Thursday, June 13, 2024
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Beat the Heat With Water for Pets, Wildlife—and People

cat drinking from bowl.
Moses drinks from the water bowl on the deck.

Hot weather is miserable, no matter the temperature where your own personal heat tolerance ends. Many people think that since some animals live in the wild and seem to survive, all animals can survive the heat “naturally”.

Nothing could be further from the truth for either our pets or the creatures that live right outside our doors. Any body, human, cat, dog, rabbit, bird, groundhog, squirrel…all need to take special care in the excessive heat of summer just as we do in the excessive cold of winter. We and our pets living indoors and our animal friends living outdoors need to find cover in a cool place, and we also need to keep ourselves sufficiently hydrated, drinking more liquid, preferably just plain water, than usual.

Animals of all sorts need extra hydration

For extra hydration for your pets, you can add extra water bowls around the house, add ice cubes to their water and keep it fresh, changing it more than once each day if it’s especially hot. Even consider adding a pet fountain that continually recirculates water to be sure your pets drink adequate water.

If your pets go outdoors

If your pets go outdoors, add extra water bowls out there too. This had never occurred to me though one or more cats have visited the yard with me for all the years I’ve had cats. The big enamel bowl you see Moses drinking from began as my foot bath to rinse grass cuttings and other debris from my yard off my feet, and also to soak my feet on hot days, that’s why I wasn’t concerned about all the rusty dings in the enamel. Moses discovered it and religiously drank from it several times each time she was outdoors with me—she drank first, then later I rinsed my feet. Each day I tossed the water into one of my plants and refilled it. This photo is from some time in the late 90s, and I’ve maintained a water bowl on the deck and one near the basement door since then, only later learning it was advised for cats outdoors.

black cat drinking from fountain
Mimi had several drinks from the fountain as soon as she came in.

And even if they’ve had drinks while they were out, offer them water again as soon as they come back in the house. Through the years all my cats went right for the water bowl as soon as they came back in, as Mimi did this morning, having a good long drink from the freshly-filled fountain even though she’d had quite a few sips from her water bowl, below.

Pets on walks or traveling

If your pets travel with you, even a short walk or a car ride, take water and a bowl for them. When I visit the trail I always carry lots of water, and I also carry a small plastic bowl in case I find an animal in need. Also, when I’ve attended outdoor festivals as a vendor, especially animal events, I always carry an enamel bowl and fill it with water to place in the shade under my table for the dogs who arrive with their humans. This bowl is always a hit!

Maintaining community cats

If you care for cats outdoors, don’t forget that they need adequate water as well, and just as often as our own pets and the wildlife who live around them. If there is a nursing mother around at this time, she needs extra hydration while nursing her kittens. Make sure you give them water each day, and even put out extra water bowls for them, and spread them around so that several cats and even other animals can reach the water at the same time. You may even be able to use an automatic water container that offers a quart or more of water and automatically refills a bowl. Place all the bowls or containers in the shadiest spot you can find, but try to keep it free of debris such as leaves or gravel. Sometimes it’s handy if you simply keep a stock of containers and bring new ones each time, taking away the used ones to clean and bring back another day.

birds in birdbath
Everybody in the Pool!

Our wild friends need water too

For wildlife, we often think providing food is most important, especially for those of us who feed our birds, but accessible water is probably more important than food at difficult times of the year, especially in the heat of summer when food is pretty plentiful and water can be scarce. Add extra birdbaths and watering spots in the yard, especially one or two on the ground for little ones like chipmunks and mice. I have always kept one or two shallow plastic containers, summer and winter, at the end of the yard in what I call my “woodland garden”, nestled in the undergrowth.

Run a sprinkler of some sort to leave moisture on plants and moisten the soil so it stays cooler underneath—I always laugh to see small birds and bees and butterflies flying around in the spray from my oscillating lawn sprinkler obviously enjoying it as much on a hot day as we we humans did as kids.

And so do we

And don’t forget to keep yourself hydrated. Humans can become easily dehydrated in the heat because we sweat to cool down, letting our internal hydration evaporate off the surface of our skin. Keep drinking fluids, preferably plain water, but definitely something without caffeine.

In addition to water

There are many other things you can do to help your pet stay safe in the heat in and around your home, in your car and anywhere your pet spends time during the heat of the summer—I’ll be writing about these soon as well. But remember, just as you would take precautions for a bitterly cold and icy winter day, you need to take precautions for an excessively hot summer day as well.

infographic on pets and heatstroke
Tips for your cat from Petfinder.

Pets and heat stroke

How easily can a cat go into heat stroke? More easily than I thought as I discovered with Kelly last year. Sometimes, even with the best of intentions, the situation can get out of control with a series of circumstances so with all pets, and especially those who might be on the edge with health, it’s best not to presume everything is okay.

Cats don’t suffer from heat stroke as easily as dogs because they just aren’t as active in hot weather, going out for walks and play, exerting themselves in the heat. But even if a cat never goes outdoors, the indoors can still get pretty darned hot. Not everyone has air conditioning—I’m one of those—and even with it many people turn the thermostat up during the day when they are away to conserve energy but leave the windows shut, and the temperature can easily hit 90 indoors on a hot sunny day. They need to be able to get to a cooler place, even a tile or hardwood floor or a basement.

All animals enjoy lolling in a sun puddle, especially cats, and on a hot day can actually put themselves in danger simply by sleeping on a sunny windowsill.

And a smaller room can get very hot very fast with the door closed, even sometimes with air conditioning.

Symptoms of heat stroke in pets

Just like humans, at greatest risk are the ill, the very young and very old, and obese animals and breeds with short noses.

The most easily-observable symptoms of heat stroke begin with restlessness and excessive, continued panting, which may be hard to tell in dogs but it is extremely un-catlike, so this should tip off a cat owner right away. Other symptoms you can easily observe are drooling, then vomiting and diarrhea, bright red or purple lips and gums, possible seizures and small hemorrhages that look like bruises on the skin. In the meantime the animal is going from restless to lethargic to possibly comatose. Even at the very beginning of the symptoms, the condition is life-threatening and needs treatment immediately.

. . . . . . .

tortoiseshell cat on bed
Kelly on the bed in a nice cool, dark room on a hot day.

Kelly and heatstroke

I don’t have air conditioning, but can keep my house fairly comfortable with fans and open windows and blinds to block the sun and a series of very large trees, and that serves to keep the house interior no warmer than 85 degrees, even when the temperatures begin to rise into the 90s. I’ve lived in this house, with cats, for 22 years, and we have had some extreme temperatures in those two decades.

Temperatures do rise above 90 degrees here in Western Pennsylvania, but they rarely stay there for a week or more. When the string of days above 90 degrees, even above 95 and approaching 100, and night-time temperatures of 80 or higher, stretches for seven days or more, no trees or fans or curtains will keep the air cool. Everything simply absorbs the heat and has no chance to cool down, and that includes us—and our cats.

One hot morning at the end of June last year Kelly, who was then 19, went into apparent heat stroke completely unexpectedly. We were following our usual routine and it wasn’t any hotter than it had been for the previous days, but I had been carefully observing her for some odd behavior and know now that Kelly had an underlying condition that would take her life in August. Even with careful observation, however, a combination of mild dehydration in the heat, topped off with excessive heat in the bathroom for the brief time she was in there, led to mild heat stroke in geriatric Kelly. I’m just glad I was home and could act quickly, and having achieved certification in Pet First Aid, I had a background of information and instructions to reference as the situation developed, and with my regular veterinarian out of town I had the numbers of another veterinarian and an emergency veterinarian on hand as well as access to the internet to quickly determine what was happening and what I needed to to. Read about the situation in One Hot Kitty.

. . . . . . .

Click to learn more.
Click to learn more.

Reference sites:

Summer Pet Safety Tips for heat, weather emergencies, and holiday fireworks from Petfinder:


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cat drinking from bowl.
Mimi drinks from her water bowl, carefully moved to the shade.

This morning the temperature is already 85, and our little back yard tends to be cooler in the morning because of the trees; it’s forecast to be over 90. Mimi and I did a little work in the garden, a little birdwatching, and had a little rest on the deck before we went in. Be careful where you place your water bowl outdoors—I had placed this bowl farther from the chair and plant, but in the brief time Mimi and I were in the yard, the sun had moved and the bowl was in full sun, already warming up. I moved it behind the rosemary plant and I’ll keep it there the rest of the summer.

tortoiseshell cat drinking from bowl
Cookie has a drink from the same water bowl as Mimi in 2011.
gray and white cat looking into water
An introspective Namir.

The water bowl on the deck has obviously reduced in size from the big enamel bowl Moses drank from to a small enamel bowl that’s been easy for cats from Moses to Mimi to drink from, including Cookie, at left, who drank water from everything just because it was fun. This water bowl is the one on the deck that I refill each day, and I have a similar one near the basement door that everyone has used including Namir, and it’s also the one Mimi came to visit each day before she lived here.


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From health and welfare to rescue and adoption stories, advocacy and art, factual articles and fictional stories, "The Creative Cat" offers both visual and verbal education and entertainment about cats for people who love cats, pets and animals of all species.

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