Summer Dangers for Cats
Summer often means spending more time outside. However, for outdoor cats, this can pose several risks. In this article, you can read about some of these summer dangers, how to prevent them, and what to do if an accident happens!
1. Snake bites
The summer heat attracts snakes, but unfortunately, their bite can be toxic to cats. Anecdotally, cats seem to tolerate snake bites better than dogs. But, it’s best not to test this theory! A snake bite can have serious consequences, so it’s important to know what to do and how to seek help if your cat is bitten.
With the increasingly warm weather, ticks are becoming a regular concern for pet owners. Tick bites can cause localized irritation or infection. These bites can also spread disease from one animal to another. Although tick-borne diseases are not common in cats, it’s important to remember that they can bring ticks into contact with humans and dogs. You can protect your family and other pets from ticks by using tick preventatives for your cat. Read more about tick control in our article!
3. Insect stings and 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 weak or lethargic after being stung, has difficulty breathing, or you notice any other signs, seek prompt help from your vet.
Small wounds and abrasions can often be taken care of at home, while 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, visit your vet immediately. If the bleeding is severe (pulsating blood indicates an arterial bleed), apply pressure using a clean cloth. Carry your cat and keep them quiet on the way to the vet. Read more about Pet First Aid in our article!
If the wound is small or has minimal bleeding, you may be able to care for your cat at home.
1. Ensure that your cat appears to be bright, alert, and comfortable.
2. Clean the wound: If necessary, trim long hair away from the wound. Gently flush the wound with saline or lukewarm water twice daily.
3. Clean the skin with mild soap as needed. It’s important to avoid using harsh chemicals like alcohol or iodine in an open wound. This can damage the delicate cells and delay wound healing.
4. Do not apply ointments to the wound unless directed to do so by your vet.
If the wound is large (more than ½” long or extends into deeper tissues) or is over a joint, it should be evaluated and treated by your vet. Other wounds such as a torn pad may be difficult to assess. These should also be treated by your cat’s vet.
It’s important to prevent your cat from licking or biting a wound. The bacteria in their mouth will contaminate the area and slow healing. We recommend using an Elizabethan 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.
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 symptoms include sore, red, or blistered skin. The areas most prone to burning are the ear tips, around the eyes and nose, and on the abdomen.
If your cat is sunburnt, try to relieve the symptoms by bathing the area with cool water, or holding a cool wet cloth against the affected areas. The cat must not scratch 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 right away.
To prevent sunburn, use a perfume-free, pet-specific sunscreen on all areas that are exposed. The tips of the ears of white cats are at the highest risk for skin cancer and may require the most attention. Ensure that cats have free access to shade, cool spots to lay in, and plenty of access to fresh water.
Toads have glands on the back of their head that secrete a toxin when they feel threatened. If a cat licks or bites a toad, they can experience signs of poisoning. These include salivation, nausea, or lethargy.
Exposure to these toxins is usually harmless and symptoms resolve within a few hours. Monitor your cat closely until they have returned to normal. It’s important to note that signs of poisoning are generally non-specific and can mimic other injuries or illnesses. Ensure that your cat does not have any wounds in her mouth or material stuck between her teeth or under the tongue.
If you notice signs of toxicity or see your cat with a toad, rinse their mouth with water if possible. Keeping the toad for identification will help your vet provide the best advice and treatment.
7. Fly strike
Fly strike, or myiasis, is relatively common in the warm summer months. This occurs when flies lay eggs in wounds or fur contaminated with feces or urine. These eggs can hatch within 24 hours and develop into larvae (maggots) that can eat into the skin. This condition is very painful.
If fly strike is not detected right away, it can cause major damage and illness. Take your cat to the vet right away if you discover maggots on his skin. Your vet will likely give your cat sedatives and pain medication. The fur in the area will be clipped and all visible fly larvae removed. Your cat will also receive antiparasitic treatment. Antibiotics and intravenous fluids may be necessary if the infestation is severe.
To prevent fly strike, check your cat's skin daily for signs of ulcers, skin irritation, or fur contamination. If your cat has diarrhea or urinary incontinence, bathe the area and dry it thoroughly. Long or dense fur may need to be clipped in the summer to keep your cat’s skin clean and dry.
Fleas are rarely dangerous but can be troublesome for cats. 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, starting the cycle all over again.
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 tail area. Some cats also develop allergies to flea saliva, known as Flea Allergy Dermatitis (FAD). These cats will be more severely affected and likely require treatment by your veterinarian.
If you suspect that your cat has fleas, you can use a comb to try to find fleas or flea dirt (feces). Flea feces are small black granules that turn brownish-red if placed on a piece of moistened paper towel. 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’re already protecting your cat from ticks, it’s likely they’re also protected from fleas too. Check the package leaflet of your cat’s medication to see what parasites it’s used for.
9. Traveling with cats
Cats are becoming popular travel companions. Before your trip, it’s important to know the restrictions or requirements for pets at your destination. You may need to travel with vaccination records or documentation that your pet is free of parasites. Some airlines require health certificates written by your vet within 10 days of travel.
For the most up-to-date information regarding travel with pets, check out the USDA APHIS Pet Travel website.
In many cases, it may be more appropriate to arrange a pet-sitter or boarding reservation. This may be easier for your cat if she doesn’t like transportation, disruption to her routine, or new places.
10. Other summer hazards
Seeds from grass and weeds can be very troublesome if they become lodged in the eyes, ears, or nose. Grass seeds, also called cheatgrass or foxtails, may cause localized 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 his eye, ear, or skin we recommend contacting a veterinarian.
Blades of grass
It’s 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 face. They may also have a decreased appetite.
Grasses that are stuck will often need to be removed by your vet. The cat will usually require sedation or a general anesthetic. Once the piece of grass has been removed, the cat will normally show no further clinical signs and make a speedy recovery. Note that similar signs may be seen with other nasal problems, such as polyps. We recommend seeking veterinary advice if you notice any of the signs above.
Cats are curious creatures. They’re happy to investigate anything they find, including sharp objects like fish hooks. As a result, it’s not uncommon for a fish hook to become stuck in a cat’s mouth or paw.
If the hook is barbed, 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’s gone through. This isn’t always easy (or safe!) to do. In most cases, fish hooks should be removed by a vet after the cat has been sedated.