Right now, many communities in the United States and other countries are experiencing record-breaking heat waves. Here is how anyone can help their community cats, or unowned cats who live outdoors, stay cool, comfortable, and safe.

Keep in mind that community cats are well-adapted to living outdoors in all varieties of environments and temperatures, and know how to find shade and cooler areas. However, with these steps, caregivers can assist them in extreme weather situations.

Provide cats with outdoor shelters

  • Direct sunlight is what makes summer weather go from hot to sweltering. Provide easy access to shaded places, such as under a deck or porch, for community cats to rest and eat.
  • Provide outdoor cat shelters, which are easy and inexpensive to build. You can see do-it-yourself (DIY) examples and photos of cat shelters and shelter-building plans at www.alleycat.org/ShelterGallery including a “5-minute shelter” made from a Styrofoam cooler. Some manufacturers sell pre-built cat shelters, but even a large plastic storage tub will work with simple modifications.
  • To help cats stay extra cool, freeze bottles of water and place them around the shaded areas where cats rest and under the straw or other bedding in their outdoor shelters. Check on the bottles throughout the day and replace them.

Leave out extra water

  • At this time, constant access to water should be taken very seriously by cat caregivers. Cats can dehydrate quickly, so leave out plenty of water sources and replenish it as necessary.
  • You can prevent water from evaporating by:
    • Setting water bowls in the shade and out of the sun
    • Using narrow, deep water bowls rather than wide, shallow bowls
    • Trying Cat water fountains, which encourage cats to drink more
  • Drop a few ice cubes into the water to keep the water cool (as long as the cats aren’t bothered by the ice!). You can also consider freezing water in bowls and cycling them out so the ice can slowly melt and keep the water cool. Make sure while one bowl melts, cats have another bowl of drinkable fresh water!

How you feed matters

  • If you feed cats outdoors, do not leave the food out for too long. After about 30 minutes, bugs will start to show up. Pick up any uneaten food after roughly 45 minutes, leaving a little more time for the slow eaters.
  • Dry food does not dry out or attract insects as much as wet food, but please give the cats plenty of extra water to compensate.
  • Wet food is also beneficial in hot weather, as it is a great source of hydration for community cats. Watch wet food extra carefully and set it in places without a lot of bug activity. Or, create a bug barrier around a bowl or feeding station with the steps below.
  • Many companies make “ant-proof bowls”designed specifically for feeding cats outdoors. Some have moats of water or other complications that make it hard for the ants to get to the food.
  • You can create your own “ant barrier” by surrounding the cat’s food bowl or feeding station with a baking soda or food-grade diatomaceous earth without chemical additives, which are available at some natural food stores and pet supply companies.
  • Find more tips for feeding cats outdoors at www.alleycat.org/ColonyCare-Feeding.

Use your best judgment during Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR)

  • If you are trapping in the summer months, it is important to be extra careful. A cat left in a trap in the heat is at risk of heatstroke, which can be deadly. If you are experiencing record-breaking high temperatures, use your best judgment. If you would be unsafe spending prolonged time outdoors, do not attempt it. It is also unsafe for cats to be in humane traps for long periods of time under these conditions.
  • For the safety of the cats, keep them in their traps in the shade for a very limited time and immediately transfer them to an air-conditioned space. Never leave cats in a hot car while trapping other cats.
  • Don’t leave traps on surfaces that absorb the sun’s heat, like asphalt, as the metal of the trap can heat up and burn the cats’ paws. Grass and other surfaces that don’t conduct heat are ideal for trapping in the summer.

Find more information about summer safety for outdoor cats at www.alleycat.org/SummerWeather.