Summer dangers for cats
Summer means that both we and our cats can spend more time outdoors. However, for cats, the hot weather and being out in nature, can pose a number of risks. In this article you can read about some of the dangers to look out for during the summer, what you can do to prevent them and what to do if an accident happens!
This article was written by a FirstVet vet
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1. Snake bites
The summer heat attracts snakes, but unfortunately, their bite can be toxic to cats. The European adder (Vipera berus) is the only venomous snake native to the UK. Anecdotally, cats may cope with snake bites better than dogs. However, we would not recommend testing this theory. In all cases, a snake bite can lead to serious consequences, so it is important that you know how to seek help if you suspect or see that your cat has been bitten by a snake. Read more in our article about snake bites in pets.
With the increasingly warm weather all year round, especially in the summer months, ticks are becoming a regular concern for pet owners. Tick bites themselves can cause a localised irritation or infection, however, these bites can also spread infections. Although, tick-borne diseases in cats are not as common as in dogs, it is important to remember that cats can bring ticks into contact with humans and dogs. Therefore, it is a good idea to protect your cat against ticks, to protect all of our family members. Read more about ticks and ticks prevention in our article.
3. Insect stings and insect bites
Bites or stings from insects, such as mosquitoes, wasps, bees and ants, rarely make a cat seriously ill, but they can cause irritation and itching. Bites around the head and neck may result in swelling that can cause breathing difficulties. If your cat becomes dull or lethargic after being stung, has difficulty breathing, or you notice any other signs, seek prompt help from your vet.
Sharp objects, such as glass bottles and disposable barbecue grills, can hide in the grass. Sometimes our cats have an accident and you may find that they have a wound. Small wounds and abrasions can often be taken care of at home, whilst large or deep wounds usually need to be treated by a vet. If your cat has difficulty standing or walking, is bleeding profusely, appears to be very sore, or is in shock, please visit your vet immediately. If the bleeding is severe (pulsating blood indicates an arterial bleed), apply pressure using a clean dressing, to try to stem the flow and protect the wound. Carry your cat and keep them quiet on the way to the vet.
If the bleeding has stopped, or is only mild and the cat appears to be bright and alert, start by cleaning the wound. If necessary, trim long hair around the wound, being careful not to allow fur to contaminate the wound. Gently flush the whole area with saline (1 teaspoon of salt in 1 pint/500ml cooled boiled water), or lukewarm clean tap water twice daily. It is important to avoid using chemicals, such as alcohol or iodine in an open wound, as they will damage the delicate cells and delay wound healing. Apply a sterile unmedicated wound hydrogel to create a moist environment that is ideal for wound healing. Do not apply any ointments to the wound.If there is debris in the wound that you are not able to flush out, please contact your vet. Inspect the wound. If the wound is more than 1cm in length, deep, or over a joint, it should be treated by your vet. Other wounds, such as a split pad, may be more difficult to assess, and you should seek veterinary advice.
It is important to prevent your cat from licking or biting a wound. The bacteria in their mouth will contaminate the freshly cleaned wound and slow down healing. We recommend using a Buster collar, inflatable Buster collar or medical bodysuit, as necessary, to prevent access to the wound. If you notice increasing redness, swelling, discharge, pain, a bad smell, or the wound stops healing, vet advice should be sought. Read more in our article about how to provide first aid for your pet.
Like humans, cats can also suffer from sunburn. At highest risk are thin-skinned cats, as well as those with thin fur or pink skin. Pink skin contains less of the protective pigment melanin, and is therefore more sensitive to the sun’s radiation. Cats, like humans, may be at increased risk of skin cancer if they have frequent exposure to the sun.
Sunburn shows in the same way for humans: sore and reddened skin. The areas most prone to burning are the ear tips, around the eyes and nose, and also on the abdomen. If your cat does get sunburnt, try to relieve the symptoms by bathing the area with cool water, or holding a cool wet cloth against the affected areas. It is important that the cat does not itch or lick the burnt area, as this can cause further inflammation and secondary skin infections. If the cat appears to be very sore, the skin is blistered or broken or the cat becomes distressed, or lethargic, we recommend contacting your vet promptly.
To prevent sunburn, use a perfume-free pet-specific sunscreen, on all areas that are exposed. Skin cancer is often seen on the tips of the ears of white cats, and unfortunately, these cats will need to have their ear tips amputated to prevent the cancer progressing; sun cream has an important preventative role in these cases. However, if possible, it is best to ensure that cats have free access to shade, cool spots to lie in, and plenty of access to fresh water, to avoid spending prolonged periods of time in the sun.
Toads have glands on the back of their head that can secrete a poison when they feel threatened. If a cat licks or bites a toad, they can experience signs of poisoning. You will notice that they begin to salivate, and can also become lethargic and nauseous. This condition is usually harmless and typically self-resolves within a few hours. If your cat is not severely affected, it is important to keep them under observation until they have returned to normal. As soon as you notice signs of toxicity, rinse out their mouth and check the mouth for signs of damage or material stuck between the teeth. It is important to note that signs of poisoning are generally non-specific, so try to identify what the toxin was and how much your cat has been exposed to. This information, along with the weight of your cat, will help the vet to provide the best advice and treatment. If your cat is showing severe signs, always consult your vet.
7. Fly strike
Fly strike is relatively common in the warm summer months. Fly larvae can sometimes be mistaken for intestinal parasites, which look similar (white and 5-10 mm long). It is important to distinguish between these, since fly larvae originate from fly eggs. Flies are drawn to wounds, and warm, moist fur that is contaminated with faeces or urine. These eggs can hatch within 24 hours and develop into larvae that can eat into the skin. This condition is very painful. If you do detect the larvae quickly, they can cause major damage. If you discover fly larvae, see your vet promptly, even if you only see individual larvae. The affected area often looks smaller than it is because the larvae burrow into the tissue. At the vet, cats are usually given sedatives and pain relief. The fur in the area is clipped and all visible fly larvae are removed. The cat is given antiparasitic treatment. Antibiotics and intravenous fluids may be necessary, if the infestation is severe.
To prevent wing larva infestation, check your cat's skin daily for signs of ulcers, skin irritation, or fur contamination. If your cat has had diarrhoea or urinary incontinence, bathe the area and dried it thoroughly. Long or dense fur may need to be clipped in the summer to keep it clean and dry.
Fleas are rarely dangerous, but can be troublesome for cats, especially cat fleas. The adult female flea hops onto the pet to take a blood meal, before hopping off to lay eggs in the environment. The eggs then hatch into larvae that can hide in the indoor environment. Finally, the larvae develop into pupae that can be hatched into new fleas. Fleas can cause severe itching and skin problems, such as hair loss, dandruff and rashes. These are usually found on the lower back, flanks and buttocks. Some cats also develop allergies to flea saliva, known as Flea Allergy Dermatitis (FAD). These cats will be more severely affected than cats without FAD.
If you suspect that the cat has fleas, you can use a comb to try to find fleas or flea dirt. Flea faeces are small black granules, and will turn brownish red if you place them on a piece of moistened tissue paper. The eggs and larvae of the fleas live in the environment, under carpets, in floorboards and soft furnishings. In severe cases, it may take 3 months of intensive cleaning to get on top of an infestation. If you protect your cat from ticks, the chances are that you will also protect them from fleas. Check the medicine package leaflet, to see what parasites it should be used for. Read more in our article on managing fleas in cats.
9. Traveling abroad with cats
British people are increasingly taking their animals with them on holiday. It is important to know that there is paperwork to do ahead of any planned trip, which takes around 3 months to put in place. Traveling abroad can also pose some risks to your pet. There are many parasites and infectious diseases that are more common in other countries. In many cases, it may be more appropriate to arrange a cat-sitter, or stay at a boarding cattery, instead. Firstly, this will avoid exposing your cat unnecessarily to infections, and secondly, cats often dislike both transportation, disruption to their routine, and new places. Read more in our article about what to consider when travelling abroad with your pet.
10. Other summer hazards
Seeds from grass and other cereals can be very troublesome if they become lodged in the eyes, ears or nose. Grass seeds can also cause localised inflammation or infection, if they penetrate the skin. If your cat seems to have irritation in the eyes, ears or nose, check carefully for any grass seeds. If you suspect that your cat may have a grass seed in it’s eye, we would recommend consulting a vet.
Blades of grass
It is not uncommon for a piece of grass to get stuck in a cat's nose. When they eat grass, a blade can get lodged behind the soft palate at the back of the throat. The cat often shows signs of throat irritation, a mild nasal discharge, sneezing, coughing, gagging, or rubbing a paw against their nose. They may also become inappetent. Grasses that are stuck will often need to be removed by your vet. The cat will usually require sedation or a general anaesthetic. Once the piece of grass has been removed, the cat will normally show no further clinical signs, and make an immediate recovery. Note that similar signs may be seen with other nasal problems, such as polyps. We would recommend seeking veterinary advice if you notice any of the signs above.
Cats are usually curious creatures. They are happy to investigate anything they can find. Very rarely, a fishing hook can get stuck in their mouth or maybe a paw. If the hook is barded, never try to pull it out the same way it went in. Instead, try to push the hook forwards through the skin, and cut it once it has gone through. This is not always easy to do, and in most cases, fishing hooks should be removed by a vet after the cat has been given sedative.
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