps your cat safe.

Sun screen:

White cats and cats with pale ears and/or noses need extra protection on sunny days, as white fur and unprotected skin offers little protection against the harmful rays of the sun. During the summer months vets regularly see white cats suffering from sunburn and sadly in extreme cases, cancers of the nose and ear.

Try to prevent the damage from occurring in the first place. If your cat is white or has a pale nose or ears, buy some sunblock for your pet when you buy your own! You should apply it to the vulnerable spots every day, and more frequently if your cat sunbathes for long periods. Use a product that is known to be non-toxic to cats - your vet will be able to advise you if you unsure. Because cats have a natural inclination to lick off anything that is applied to their fur and skin, it is vital to use only non-toxic products. It also means that you may need to apply your pet’s sun block several times a day. Your cat may be reluctant to allow you to apply the cream at first, but should soon get used to the slap-it-on routine.

If you see an unidentified lesion on your cat’s skin, ask your vet to take a look at it, in case it is skin cancer. Skin cancers can often be successfully removed if caught early.

Heat exhaustion:

Cats can suffer from heat exhaustion if they are exposed to extreme heat for too long. The symptoms are obvious, the cat will be restless, pant excessively and drool. If the cat is not treated quickly it will eventually collapse and fall into a coma.

If you suspect that your cat is suffering from heat exhaustion, lower its temperature by bathing it in cool - not cold - water and wrap the cat in a damp towel. Seek veterinary attention immediately... this is an emergency.

Summer food and drink:

You need to pay special attention to your cat’s food and water during the summer. On hot days, cats may drink more than usual so keep checking that your pet has fresh water in its bowl and perhaps put out an extra bowl just outside the back door. Also remember that water will evaporate more quickly from water bowls when the weather is hot.

Make sure that the water is changed frequently. Always remove any uneaten food as soon as the cat has finished eating to prevent contamination from flies, or spoiling due to the hot weather.

Pesky parasites:

Parasites may prove to be more in evidence during the summer, and it is essential to keep fleas and ticks at bay. Check your pet's fur frequently for any signs of fleas or flea dirt and treat immediately if you find any. Don't forget to treat the cat’s bedding and the house at the same time if you discover fleas or signs of fleas. In fact, it is far better to have a flea PREVENTION regime, rather than waiting for a problem to occur. Ask your vet for advice on the best products to use.

First aid:

Because your cat is more likely to roam outside during the summer, it is particularly important to frequently inspect your pet from head to toe for cuts and sore spots as these can quickly become infected. Also look out for grass seeds which can penetrate the skin or become lodged deep in the ears, and check the paw pads for tar from melting roads and pavements. If your cat shows signs of irritation, always try to find the cause, and seek veterinary treatment if necessary.

Good grooming:

Pay extra attention to grooming during the summer. Removing loose hairs and keeping your cat's coat free of knots will lessen the amount of fur the cat swallows when grooming itself, reducing the risk of hairballs, and helping it feel more comfortable when the weather is hot, particularly when the cat is moulting. Grooming your cat will also give you the opportunity to have a close look for any wounds, thorns and seeds.

Travel safety:

Never leave a cat in its carrying basket in the car when it is hot, even with a window open. If you have to take the cat to the vet, don't decide to quickly pop to the shops on the way home. Parked cars, even if they are in the shade, can become excessively hot and in a very short time cats will suffer from heat stroke, and may even die.

Bites and stings:

Insect stings are another potential summer hazard for cats, particularly for those who can't resist trying to make friends with bees flying from flower to flower. If your pet is stung near its mouth or in its throat the airway may swell and restrict breathing. Some animals may also be allergic to bee and wasp stings and quickly collapse. If you think your cat may have been stung in the mouth area, check that the airway is clear and take it to the vet's surgery immediately.

If your cat is one of those who likes to leap about in long grass, there is just a small chance that it could disturb a basking adder, with serious consequences. If you suspect that your cat may have been bitten by an adder, seek veterinary help immediately.

The risk of poisoning:

During the summer when sheds and garages are often left open, it’s easy for cats to get in and contaminate their paws with garden chemicals. They are also in danger from some chemicals which are sprayed onto plants, lawn treatments and pesticides such as slug pellets.

The symptoms of poisoning depend on the substance involved. Rodent poisons for example can cause internal bleeding. Many poisons cause vomiting and diarrhoea or affect the central nervous system causing convulsions (fits) and even unconsciousness.

If you think your cat may have been poisoned contact your vet immediately and give him or her as much information as you can. Ask for advice on any action you should take right away. Get your cat to the vet as quickly as possible. If you can take along a sample of the poison which you think may have been involved.

Try not to use poisons in your garden, and if you must, make sure they are laid only in places not accessible to your cat, or other people’s cats who roam in your garden.

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