Pet Tales: Cool cats and dog days

When the temperature in her un-airconditioned house climbed into the 90s, a domestic short-haired cat named Kenzie loved "being petted with ice cubes," says her owner, Julia Johnson of Baldwin Borough.

During recent extremely hot days, a kitty named Kelly sat calmly in a big enamel basin while owner Bernadette E. Kazmarski of Carnegie filled it with cool water.

When the air conditioner conked out on the hottest day of the summer, Lori Sutton came up with a solution to keep Shadow, 13, Uncle, 6, and long-haired Fluffy Kitty, 8, hydrated and active. She set up what she calls "watering holes," filling large coffee mugs with water and ice cubes and placing them throughout her Pleasant Hills house. The cats seemed to enjoy finding the new sources of water, and they drank more than they usually do.

People often complain about the "dog days of summer," when the weather outside is frightfully hot and humid. No one seems to talk about the "cat days of summer."

Veterinarians and animal welfare organizations email me lots of press releases with hot weather tips, but they're all geared toward dogs. And we all know that cats are different than dogs.

Many dogs, especially Labrador retrievers, would be thrilled if you aimed a cold hose at their hot bodies or provided them with a backyard kiddie pool. Most cats would hate those hot weather solutions and would never stand still for a second dose.

So I asked Pet Tales readers to send tips, and many responded. I'm sharing the best ones. For people and for pets, hot weather is especially dangerous for the very young and the very old. Kelly is 19 years old, so Ms. Kazmarski closely monitors her for a number of health issues. Kelly is a sweet cat who "does not visit her water bowl" as often as she should, so her owner regularly gives her subcutaneous injections to keep her hydrated. That treatment can extend the life of elderly pets, but it needs to be done with the help and supervision of a veterinarian.

Putting pets in pools or tubs filled with cool water is a safe and quick way to lower body temperatures. From the time they are kittens, purebred felines that compete in cat shows generally get baths before and after every show. Cats that have not been introduced to water at an early age may not appreciate the total immersion tips of experts. Owners should proceed with caution.

Kelly, however, was a very good sport when temperatures soared quickly on a recent day. She tolerated the basin of water and didn't complain when Ms. Kazmarski poured more water on her torso and then repeated the entire process an hour later.

When it comes to cats and water, less water may be better. Ms. Sutton suggests dampening a paper towel with very cold water "and pat on the kitty's fur in as many areas and as long as will be tolerated." You may notice that after accepting this treatment, the cat may seem a bit more energetic.

Many tips from experts advise us to bring pets into air-conditioned rooms. That's not an option for the many people who do not have air conditioning. Kenzie, 9, did not have AC until two years ago.

"My then-roommate discovered that Kenzie would happily lay there for several minutes while we ran a melting ice cube across her fur," Ms. Johnson said.

"Before we had AC, I put a cat bed and water in the basement" because it's the coolest and darkest room in the house. Kenzie, a brown, black and white domestic shorthair adopted from Animal Rescue League, "usually didn't like to be where I wasn't" so the basement "didn't work except on the hottest days," Ms. Johnson said.

Multiple cat owners suggested adding ice cubes to bowls to keep the water cooler, and many suggested changing the water more often than usual to entice cats to drink more.

Some cats will try to "catch" ice cubes in the bowl, Ms. Sutton said. That will help to cool them down, as cats and dogs release some body heat through their pads.

Cats and dogs also release body heat through their mouths when they pant. Most dogs pant regularly, especially when they exercise. Cats don't pant as much as dogs do, and heavy panting in a cat may be a sign of heat stroke or heat exhaustion. If you can't cool the cat down and stop the panting, you need to get to a veterinarian quickly before kidneys and other major organs start shutting down.

Other danger signs include dark red gums and tongue, lethargy, a staggering gait, and an inability to get up and walk.

A rabbit-loving reader pointed out that pet rabbits, like pet cats and dogs, should live inside the house where they would be cooler, healthier and safer.

Free rabbit party

To celebrate the seventh anniversary of the Pittsburgh House Rabbit Club, there's a free party on Aug. 4, 2-4 p.m., at the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society, 1101 Western Ave., North Side (15233).

Rabbits, of course, are invited but must be transported in carriers. Owners should bring an exercise pen or portable play yard.

The party includes free nail trims, tips, contests and a chance to meet adoptable rabbits from the Humane Society, Animal Friends, Animal Rescue League and the Rabbit Wranglers rescue organization.

Animal Nature pet supplies store employees will be selling organic rabbit food, treats and toys.

Space is limited. Send email to by July 31 to reserve a spot for your bunny.

Pet Tales appears weekly in the Saturday Home & Garden section. Linda Wilson Fuoco: or 412-263-3064.