Most pet owners will admit that while their cat companions are wonderful, intelligent and talented, they can sometimes be a little confusing. And by a little, we mean a lot. Thankfully, there are experts who can help us better understand our furry friends. Celebrity veterinarian Dr. Patrick Mahaney is here to answer all of your questions about summertime dangers that can threaten your cat.
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A: Not necessarily. You can permit your cat to go into the water provided it is interested and doesn't have health concerns (e.g. heart or lung disease, high blood pressure, advanced degenerative diseases, etc.) that would make swimming risky.
Although we don’t normally think of cats being swimmers, there are some cat breeds that are naturally drawn to water and have strong swimming abilities, such as the Bengal, Turkish Van, Maine Coon and American Bobtail.
Ultimately, when any pure or mixed-breed cat ends up submerged in water, it will figure out a way to get to the edge of the shore, pool or bathtub through some form of flailing-limb movement akin to what we humans consider swimming.
If your feline friend is naturally interested in water, then let it explore on its own, and maybe it will be self-motivated to go for a dip. When introducing your cat to the concept of swimming, use positive reinforcement by providing praise and a treat when it gets close to the water or is willing to put in a paw.
The safest introduction to swimming is to work with a veterinary physical therapist to acclimate your cat to water in a contained environment such as a therapy pool or underwater treadmill. This way, your cat will get used to a life vest that provides buoyancy and makes for a safer swimming session.
A: If your cat is active outdoors, then he’ll release heat from his body as a result of muscle fiber contraction used to get him up and moving. Additionally, warmer and humid environments make it harder for the body to cool naturally, so he could pant in an effort to release heat.
Cats don’t sweat like people do. Instead, they rid their bodies of heat via the respiratory tract (trachea and lungs), paw pads and nose. This is an inefficient means for cats to maintain their normal body temperature, so they may breathe faster and harder in warm environments that don’t affect people in the same way.
Yet panting cats could be under stress or have underlying health concerns leading to inefficient oxygenation and panting. To best monitor your feline friend’s health, schedule an examination with your veterinarian before engaging in any significant exercise.
Additionally, if your cat is active and can't seem to properly cool down despite stopping exercise, immediately move him into the shade and give him water to drink. Then follow up with a veterinary examination.
A: Cats can and do get sunburned. Most cats have a thick coat of hair that mostly covers body surfaces and acts like a natural sunscreen, but pink-skinned, light-colored, and thin-coated pets are especially susceptible to sunburn. Cats living in frequently sunny and high-altitude environments are also more susceptible.
The face, ears, nose and underside of the abdomen typically have less hair and are prone to the ill effects of acute or chronic sun exposure. Any areas of exposed skin can be covered with pet-appropriate clothing or sunscreen lacking salicylates (octyl salicylate) and zinc oxide, both of which can be toxic if ingested. Epi-Pet Sun Protector Sunscreen is the only product currently available that meets the Food and Drug Administration's safety standards for dogs, but unfortunately, it’s not recommended for cats.
Since there currently no sunscreen products that are cat-safe, it’s best to keep your cat is a shady area of your outdoor patio or interior living room to minimize the harmful effects of the sun’s rays.
A: No, putting ice in your cat’s water isn’t enough to cool him down during hot times of the year.
It’s best to keep your cat in a climate-controlled environment to minimize health risks associated with elevated temperatures, humid weather and sun exposure. This means air conditioning and overhead or floor-style fans to keep air flow up and ambient temperature down.
Kittens, senior cats and those affected by illness (regardless of age) are more prone to the negative health consequences associated with hot weather. These cats need extra consideration during warm months or when visiting warm climates.
During your cat's annual veterinary examination, bring up any concerns you have about your cat’s ability to adjust to hot weather. If it seems as though your cat’s heat-adjustment capacity is declining, pursue diagnostics (x-rays, blood and urine testing, etc.) to establish a baseline level of internal organ function and look for evidence of illness.
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A: Although fireworks are a normal part of many holidays, they are a significant source of stress and life-threatening injury for cats. Some cats may be better able to adjust than others, but most of our feline friends are going to be alarmed and be unable to find the fun in the “bombs bursting in air.”
Cats should never accompany their owners to areas where fireworks are being launched. Indoor, quiet, cool and isolated interior rooms are safer and more suitable. If needed, a crate can confine your cat to prevent a destructive response or attempts to escape through open doors or windows. Fireworks’ loud sounds can be muffled by television programs or pleasant music.
Engage in energetically stimulating play with your cat in the hours leading up to a Fourth of July event. Pets that have been exercised into a state of fatigue have a greater physiological need to rest, and are less prone to exhibiting anxious behaviors like vocalizing, panting, pacing, hiding, salivating, scratching, inappropriately urinating or defecating, etc.
If your cat needs anxiety relief around holiday gatherings involving fireworks, seek the guidance of your veterinarian. An anxiolytic (anxiety-relieving drug) like Alprazolam (Xanax) or other treatment may be prescribed. Natural products like Rescue Remedy Pet, Spirit Essences and others can also provide a degree of calming that’s likely less profound than Alprazolam, but could still have some benefit.
Always put safety first to ensure your cat doesn't experience stress or health consequences associated with holidays and fireworks.