Six Ways to Keep Your Cat Safe During Extreme Heat Waves

Six Ways to Keep Your Cat Safe During Extreme Heat Waves

As the planet heats up and extreme heat waves become more common, many of us are scrambling to find ways to keep our companion animals cool. Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are very real possibilities if pets aren’t monitored carefully during extreme heat. During the Pacific “heat dome” in late June, someone told me about a man who posted on Craigslist looking for someone with air conditioning to take in his 150-pound Bull Mastiff for a few days. We will do anything for our animal friends, and it can be difficult when the conditions we and they experience are unprecedented.

During the “heat dome,” the temperature in my kitchen rose to 120F/50C. My office was a bit milder at 95F, so my cat Ariel and I camped out in there. More than a thousand humans in the region died from the heat, along with substantial numbers of wildlife. I know, I know, I wrote a book about grieving the loss of a companion animal, but I don’t want anyone grieving a cat or dog any sooner than necessary.

How cats release excess body heat

Cats have a slightly higher body temperature than humans (101-102F/38.2-39.3C). Because of that, they can tolerate mild increases in heat. In general, though, cats and dogs have evolved to exist within the same temperature ranges as humans. 

Because cats are covered in fur and can’t sweat, they have limited ways to release heat from their bodies. Cats tend to release heat through their paw pads more than dogs do, but unlike their canine counterparts, cats typically don’t pant. An adult cat who is panting in the heat is already becoming overheated. (The exception to this is during labour and the first days of nursing; in addition, some kittens pant.) Cats are more likely to release heat by staying still in a shaded place, stretching their bodies and drinking more water. Have you ever noticed that your cat seems much, much… longer in hot weather? That’s their way of releasing heat.

Preventing overheating—keeping our cats as cool as possible—is essential to avoid a trip to the veterinary ER during sweltering heat. 

If you have AC, that’s awesome, and that should give you a little peace of mind when it comes to your cat. In the Pacific Northwest, we haven’t historically had sustained temperatures above 90F/30C, and most residential buildings (including mine) don’t have AC. The tips below only require a fan, a fridge freezer and running water.  

1. Water, water everywhere!

tabby and white kitten drinks from a clear glass water bowl

Keep water bowls filled with cool, clean water in multiple locations. In the wild, warm or stagnant water is a likely source of bacteria, so cats have evolved to be wary of warm or dirty water. Check and freshen water bowls more frequently than usual, and drop in some ice cubes to make the water both more appealing and more effective at cooling your cat.

A water fountain can also help your cat stay hydrated by making water more visually inviting. This is one of the most popular cat fountains on Amazon. Fountains don’t necessarily keep the water cool, only flowing. As with water bowls, consider dropping some ice cubes in the bowl (not the reservoir) to make the water even more tempting.

2. Pet them with a damp washcloth—very gently

Admittedly, this tip won’t work for all cats. Soak a washcloth in cold water, then wring it out thoroughly, so it’s only just barely damp. Lightly pet or massage your cat’s back with the damp washcloth. They probably won’t be able to feel the water, but the sensation of air going over the washcloth, and their slightly damp fur, provides a cooling effect. (Pro tip: This works great for humans, too!) If at any point your cat shows signs of being upset—airplane ears, fast-moving tail or growls—stop immediately.

By the second day of the heat dome, Ariel began coming to me and “asking” to be wiped down (she would rub her face against the damp washcloth). I was even able to rub her belly, legs and ears with it. As with human and dog ears, cat ears are densely packed with blood vessels, so cooling the ears helps cooler blood to flow through their body.

Bonus: The washcloth trick works really well for humans, too, and you don’t have to wring it out quite as much. Place a damp washcloth or small towel over your body while you’re lying in front of a fan. It works!

3. Your freezer is your best friend (along with your cat or dog)

freezer with several ice packs of varying sizes and ice cube traysYou can take the washcloth trick to the next level by freezing each one. Soak and wring out a number of washcloths, then put them in the freezer. Use parchment to separate the stack; otherwise, the frozen towels will stick together. When the washcloths are frozen, take one out and place it gently on your cat’s back. Again, if the cat resists, stop immediately. If they seem to like it, gently rub the washcloth wherever they’ll let you. The back upper portion of the hind legs is particularly dense with longer fur. Anecdotally, Ariel really seemed to like being cooled off back there.

Your freezer can also provide your cat with some cooler air in their bed. Take a small water bottle and fill it three-quarters of the way (water expands as it freezes, so don’t fill it to the top!). Leave the bottle in the freezer until it’s frozen solid, then place it inside your cat’s bed. As ice evaporates in hot air, it creates a small “halo” of cooler air. Ideally, the bottle will be a couple of inches from the cat—far enough that they aren’t forced into contact with it, yet close enough to radiate a cool ‘halo.’ This ‘evaporative cooling’ is the same principle that ‘swamp coolers’ work on.

4. Place flat ice packs under wet food

Years ago, before I knew much of anything about cats, I rushed Hedda to the veterinary ER only to find she had food poisoning, because I’d left her wet food out in the heat for too long. I felt so awful (and like the worst cat guardian ever).

oval cat food dish on top of square blue ice packMany cat behaviourists recommend only leaving wet food out for 20 minutes, and I understand the logic of that. However, Ariel rarely eats more than a few bites at a time, so I tend to leave her food out for longer. During the heat dome, I placed a large, flat ice pack (similar to this one) under her wet food dish. This is how automatic wet-food feeders work, too, by including mini ice packs. Even an hour later, the ice pack (and food dish) were still quite cold to the touch. 

The smaller, thicker ice packs don’t work, in my experience. They expand and become curved in the freezer—but they’re great for putting behind your neck to keep YOU cool!

For both the frozen bottle above and ice packs, you can wrap the frozen item in Solarize fabric. This is a fabric designed for temperature control; place the shiny side towards the bottle to keep it cold. Bonus: In winter, you can place the fabric shiny side up in their bed for added warmth. Your cat’s body heat will be reflected by the fabric. 

5. Indulge your cat’s sink habits

Raise your hand if you have a ‘sink cat.’ *Raises hand* Cats are drawn to sinks not only because of the secure shape that keeps them slightly hidden from view, but also because porcelain retains its coolness regardless of external heat. Plus, water. black and white cat drinks from a dripping sink faucet

Let your bathtub or sink drip cool water. This isn’t something you want to do all the time (unless you do), because your water bill will add up, and it’s bad for the environment. But during heat waves, dripping water can be a literal lifesaver for your cat. Keeping your cat hydrated in severe heat is really, really important, and—as you know—cats love dripping water.

Make sure to clean your sink thoroughly with cat-safe products. I’m far from a ‘clean freak,’ but I go overboard when it comes to Ariel’s health: I use baking soda and vinegar, then I rinse it half a dozen times with water to make sure I’ve removed all possible residue (think: toothpaste, moisturizer, etc) that could transfer onto Ariel’s fur. Through grooming, your cat will eventually ingest whatever was in the sink. Better not to have any residue that will get on their fur in the first place.

6. Ice, ice, baby! 

I’ve mentioned ice cubes throughout, because, well, they’re cold, versatile, portable, and pretty easy to make, even for me (LOL).

This is one of the most common pieces of advice for keeping cats cool—probably because it works so well! As I mentioned above, place ice cubes in each water dish to keep the water icy fresh. If you have hardwood or laminate floors, try using an ice cube as a toy—send it flying across the room, within your cat’s line of vision. Many cats will begin to play with the cube or lick it. If you have carpeted floors, try doing the same in your bathtub, and let your cat ‘chase’ the cubes. 

Make sure the water is filtered and doesn’t have freezer smells (I learned this the hard way). You can buy covered ice cube trays on Amazon or at your local kitchenware store. These are the ones I use.

Bonus: Keep on brushing

Oh, cat hair. It gets everywhere, doesn’t it? Cats have roughly 40 million strands of fur at any given time—no wonder their body temperature is higher than ours! They shed several hundred to thousand strands of fur per day (I’d swear I read 6,000, but now I can’t find the source for that). During heat waves, brush them frequently to remove as much loose hair as possible. Loose hair traps heat; less loose hair equals a cooler cat. In addition to helping your cat stay cool, you’ll be helping their circulation and deepening their bond with you. 

Domestic cats rely on us for their well-being. They’re no better equipped to handle extreme heat than we humans are (and arguably, they’re more poorly equipped, with all that fur). By taking a few small, inexpensive steps to help them stay cool, you’re promoting their health—and that, in turn, promotes your well-being. 

Have you tried these tips, or others? Leave a comment letting us know how you keep your pets cool during extreme heat events.  And if you’ve found this post helpful, please share it with your social networks. 

Five Other Books to Give Cat Lovers

Five Other Books to Give Cat Lovers

With holidays fast approaching, I thought it would be a good time to share some of the cat-themed books I love. Of course, I hope you’re giving P.S. I Love You More Than Tuna to the cat lovers in your life. These are some of my favourite other cat books, either to pair with Tuna or to give someone who loves cats but hasn’t yet experienced a loss. (These are affiliate links, which means if you purchase the item after clicking through, I’ll receive a few cents.)

  1. Guardians of Being

One of the inspirations for Tuna, Guardians of Being is a collaboration between spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle and artist Patrick McDonnell. This elegant and timeless book shines a light on how our feline and canine companions teach us presence. It’s sparse and powerful, and it’s one of my favourite books.

  1. Working from Home with a Cat

I have yet to hold a copy of this one in my hands, but it’s getting rave reviews from everyone who has read it. Author and artist Heidi Moreno takes readers through a day in her life, with her cat Peanut accompanying (yeah, that’s it… accompanying) her at every turn. From Zoom calls to yoga, Peanut’s daily routine will make you laugh.

  1. 50 Ways to Wake Your Human

If you’re part of the online cat world, you’ve no doubt laughed with Scott Metzger’s bright feline cartoons. They’ve brought me particular joy this year, with his references to masks and the pandemic. Imagine if The Far Side were cat-focused, and you’ll get a sense of his humour. Really, I don’t think you can go wrong gifting this book to someone who loves cats and cleverness.

  1. Call of the Cats

I’ve read Andrew Bloomfield’s book cover to cover three times, reading well into the wee hours of the morning each time. It’s just that compelling, and he’s that strong a writer. This memoir explores how he became caretaker to a feral colony of cats in southern California, woven in with Buddhist reflections and plenty of cats with purr-sonality. It will warm the heart of any rescue/TNR volunteer.

  1. Tortitude: The BIG Book of Cats with a BIG Attitude

Ingrid King is founder and CEO of The Conscious Cat, and she is a prolific writer, lover of torties (and also, full disclosure, an amazing and kindhearted human). Now that I’ve lived with a tortie for almost three years, I understand how magnetic and mischevious these multicolor cats really are. Tortitude features more photos than text, so if you have a tortie lover in your life, they’ll love the beautiful felines and tortie lore included in these pages. I recommend the printed version, because the Kindle one doesn’t do justice to the photos.

BONUS: The Karma of Cats

This gorgeous collection of essays by Sounds True authors is sure to become—dare I say—a dog-eared favourite among cat lovers. Carefully curated and lovingly edited by the same editor I had the good fortune to work with, The Karma of Cats features essays by Alice Walker, Damien Echols, Jeffrey Mousaieff Masson and Jeff Foster, among others. You’ll also find a heartfelt and beautifully written piece by Sterling “TrapKing” Davis about his (now late) cat, Rick James. For the dog lover in your life, check out the canine version, The Dharma of Dogs.

For more cat-related gift ideas, may I recommend The Conscious Cat’s Holiday Gift Guide 2020?

Happy Holidays to all of you from Ariel and me! 🐾




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The Power of Giving (or, Why Tuna is a Gift Book)

The Power of Giving (or, Why Tuna is a Gift Book)

The Tuna book grew out of a gift from Francis to me. I’d known Francis (and admired his art) for 15 years, though until a few years ago, I’d known him mostly as ‘Dianna’s husband.’

Three days after Hedda died, Francis sent me a sketch of Hedda with a note that read: Dear Sarah, Hedda is telling you: Our love is giving you strength to go forward. That is what love is about, right?!”

Then he wrote, still in Hedda’s voice, “p.s. I love you more than tuna.”

I cried, of course, and in the midst of my tears, the writerly part of my brain thought, “That would be a great book title…”

When I received this heartfelt gift from Francis, I felt seen. In the gesture, I implicitly understood that he was saying, “I know how much you loved this being. I know this relationship meant a great deal to you, and I understand how sad you are.” He validated my grief, which is something that bereaved pet guardians often need after an animal’s death.

The power of being witnessed when grieving a pet

I was extremely fortunate, in that when Hedda died, I had multiple friends offering support of all kinds. I never once felt misunderstood or judged for my grief. This allowed me to accept that the loss had happened, which was key in my ability to process my feelings and continue living my life, even with sadness and without Hedda.

Pet loss is often considered disenfranchised grief, meaning that our culture does not recognize it as a major life loss. This can contribute to prolonged grief and even complicated grief, a form of grief that doesn’t ease up over time. Over the past several years, I’ve seen just how many people have had absolutely no one validate their grief, no one to talk to or cry with. And often, that does seem to make grief interminable.

Being witnessed in grief, having another recognize our very personal loss, goes a long way towards healing. Or at least, towards the first step of healing: Accepting that the loss happened.

Experience the joy of giving

Back in 2011, I had been off all daily mood medication for a year and was working intently to rewire my brain for inner peace.

I discovered a community called 29 Gifts, based on book by the late Cami Walker, 29 Gifts: How a Month of Giving Can Change Your Life. The premise was to give something away every day for 29 days. A “gift” doesn’t have to be material. A gift could be giving someone patience, or directions (or forgiving the person who cuts in front of you at the grocery store). Over the course of 29 days, something shifted profoundly in me. So much so that I continued to do “rounds” of giving for four years, until the original community was dismantled. Over the course of those years (and ever since), I’ve continued to “practice” on my own.

I’ve maintained this giving practice (which Buddhists might call a “generosity practice”) because giving was, and is, the best antidepressant I’ve ever found. When I can stay present enough to recognize someone else’s need and then meet that need in the moment, I feel so expensive. Truly joyous.

As I write in the essay linked above, I grew up with a father who asked me every night, “What have you done today to justify your existence?” I was taught that I wasn’t deserving of others’ attention, and my early life experience bore that out—so much so that I believed it to be fact. So for a long, long time, I didn’t want to give gifts. I wanted somebody to take care of me, and if my parents or other caretakers weren’t going to do that, I would do it myself. Discovering the joy of giving was an absolute revelation.

And it continues to be.

Tuna as a gift book

I want people to experience the joy of giving something meaningful to someone else, because simply reading about it doesn’t confer the experience.

Ultimately, Tuna has a couple of different purposes. The first is to help people heal from their cat’s death. Anyone is (of course!) welcome to purchase it for themselves. Yet I really, really hope all of you reading this will gift the book to friends, family members, colleagues or clients. Because then you will fulfill my second vision for Tuna: To help people discover the joy of giving.

I see the “gift book” aspect of Tuna as a positive for both giver and recipient—even in the midst of a very difficult situation. Or—thanks, 2020—two, three, ??? difficult situations: The first, that someone is grieving their cat; the second, that right now, chances are that we can’t offer that person a hug. As Ingrid King of The Conscious Cat wrote when she first read Tuna, “This little book is like a warm hug from a friend who understands how much your cat meant to you.”

There are so many ways I hope that Tuna will bring healing to the world: For bereaved cat-lovers, comfort. For their friends, the book buyers, I wish the expansiveness that comes from meeting another person’s need. For Best Friends Animal Society, to which I’m donating 10% of my share, hopefully enough to contribute to one part of their work: helping to match low-income pet owners with resources that allow them to keep the pet in the home. And for Sounds True, the book’s publisher, hopefully enough to contribute to the Sounds True Foundation, which donates their books and audio programs to people living on low incomes and those who are incarcerated.

And, of course, I hope some will flow back to Francis and me! But if I’ve learned anything over the past seven years, it’s the truth of the phrase, “It has to flow out before it flows in.” 

How to Deepen Your Bond with Your Cat

How to Deepen Your Bond with Your Cat


“Now you people have names. That’s because you don’t know who you are.
We know who we are, so we don’t need names.”
From Coraline by Neil Gaiman

One of the most heartbreaking truths about adopting a kitten or cat is that we will probably outlive them. Most cats have shorter lifespans than most humans. The silver lining to this knowledge is that we can make the most of the time we have with our cats. What we lack in length of time together, we can make up for in depth of bond.

Many of us would agree that part of the feline mystique is, well, the mystique. We think we know our cats, yet there is so much more to these beings than we are capable of perceiving through our ideas about them. The word “cat” is a human label, a construct. Cats aren’t “cats” just because we call them that. When we begin exploring the being behind our label “cat,” to understand ourselves and our felines as expressions of the same mystery, we can deepen our bond even more.

We humans are so accustomed to labeling our experiences that often, we don’t even realize we’re creating labels. While labels are necessary for navigating life—like asking someone to pass the salt or turn left at the gas station—they can also be barriers to truly seeing another.

Thousands of articles offer conventional advice about bonding with your pet. Most of them cover topics like engaging your cat’s intellect (e.g., clicker training); giving a cat scratching posts and/or cat trees, so they can de-stress and sharpen their claws; providing hiding spaces and perches; giving them visual stimulation through windows; playing and feeding in a way that’s aligned with how they play in the wild (hunt-catch-kill-eat); and letting them take the lead in snuggle time, rather than smothering them. These are all crucial to our companions’ physical and mental well-being.

What I’m getting at here, though, is an experience of pure connection. Without the conceptual labels humans have imposed, what are these beings we call “cats”?

All of the below suggestions require removing concepts from the mind. In order to do that, we have to learn to notice that we’re thinking and pause our thoughts. That’s easier said than done, yet in my experience, the practice pays off in a much deeper connection between human and cat.

Step 1: Observe the “raw cat”

Jackson Galaxy uses the phrase “raw cat” to describe cats’ authentic nature, how they would naturally live in the world were it not for human interference. Cats are outdoor creatures, yet we humans have built a world in which it’s largely unsafe for them to go outdoors. (This is the North American perspective; in the UK, it’s often considered cruelty to keep a cat solely indoors.) To see our companions as they truly are, we have to release everything we think we know about cats in general and our cats in particular. 

One way to do this is by using treat puzzles. You can create one from an empty toilet paper roll. Take an empty roll and poke a couple of nickel-size holes in the sides. Place a few treats inside, then fold up the ends. Hide it somewhere that isn’t visually obvious, such as inside a bookshelf, the “cubby” of a cat tree, or a box. Watch your cat hunt for it. Most cats will love this game. Notice their ears and whiskers swivel forward. Does their tail curl? Maybe it even quivers with excitement. Does your cat open their mouth to use their vomeronasal organ (an area of the soft palate that enables them to smell exponentially better than humans)?  When they find the treat, how do they approach it? Do they hold back and then pounce in one sweeping motion? Do they approach it and bat it around? Observe even the tiniest motions as they figure out how to access the food inside.

Step 2: Look without labeling

Humans are visual creatures. From infancy, most of us are taught that the words we know are an object. Yet labels are not the things themselves; labels are sounds that we agree reference a given object or being. Sometimes these words are called “pointers” because it’s impossible to capture the experience in language. The word “forest,” for example, points to the fragrance of warm pine, and the sound of leaves crunching underfoot, but the word itself is neither of those things.

Choose another time when your cat is resting quietly. Notice all the labels you associate with him or her: tabby, tortie, tuxie. Male/female. Young/old. Aloof/affectionate. As you notice each concept, release it. What do you experience? What do you see? How does it change your perceptions of this being?

Step 3: Touch without naming

This is a sensory exercise. Choose another time when your cat is calm. Place your hand gently on your cat’s fur. Now imagine all the energy in your mind gathering into a tiny ball and moving down your arm, to the place where the palm meets fur.

Release all words and thoughts that come to mind—keep re-directing your attention to the palm of your hand. Focus intensely on the sensation. Notice when you’re tempted to label it, then consciously release the label and come back to the sensation.

Step 4: Make eye contact (gently)

Now let’s go even deeper. Cats’ eyes are the stuff that myths (and novels) are made of. Anyone who has ever lived with a cat can attest to the mysteries contained in their eyes. As a cat reaches maturity, their eyes take on a fractal-like quality, as though they simultaneously contain and reflect all the mysteries in the universe. We’re going to take a look without those concepts.

For this exercise, it’s very important to use a soft gaze; never stare down your cat. Cats, like most mammals, interpret a hard stare as a threat. Instead, soften your eyes as though you’re about to slow-blink. Choose a time when your cat is resting peacefully but awake on your lap. This works best if your cat is facing you. Soften your gaze and look into their eyes, and again, release any concepts. Look without naming. Allow your cat to stare into your eyes without interpreting their gaze. Take in what you see, and let it quiet your mind. What do you notice? How does this change your experience of your cat?

Zen teacher Adyashanti has a line I’ve quoted before: “That which is looking through your eyes is also looking through mine.” In my experience, “that” is also looking through Ariel’s eyes, and Hedda before her. Experiencing “that” created a profound shift in how I perceive Ariel. Of course, I still give Ariel belly rubs and often use a high-pitched voice to praise her (cats prefer higher frequency sounds), yet I’m aware that what I perceive—what I’m capable of perceiving through a human brain—is only a fraction of her whole being. And honestly, it makes me wonder which of us is really the guardian.

In my experience, these exercises lead to an awareness of our cat’s being-ness, their essence as a sovereign expression of nature. For me, it feels like a brief, intense “Oh wow” moment. As a writer, it’s very hard to put this into words. When you experience it, you’ll see what I mean.

In the comments, please share your experiences of these practices, and any others you’ve found helpful for connecting more deeply with your cat. 

The Fragility of Life

The Fragility of Life

We are all such fragile beings. From the vast perspective of space, our lives appear shorter than that of a cherry blossom. We live on a planet that spins 1040 miles per hour and hurtles through space at 67 times that rate—yet we share the illusion that we are standing still (or driving, or walking). We really have no idea what this planet, this life, is all about—and the bond we form with companion animals is a portal to that mystery.

These are beings with whom we don’t share spoken language, who have no concept of human constructs, yet they can hear, see and smell things humans can’t. Cats don’t know what “time” is, yet they’re more reliable than any alarm clock. They can’t use GPS, yet stories of cats walking hundreds of miles to an old home aren’t uncommon. They don’t understand our specifically human challenges, like breakups, yet every one of us has experienced a cat’s extraordinary compassion—a word more often attributed to dogs and horses.

The feline lifespan, and that of most non-human mammals, is shorter than that of most humans, which means that most of us will outlive our animal friends. Yet even when we accept that inevitability, we still grieve the being and the relationship.

We grieve because we are here as fellow journeyers on the planet; we know the joy of embodiment—the scent of pine (or catnip), the feel of the earth beneath our feet. We grieve the unconditional love they gave us (and if they gave us semi-conditional love, we grieve that, too.) Losing a member of the household, of the family, is a significant disruption to our inner and outer lives. We call out, “I’m home” when there’s nobody to hear; we wake up with a start at 7am, afraid we forgot to put out breakfast. There’s a bittersweet moment of amnesia, and then we remember… and we grieve.

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