Humans, as many of us in the eastern U.S. and Canada learned this week, start feeling uncomfortable when our skin temperature hits 100°F (38 °C), just slightly above our normal core body temperature.
At 38°C, fur and all, your house cat is cool and relaxed, and probably doesn’t even notice it’s much warmer than usual. She won’t even get irritable until her skin hits about 126°F (52°C).
As usual, cats are far superior to people.
It’s a testament to the ancient origins of the house cat. Over 9000 years ago, farmers in a region of the Middle East called the Fertile Crescent entered into a business arrangement with local wildcats that expertly kept pesky mice at bay.
As agriculture grew, and permanent human settlements started to spread, so did their Chief Mousers. Now as many as 600 million cats live as pets worldwide. They haven’t lost their hunting instincts, and certainly haven’t done away with millions of years of adaptation to the desert.
Cats are like tiny, judgmental camels. Owing to their super-efficient kidneys, the “treasure” they bury in the litter box has much less water in it than what we flush down the toilet. Their kidneys are so good that a cat can get all the water they need from a hearty meat-based diet. They can even drink seawater and re-hydrate themselves with no ill effects.
Cats can sweat through tiny glands on the bottom of their paws. They’ll also lick their fur and let the saliva evaporate off to cool down. When all else fails, they’ll even lower themselves to panting like those goofy dogs.
But most pet cats, especially those in the places where air-conditioning is common, rarely resort to these drastic measures.
In a warming world, cats will probably keep their cool.