Hot Weather Info for Community Cats in the Desert


Summer is a dangerous time for community cats in the desert, like it is for most outdoor animals, because dehydration and heat stroke are always a threat. Following these general guidelines will help unowned, outdoor cats stay hydrated and safe throughout the summer.  Remember, in general, when temperatures are consistently over 103 degrees, it is NOT A GOOD TIME FOR TNR! Information given here was created with the Tucson / Pima County area and climate in mind.

  • Kittens
 PLEASE, when you find outdoor kittens DO NOT REMOVE THEM, READ this FIRST:
 What to Do if You Find Newborn, Infant and Young Kittens  

For further information ONLY AFTER you have visited the above link :

  • Food & Water

Please see general feeding information  here  which includes the most inexpensive places to buy food for community cats in Pima County.   Pet Food Assistance Resources can be found here .



It is extremely important that extra sources of clean, fresh water be kept available to cats in areas that will remain cool or at least shaded throughout the day. Water evaporates very quickly in the summer desert heat, so keep bowls out of the sun. Reduce the evaporation rate by using bowls with less surface area that are narrow but deep. You can try putting ice cubes into a water bowl to cool it down.  Too much water is better than not enough. Feeding stations can help provide shade. Examples of these can be found here .  Pyrex makes a great glass bowl that we use at many colonies, it is a bit wider than we'd like but the water seems to last in this one if kept in the shade.  There are other brands of similar types of bowls that can be found at Target, Walmart, Amazon, etc.

Remember to rinse and fill water bowls daily. Slimy residue that grows in the water bowl contains all sorts of dangerous stuff, read more about how to keep water bowls clean here  .

Don’t leave food out for too long. After about 30 minutes bugs such as flies and ants will start to show up, wet food dries out quickly preventing cats from eating it, and food can go bad within hours (moreso with wet food).  Picking up uneaten food after roughly one hour helps prevent that. If your community cats come and go all day/night, this may not be practical, so try feeding the cats dry food in the summer, it attracts fewer insects.  Leave out only as much dry food as the cats will eat. If you do give wet food, add water to help keep it from drying out.  

Feeding Stations - Feeding stations should be out of sight and protected from the elements.  Info on making these is here. Plastic storage containers, weighted down with a brick or large rock can offer protection for food and water. The awnings for feeding stations only need the front covered which will help protect the food from rain and the elements. Cleanliness in all areas is essential. See info about keeping food and water bowls clean here. 

Bowl Types - Metal can retain heat more than plastic, staying hot longer. Use caution with glassware, since glass dishes can break and you don’t want broken glass around. If you use glassware, try Pyrex since it doesn’t break as easily. Heavy plastic bowls are versatile and easy to clean. You can find inexpensive, larger antimicrobial plastic feeding tubs and bowls at feed stores like AZ Feeds and OK Feed.

Bugs - The following are ways to keep bugs away from food/water bowls as well as traps when doing TNR.  
1) You can create your own “bug barrier” for food and water bowls by raising the bowls or the feeding station off the ground slightly and surrounding them with a narrow line of food-grade diatomaceous earth (DE) without chemical additives.

Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth (DE)
It is IMPORTANT that the diatomaceous earth that you use does NOT HAVE ADDED CHEMICALS and is marked "food grade", so diatomaceous earth sold for swimming pool filters is not safe to use around animals. The following are the most inexpensive Tucson sources for food grade diatomaceaous earth (DE).  Prices were accurate as of 5/21/2020. 

4 pounds for $9.98 at Home Depot , click on photo for link to store page.

8oz for $7.98 at Home Depot and comes in container that makes it very easy to create a thin barrier line around traps, food bowls, etc. Click on photo for link to store page.

OK Feeds (Ft Lowell & Dodge) has 5# bags for $8.59

2) “Moat” bowls, a large outer bowl or pan filled with an inch or two of water with a smaller bowl inside it holding the food, can keep bugs away but you have to make sure the water isn't evaporating in extreme heat and that the moat part gets cleaned out regularly because it can get bits of food in it that sit in the water and form mold and bacteria. A 9×13″ baking pan can work well as an outer bowl; fill it with an inch of water and then place in it almost any size inner bowl. Moat bowls can be easily made and are very inexpensive, BUT you need to make sure you clean the inner bowl, the moat, regularly as it can gather debris, bugs, pieces of food, etc and become slimy and filled with bacteria which can deter the cats from going near the water.  So just keep the moat clean.

3) Commercially available ant-proof bowls: recommended ant-proof bowls

  • Shade & Shelter

Try to provide a cool, shady spot for cats to rest in and help them deal with Tucson’s extreme heat. Covering an area from the daytime sun can cool it down by over ten degrees. Hanging a tarp can create shade. Tarps can be purchased inexpensively from Harbor Freight and Costco.

MOSQUITOES can and do frequently bite cats which can cause a variety of health problems but the one we are most concerned with in community cats is mosquito bite hypersensitivity. You can make efforts to prevent mosquitoes by disposing of containers that collect and hold water and/or not allowing that water to stand for more than 2 days such as in rain collectors, buckets, flowerpots, tires, yard debris, gutters, flat roofs, etc. Check around faucets and air conditioner units and repair leaks or eliminate puddles that remain for several days. Check for trapped water in plastic or canvas tarps used to cover anything on the property. Remember, fresh water should be given to cats daily and water bowls cleaned at least weekly so that no bugs are breeding in that water (and so water is healthy for cats). Instructions for cleaning food and water bowls is available here. Commerical products like "Mosquito Dunks" and "Mosquito Bits" containing Bti (which is harmless to humans and animals, Wikipedia page here) can be purchased at many hardware/garden stores for use around your property. Locally, in Tucson, the least expensive sources for this are Walmart for $11.79 for 8oz and Ace Hardware at $12.99 for 8oz. Prices were accurate as of 5/21/2020. 
FROZEN WATER BOTTLES in gallon size or larger are a great way to help outdoor cats deal with the heat. Lay them in the shade each day where the cats can lie next to them and stay cool. We have found that setting these frozen bottles out late in the morning or early afternoon is helpful so that they aren't melted by the time the brutal heat peaks in late afternoon to early evening. If you are working and the only time you can set them out is in the morning before you leave, larger bottles will stay frozen longer. Try to replace them with new frozen bottles when you get home from work. We keep 4-6 in the freezer so that we always have a couple frozen. 

  • Trapping Conditions
If you perform Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) during the summer, be mindful of the extreme heat.  Do not leave cats in traps in the car or sun! — they can get heat stroke just like people, dogs and other mammals. Once the cat is trapped, keep the cat in the shade with a light, breathable trap cover (sheet) or in an air-conditioned space (spare bedroom, laundry room, bathroom, etc.). According to Dr. Foster and Smith, cats left inside vehicles on hot days are the most common heat stroke victims. Temperatures inside a closed vehicle can reach well above 104 degrees quickly. SOME of the signs that a cat might be overheating include: Rapid breathing or panting, drooling, dilated pupils and vomiting. 

Don’t place traps on surfaces that get extremely hot from the sun, such as asphalt or cement. The metal can absorb the heat and burn the cat’s paws. It is possible for a cat to die from heat stroke when confined in a TNR trap for too long. A simple guideline to follow: if it’s too hot for you, it is too hot for the cats. During summer, even without extreme heat, trapping in the very early morning and then transporting to the vet that same morning is the safest way to trap. Be careful when trapping cats, that you don't set traps in areas that attract ants.  And if ants are unavoidable, see the "Bugs" section below and the "Diatomaceous Earth" section above. 

HEAT ADVISORIES or WHEN TEMPERATURES ARE OVER 103 DEGREES: Pay attention to when extreme heat advisories are in effect, it is too hot for routine TNR during this time and it is extremely difficult for cats to recover from surgery in extreme heat. If you need to trap a cat that is seriously ill or injured during extremely hot weather, try to trap at night or very early in the morning (if possible) and then pull the trapped cat indoors (inside the trap) immediately to avoid heatstroke!
 BUGS You can control bugs when trapping for TNR by putting the trap on top of newspaper and then laying down a ring of food grade diatomaceous earth around the perimeter of the trap to keep insects like ants out. Cats often will not go into a trap if ants are covering the food you use for bait. Additionally, you don't want the cats getting bitten by ants bceause they are unable to leave the trap. See Diatomaceous Earth information above.
  • Health Issues
Watch for health issues that could need medical attention. Look for upper respiratory infection (URI) signs like runny eyes or snotty noses and listen for sneezes. URIs (Common Kitty Cold, Feline Herpes Virus) are very common in the summers here. If you notice cats experiencing eye discharge, a runny or clogged up nose you can start feeding a completely safe supplement called L-lysine immediately! (If you see green or yellow discharge and this supplement doesn't help, the cat NEEDS TO SEE A VET.  Santa Cruz Veterinary Clinic in Tucson are able to offer medical care to community cats with severe upper respiratory infections). See here for dosage and more information. 

If a cat seems to be losing weight or if their coat seems matted or unkempt, like they aren’t grooming themselves, it is likely an indication that something is wrong and you should trap that cat and take him/her to a vet immediately  (Santa Cruz Veterinary Clinic in Tucson offers medical care to community cats). It is important that you call and ask for help BEFORE the cat gets so sick that they are in danger of losing an eye, a limb (from infection) or dying! Other health issues to look for are signs of injury. Lots of reproduction occurs throughout the summer here and because of that, females that haven't been sterilized can easily have their health run down because of constant nursing and pregnancy and males that haven't been sterilized can easily become injured from fighting. Again, we would MUCH rather help you get a cat to a vet in the early stages of injury or illness rather than weeks to months after you first noticed a problem and something drastic has to be done!  Community cats can be brought in to the community cat program with Santa Cruz Vet Clinic.  You can also call No Kill Pima County for advice: