Global Warming and Cats!

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.

Moroccan cat. Neither stray, feral nor domestic - in between.

Moroccan cat. Neither stray, feral nor domestic – in between. Photo by VG.

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
  • lethargy

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.

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Global Warming and Cats! — 5 Comments

  1. We hit over 100 degrees a few days in a row in the Milwaukee area, which is unusual for us. It’s also very dry. The last summer we had like this was 1988. This year is actually, so far, worse than that year. Monty loves his outside time, but I kept him in when it got that bad. It didn’t even cool off overnight. It was 93 degrees at 11 p.m! I leave the basement door open a little for Monty when it gets like that so he can go down there if the air conditioning malfunctions or isn’t keeping up. He took advantage of the cool basement quite a bit. It’s been about 68 degrees down there and the floor is cool to the touch. Elisa must not have a basement, or she would have taken the cats down there. Not all areas of the US put basements under homes as much as we do in the Midwest. Having one is an advantage in this hot weather. Lake Muchigan also is a huge advantage because it moderates our climate. Temps will drop by the lake with a lake breeze. It’s also a great place to swim to cool off! I utilize web sites that give surface water temps, post any water quality advisories and even tell when the big waves are rolling in. The water level of the lake is down right now. It seems like all our water table is, while meanwhile I read of floods in other parts of the world. I don’t know the cause of this weird weather, but I know we had similar weather in the US in the 1930’s. Milwaukee’s record high temp of 105 degrees was set in the 1930’s.

    • Nice comment as usual Ruth – thank you. Basements are a great place to keep cool. Excellent solution for Monty. You would be surprised to know that one day about 15 years ago when I was living in a three story town house it was very hot in England! Yes, just the one day…! Anyway my cat Binnie spent all day on the ground floor on the north side of the building where is was coolest. It was considerably cooler on the ground floor. There is an argument that house builders should build homes that are better at naturally regulating internal temperatures without using power to drive air con. Apparently air conditioning is expensive to run and it creates a carbon footprint. We don’t have air con in the UK :). Not quite true. Some commercial buildings have it but rarely in homes.

      I think the place where cats are most likely to be hurt by high temperatures is in cars – an enclosed, airless and superheated space.

  2. I’m surprised you don’t have air conditioning in the UK. I have noticed that with older homes there are features that more easily help you cope with the summer heat, whereas all the newer homes just come with central air. Our 1920’s home has a beautiful front porch that always feels cool and inviting. The back deck that was added later is usually too hot to use. Our furnace (also very old) has a switch marked “summer” and on that setting the blower runs continuously, bringing up cool air from the basement into the rest of the house. Windows can be opened which provide a cross breeze also. Newer homes don’t have the big, shady front porches and in apartments you often can’t get a cross breeze. Also, as Elisa pointed out, you need a/c in a mobile home. Some dwellings are almost designed in a way that necessitates a/c. Buildings that predate a/c often seem to be cooler naturally. It is surprising just how hot it can get in Wisconsin, since our winters are so cold. But the heat usually doesn’t last and we will get comfortable days even in midsummer.

  3. Your comment about airless superheated spaces made me remember something that happened during this year’s fireworks season as my husband and I were working for a fireworks company. We were loading a truck so we could make deliveries of fireworks to small towns up north, who mostly have their fire departments shoot their shows. The fireworks bunker we were getting product from is out in the country, like they all are, and the man who owns the land has three huge dogs. Most of our product came off a 53′ trailer that had been brought up from another state, but some was in the super hot, airless bunker. We went in the bunker, and the dogs had to come in too. It was way too hot for them in there, so it was like a symphony of panting which only served to make you feel hotter. In tight quarters the dogs slowed us down as we edged around them, loading boxes of fireworks onto a pallet on a forklift at the door of the bunker. Nothing would make the dogs go out until we finished, so we continued our work accompanied by this cacophony of panting by three very large dogs, but as soon as we all came out of the hot, airless bunker the dogs finally followed. (And no, the heat in the bunker is not a danger with the product being stored in there. It actually is good because it dries out the fireworks.) Water was brought for the dogs and put in the shade and they all drank noisily. We had been concerned about the dogs getting overheated in the bunker, even in that short time. The day wasn’t all that hot, but in there it was stifling. I don’t see how a person can leave an animal they claim to love in a hot car and walk away.

    • People do silly things. I remember a story of a police constable who was a dog handler and he left his two dogs (I think it was two) in his van on a hot day. As I recall one or both died. Can you believe that? A fully qualified and trained police officer. Cats can get hot and stressed in a car on a hot day going to the vet. Mine used to pant in the car sometimes. Slightly worrying…Michael

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