Recent oven-like temperatures over large areas of the United States could be due to global warming. We aren’t sure. If, in 50 years time, the planet is being cooked at mark 8, we will be sure, but it’ll be too late to do anything about it by then.
People think about people. How are we coping with these temperatures? Some people have died as result. We can get into shorts and T shirts and turn up the air conditioning.
What about the cats? The millions of stray cats and feral cats; the outdoor cats and the cats living in homes without air con? Cats wear a permanent overcoat. Most cats have double coats. Some have triple coats (Siberian – see also cat hair). The Siamese cats have single coats. Are they coping better?
Cats shed fur based on ambient light not temperature. However, light and heat tend to go together.
The extreme weather concerns me. In fact, Elisa mentioned that were she lives temperatures reached over 100ºF. She mentioned her cats and dogs and she had a real concern for their health, particularly Furby.
The answer as to how heat affects cats can be found in humans. Very thin people will feel changes in ambient temperatures more than people of average weight. The thin layer of fat under the skin (subcutaneous adipose tissue) helps to regulate internal body temperature (thermoregulation). It protects the inside of the body from cold and heat. The same principle applies to the cat’s coat. Accordingly, under normally hot conditions a cat copes. However, under extremely hot conditions there must be a risk of heat stroke.
Heavy exercise generates internal heat and obesity upsets natural thermoregulation so both are hazardous in very hot conditions. Dogs are obviously more at risk of being overexercised as they accompany their human on a run or walk.
The wild cats give us a clue. Many live in very hot climates and are suited to it. However, selective breeding of domestic cats has resulted in some abnormal coats. The Persian comes to mind. Extreme Persian cats can also suffer from breathing problems. Extreme heat probably exacerbates this.
The typical Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, Asian cat coat is single. Colors are often bicolor with large areas of white. Bodies tend to be slender (oriental) and smaller. These are all anatomical elements suited to coping with heat. Larger, heavy set and heavy coated cats will fare less well under conditions of extreme heat (the largest tiger is the Siberian – size is better in the cold). Larger cats are possibly more likely to be purebred cats. There are more purebred cats in the US than anywhere else.
Cats do not sweat. You’ll see some sweating from paw pads, however. You can notice this when a cat is nervous on the veterinarian’s consultation table. You’ll see the sweaty smears from the paws.
Cats lose internal body heat by panting. The saliva evaporates and the latent heat of evaporation cools the body. Cats also lick their fur. The saliva deposited evaporates cooling the body in the same way. The saliva is replacing the role of sweat.
Conclusion: Cats can cope with heat provided they are not bred to extreme and provided the weather is not extreme. There are limits. Most often those limits are exceeded in a house or car. Cats outdoors can find ways to cool off. Trimming a cat’s coat for cooling is not advised unless under a vet’s direction.
Signs of overheating are:
- panting hard
- red gums
Things to do to cool cat down:
- take cat into cool place
- run cool water over body
- wipe water off body
- consider visiting the vet (things can deteriorate fast with heat stroke).
Note: Photographer, VG’s, Flickr photostream of cats in Morocco.