Furry-coated mammals, such as the cat, would seem to be at a disadvantage when it comes to staying cool as the temperature rises. However, the cat’s body is designed to regulate its body temperature to adapt to changes in air temperature. Yet even so, cats, like humans, still feel uncomfortable in very hot weather, and try to find ways of alleviating their discomfort. As a result they have developed certain strategies that enable them to withstand the heat.
Cats can withstand higher temperatures than humans and will seek out warm spots to sleep. Where humans sweat to cool down, cats lick their fur and their saliva then helps to prevent overheating.
Q. I thought that cats were only supposed to moult once a year, in summer, but mine always seems to be moulting. Why does this happen?
It is slightly higher than that of a human: 38.6°C (101.5°F).
It does depend on the individual cat, of course, but most cats will feel serious discomfort when the temperature reaches 53°C (126°F).
Cats detect heat through receptors in their skin. Like many other mammals, including humans, cats have eccrine, or sweat glands that aid in cooling the body. Unlike humans, however, the cat’s eccrine sweat glands are located only on the pads of the feet, and therefore cats cannot sweat as profusely as we are able to and thus rid their bodies of stored heat. Other glands, the apocrine glands, are situated around the body and also secrete a liquid substance, but it is not particularly effective as a cooling agent in cats because of their hairy coat. How then, do cats manage to keep cool?
A MATTER OF BEHAVIOUR
One of the first things a cat will do in warm weather is seek out a cool spot in which to lie up during the hottest part of the day. This may be a shady spot under a tree or bench, a cold tiled floor, stone pavement or bench. In this way the cat not only absorbs the coolness around it, but also restricts movement to the bare minimum. This is why, in summer, much of the cat’s day is spent sleeping or dozing.
A cat also helps to keep its temperature low when it grooms itself. The act of licking the fur is cooling because the water in the saliva evaporates in high temperatures – and in fact acts in the same way as sweat does to cool the body down. If a cat is efficient at grooming it will produce an insulating layer of air in its coat that prevents overheating.
Another way in which cats reduce their body heat, although they do not do it so often as dogs, is to breathe rapidly, or pant from their mouths. As with other mammals, cats are more prone to dehydration in hot conditions. You should therefore ensure that your cat drinks more water when it is hot.
- The cat’s strategy of ‘lying low’ and staying cool in hot weather is aided by the fact that most cats undergo an annual moult in the spring when their coats become less dense.
- Cats can, when necessary, pant like dogs in order to lose excess heat.
- The milky secretions from a cat’s apocrine glands have a very distinct odour, and in fact their main purpose is in scent marking. When the cat rubs its body against furniture, trees and other objects, it is depositing its particular scent on them. In this way, cats mark their territory.