Don’t let the dog days spell cat-astrophe for your pets

This gang knows exactly what to do on a hot summer day.

It’s summertime and the living may not be easy for our pets. The hot spells we experience are even tougher if you’re wearing a fur coat.

Since you wouldn’t like to be stuck out in the hot sun for prolonged periods of time without shelter, why would your pet be any more comfortable? If your dog does stay outside and has a dog house, make sure the dog house is placed in the shade. Choose one that’s insulated and well ventilated and consider placing ice packs inside. Make sure there’s plenty of water and change it frequently.

Since cats are not subject to leash laws, outside kitties are probably good at searching out cool spots; however, I’m of the belief that for safety and health purposes cats should stay indoors.

If your pets are confined indoors and your house really heats up, leave a fan on low during the day if you’re gone or run the air conditioning at low speed. Make sure screens are secure if you keep your windows open — I know my cats adore lounging in window sills. Always have plenty of fresh cool water available.

Cars are dangerous hot spots for pets in the summer. The temperature inside can quickly climb to more than 120 degrees, according to the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), which recommends providing as much ventilation as possible and checking your vehicle every 10 minutes. Better yet, they recommend leaving Fido or Frisky at home during hot weather. This seems like commonsense advice, but scarcely a summer goes by without the report of an incident where an owner leaves a pet behind in a hot, locked car.

When it’s hot and humid for a prolonged period of time, watch for signs of distress. Despite your best intentions, your pet may exhibit signs of heat exhaustion. Look out for panting, a staring or anxious expression, failure to obey commands, rapid heartbeat or vomiting. AAHA recommends lowering the body temperature immediately by gently immersing the animal in cool water and call your veterinarian immediately.

Believe it or not, cats and dogs can get skin cancer — those with white fur are most at risk.

When the temperature rises, the shedding factor seems to increase proportionally! Help out your pet by brushing him frequently — this is a also a good time to check for fleas and ticks. Breeds with heavier coats may benefit from a close clipping. Longhaired cats, especially those with fur that mats, may feel more comfortable with a “lion” cut. And, yes, ‘tis also the season for hairballs, those gray tubular deposits that your cat leaves for you to step on in the middle of the night. Adding a little olive oil to your pet’s food can help move things along, and improve his coat as well.

Fleas and ticks are the bane of summertime and they are a year-round problem down south. How do you know that your pet has fleas? Scratching, of course, is a give-away. But if you’re not sure, place him on a white towel, brush him and then look for little black specs. If the specs turn reddish, that’s flea excrement and red color is blood from their animal hosts. Combing through the fur will give you an idea of exactly how bad the problem is.

Treatment plans abound, but what really works is persistence. I will say up front that chemicals, bombs, flea collars and spot-ons, despite their prevalence and big-time marketing campaigns, make me uncomfortable. (Check out the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Veterinary Medicine site for Adverse Drug Experience Reporting at

There is a new spot-on on the market, Vectra3D, which is said to protect dogs against six common parasites: fleas, ticks, mosquitoes, sand flies, mites and lice. The feline versions, Vectra for Cats and Kittens and Vectra for Cats is effective for flea protection only. Manufactured by Summit Pharmaceuticals, the products are available only through veterinarians,

Cats especially are sensitive to products with pyrethrins and may exhibit symptoms such as tremors and disorientation. Under no circumstances should you use products on cats that are labeled for dogs and vice versa; it’s even a good idea to avoid products labeled for dogs and cats and stick to ones specified for cats only or dogs only.

Regardless of your approach, the battle must be fought on three fronts: the pet, his immediate environment and the house. Depending on the degree of infestation, it may be extended to outdoors using beneficial nematodes or diamataceous earth around the foundation of your house. Although that calls for different products, be sure NOT to use more than one product in treating your pet, i.e. if you use a spot-on, do not use a spray or powder. The combination could be deadly.

When Dusty and Coco joined our household many years ago, they came with more than just their litter box and toys. Even though they were flea-dipped before they set paw in our house, they still had fleas. I guess I was in denial for a while, but soon everyone was scratching. So much for the efficacy of that method of flea dipping. The cost of fogging an eight-room house was outrageous, not to mention toxic, so I opted for intensive combing, some light spraying of all six cats, strategic spraying of the house, frequently washing the cats’ bedding and vacuuming.

I found the combing to be most successful. I would place a cat on the counter and comb through the fur with a dilute solution of flea spray, wiping the comb with a damp paper towel and killing fleas as I found them. Even though I never found more than three or four per cat, I kept it up until everyone was flea free for several weeks, and I saw no evidence of flea dirt on bedding. Sure, it was more labor intensive, but to me it was preferable than exposing my cats to a barrage of chemicals. That was the first time we’d had fleas in more than 10 years, and I hope it’s the last!

Along with general annoyance, fleas bring additional gifts: Tapeworms, for one, those ugly little rice-type bits seen on bedding and dangling from Fido’s and Felix’s personal area. A dose or two of Drontal from your veterinarian solves that problem. Fleas also can cause allergic reactions, evidenced by hot, scaly patches and fur loss. And fleas can be deadly to kittens, causing anemia through loss of blood.

We go through great lengths to make ourselves comfortable during the hot weather. It only makes sense that we do the same for our pets.


About ExclusivelyCats
Sally Bahner is an expert in all aspects of cat care: Writer, consultant, speaker, instructor.

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