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Summer Safety for Cats

Protect your cat from fireworks injuries, sunburns and heat stroke.

[From Tufts July 2011 Issue]

Summer months bring welcome relief from the cold winter storms, but they can also pose risks that can cause injuries to your cat, cautions Scott Shaw, DVM, a veterinarian certified in emergency and critical care medicine and Assistant Professor at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University.

The list of summer-time dangers to cats includes fireworks-associated burns, fall-related injuries, heatstroke and sunburns.

“Pets shouldn’t be around fireworks at all,” says Dr. Shaw. “Cats who enjoy chasing moving objects may pounce on firecrackers, or bat at sparklers and get burned or injured.”

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High-rise syndrome is the term associated with cats who fall out of windows in multi-story dwellings.

The noise generated by fireworks also can scare your cat. If your cat hides under the bed during thunderstorms, he will likely also be frightened during fireworks displays. During such activities, Dr. Shaw advises owners to keep their indoor cats safely confined in a closed room — like a spare bedroom or bathroom — and provide them with comfortable bedding, food and water bowls plus a litter box. Turning on a radio or television may help offset the sound of fireworks.

Secure window screens
High-rise syndrome is the term associated with cats who fall out of windows or off balconies. An indoor cat lounging on a favorite windowsill may accidentally push the window screen out and fall outside. If the window is located on the ground floor, risk of injury is minimal, but there is the chance of your indoor cat becoming scared, running off and becoming lost.

“Screens aren’t meant to keep things inside — they’re meant to keep bugs outside,” says Dr. Shaw.

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Be sure to secure your window screens so that your curious cat cannot push them out and end up outside and lost.

Even though cats possess a flexible musculoskeletal system, great balance and a righting reflex, they don’t always escape injury from falls. Studies show that cats falling from heights up to four stories generally have time to right themselves, land on their feet and escape serious injury. However, cats who fall from balconies or windows located on fifth to eighth stories tend to suffer the worst injuries because they land with feet and legs braced and rigid. These cats can end up with leg fractures, chest injuries, broken jaws, concussions, spinal injuries and ruptured organs.

“Cats who fall from above the ninth story actually do better,” says Dr. Shaw. “The distance allows the cat to ‘parachute’ and relax his body, empty the bladder, and orient himself so that the abdomen and chest rather than head and legs absorb the impact.”

Dr. Shaw urges owners to fit windows with heavy screens and to inspect the tension regularly. In addition, he advises owners to keep open windows and balconies off limits to cats. To offer safe outdoor access for your indoor cat, also consider installing a screened-in enclosure.

Summertime and swimming go together. While most cats hate the water, some may fall into pools or hot tubs and be unable to get out. Most cats instinctively swim, but still can drown.

“Make sure pools and hot tubs are off-limits to cats just like human toddlers, unless you’re able to supervise,” says Dr. Shaw.

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Cats can suffer from heatstroke if they are left inside carriers in parked cars during warm weather.

Protect your cat from heatstroke
Heatstroke can be fatal to cats, and can occur both when cats are indoors or inside parked vehicles. Switching off the air conditioning when you leave for work as a way to save money on your utility bill can increase the risk of heatstroke in your home-alone cat. Even on mild days, the temperature inside a car parked in the sun can get alarmingly high. For example, the interior of a car parked in the sun on a 78-degree day can reach 168 degrees within minutes — with deadly consequences to a cat left inside.

Dr. Shaw explains that cats cool off by licking their fur so the saliva evaporates to cool the body. When outside air is higher than normal body temperature — about 102 degrees — evaporation won’t help. Unlike dogs, cats almost never pant unless overwhelmed by the heat.

“The most obvious signs of heatstroke are uncontrolled panting and weakness. Affected cats can’t get up,” says Dr. Shaw.

If you suspect your cat is suffering from heatstroke, Dr. Shaw says to cool your cat by using room-temperature water from the sink and then taking him immediately to a veterinary clinic for medical care.

Some cats enjoy sun bathing. However, just like people, cats are at risk for sunburns. Cats with white faces and ears or who live in mountainous high elevations are particularly vulnerable.

If you have a professional groomer trim your cat’s coat as a way to keep him cool during the summer, limit your cat’s exposure to the sun, advises Dr. Shaw. Keep cats out of the sun during the hours of most intense sunshine — between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m.

Apply sunscreen on the bridge of the nose or ear tips to help prevent burns, but be sure the product label indicates that it is safe for use on cats, as they can ingest the ingredients if they attempt to lick off the sunscreen. Choose a pet-safe product with an SPF (sun protection factor) of 15 or higher. Avoid human products containing zinc oxide or PABA.

By taking steps to prepare for summer risks, you can prevent problems before they happen.

“If you’re hot, realize that your cats are hotter and take necessary precautions to protect them,” concludes Dr. Shaw.

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