Wednesday, May 29, 2024
backyard wildlife habitatDaily Featurehealth and safetypetswildlifeYour Backyard Wildlife Habitat

Water for Pets, Wildlife—and People—in Summer’s Heat

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

Though Moses was only outdoors for a brief time for her daily sunbath, I always made sure she had a bowl of fresh water accessible to her. Though my cats don’t roam outdoors or even spend too much time out there with me, I have always kept water bowls handy outdoors and filled them each day that we went outdoors.

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.

When heat stroke is possible

Obviously we know being outdoors in sunny, hot weather, or being indoors in an enclosed space in hot weather, can bring on heat stroke. But other circumstances you may not consider can also cause heat stroke, especially in very young, ill or elderly animals especially on hot, sunny days, or even hot nights with no air conditioning.

  • Napping on a sunny windowsill.
  • When it’s hot outside and there is no air conditioning, or it’s turned up above 85 or so to save on electricity.
  • Riding in a car with no air conditioning.
  • Sitting in a closed car, even with the windows partially open
  • Being closed in a small room.
  • Being active outdoors with no water or shade.
  • Limited or no access to water while nursing young, even with shade.

Keep these in mind while caring for your pets indoors and out, community cats and wildlife.

Mimi has a drink from the water bowl on the studio window.
Mimi has a drink from the water bowl on the studio window.

For your indoor pets

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 because mine don’t stay outdoors for very long. 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. I didn’t realize when Moses began this tradition that it wasn’t just a fun thing for her to do; she really needed the hydration. We can learn so much from observation.

An introspective Namir.
An introspective Namir.

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 on this particular 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.

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

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!

These community cats have their choice of water bowls.
These community cats have their choice of water bowls.

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 who can’t be trapped yet, she needs extra hydration while nursing her kittens. Make sure you give them fresh 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 also 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 them 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.

Our wild friends need water too

Everybody in the Pool!
Everybody in the Pool!

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 that butterflies, bees and other insects can drink, and to 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 or alcohol.

Kelly on the Bed
Kelly on the Bed

Pets and heat stroke

How easily can a cat go into heat stroke? More easily than I thought as I discovered with Kelly in 2012 and also with Charm this past May when we had temperatures in the 90s and Charm was nursing kittens. 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.

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, like my bathroom, can get very hot very fast with the door closed, even sometimes with air conditioning.

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, and cats still love their sun puddles. 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.

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.

In both cases, with both Kelly and Charm, I recognized the symptoms and began to cool them down with cold water bottles and ice packs while I got ready for the a trip to veterinarian. Kelly’s incident was late morning so I could call my vet, but Charm’s was about 2:00 a.m. so I called emergency. Both seemed to start recovering, their panting stopped and they were alert, and their temperatures dropped a degree in a half hour, so I kept them at home and kept cooling them. But if that had not been the case they would have gone right to the vet.

. . . . . . .

In Pittsburgh, legislation protecting pets in extreme weather, including heat

Pittsburgh’s pets are fortunate to have legislation protecting them. On December 15, 2014 Pittsburgh City Council approved and Mayor Bill Peduto signed into law ordinances to protect the welfare of dogs kept outdoors during severe winter weather. Councilwoman Darlene Harris sponsored the two pieces of legislation amending “Pittsburgh City Code at Title 6: Conduct, Article III: – Dogs, Cats and Other Animals, Chapter 633″, one “providing for and setting forth requirements for outdoor shelters for dogs; and, penalty for violation”, and another “adding a new section at 633.23, providing for the manner by which a dog may be tethered; and, kept outdoors in severe weather conditions.”

Visit these pages on the City of Pittsburgh website to find the link to the complete explanation for each bill. The links will open up in Microsoft Word.

Providing for the manner by which a dog may be tethered; and, kept outdoors in severe weather conditions.

Providing for and setting forth requirements for outdoor shelters for dogs; and, penalty for violation.

If you see an animal outside in poor conditions or tethered outdoors 24/7, call Pittsburgh Animal Control Monday through Friday 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. 412-255-2036, outside of these hours call 412-255-2935, for emergencies call 911 for Pittsburgh police to report the condition under the new laws.

. . . . . . .

Reference sites:

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

PetMD: “Heat Stroke in Cats”:

PetMD, “Heat Stroke in Dogs”:

That Bird Blog, “Heat Stroke in Parrots, Finches and other Birds – Symptoms and Treatment”:

Penn State Extension, “Water for Wildlife: Bird Baths and Backyard Ponds”:

American Red Cross, “How To Treat Heat Strokes In Pets”:

Humane Society of the United States, “Keep Pets Safe in the Heat”:

. . . . . . .


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

The 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.

Read more articles in the category Health and Welfare

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Wildlife Artwork from Portraits of Animals!
pastel sketch of rabbit in yard.
“Backyard Bunny”, soft pastels on pastello paper, 11″ x 8″ © Bernadette E. Kazmarski

It’s one of our backyard bunnies. I’d been watching them since early morning in my yard and the neighbor’s, the grass bright green and the sun shining warm through their tall ears, and decided I’d eventually do a sketch of them, too, back in the days of my daily cat sketches. Maybe I’ll even sketch that pesky squirrel too… Read more, and purchase.


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