As a relatively new pet owner, I ask Google to explain lots of things about my cat. Why is this gremlin wrestling his own feet? Why is he galloping sideways, wild-eyed and yowling, like a crab rabbit escaped from hell? Why does he hiss at his own butt? Yet cats being what they are—often, willfully enigmatic assholes whose behaviors seem engineered to defy human interpretation—the internet's cat people offer conflicting insights into my questions. Usually, I'll just cherry pick the bits I like, with the understanding that no one can ever know what cats are up to inside their little fur brains. This week, however, I need real answers, because this week, someone seems to have transfigured New York into an enormous barbecue pit, obligating all of us to slow cook under a bed of coals in our miserable tissue box apartments for days.

We find ourselves mid-heat wave, friends, and while I signed up for this when I decided to move to this towering waste heap, my cat—Porkchop, a small soft boy who has never before weathered a New York City summer—did not. The question that weighs heaviest on my mind during this "heat emergency," per the National Weather Service, is whether or not Porkchop can safely stay in my hot apartment while I go to work.

This question divides the cat community. Point: Running the air conditioning, the assumed existence of which may strike many New Yorkers as laughably luxurious, is both expensive and, in an empty home, wasteful. Counterpoint: Your home isn't empty, it houses your pet, and what kind of a monster are you? Forums aren't very helpful in settling this one. They touch on the wildly subjective nature of feline preferences; they argue that cats love baking themselves in sun patches, so heat shouldn't really be a problem; that these beasts descend from jungle animals, yes, but they've also become accustomed to creature comforts and their particular home's environment. So what's the right call here? How can I avoid accidentally roasting my cat?

Dr. Timnah Lee, a veterinarian with the Tribeca Soho Animal Hospital in Manhattan, tells Gothamist that pets "are like children: If you wouldn’t leave your toddler alone in the heat in your apartment, then you shouldn’t leave your pet." At least not without taking a few precautions first.

Lee explains that different pets respond to heat in different ways: Dogs apparently hate humidity, while snakes (for example) require desert or jungle-type climes to thrive—heat your hirsute critters may be ill-equipped to handle. While canines will often pant post-exercise, Lee warns that a panting pup who's just lazing around your apartment probably needs some help: Water, AC, and a cool spot to chill out. Cats, meanwhile, should never pant: "They are obligate nasal breathers, which means if they are panting, they are in respiratory distress and need to see a veterinarian ASAP," Lee notes. They also enjoy shady nooks, tile floors, and porcelain sinks, so do your cat a solid and leave your dark bathroom accessible when you leave for the day.

There is, however, no naturally occurring threshold temperature at which your apartment becomes too hot for a pet to handle. That depends on species, breed, and the animal itself. Certain breeds do carry more heat risk, though: Smush-faced pets—Persian cats and bulldogs, for example—have an extra hard time breathing in hot humid weather, Lee says. She recommends confining them to an air conditioned space and avoiding unnecessary outdoor jaunts, lest they overheat.

As for gauging whether or not you need to crank your AC when you head to work, Lee offers this simple tip: "Anytime you are hot and sweating, so are your pets." So if you're lucky enough to have an air conditioner, even central air, consider this: Pinpoint the least most reasonable temperature at which you would be comfortable if left to languish in your home all day, and set your unit there. If you lack AC, you'll want to power up your fans: Lee seems skeptical that these alone would be enough, especially for your squashed-face cats and dogs, but sometimes we all must make do.

Whenever temperatures spike, though, be kind and set out extra water bowls for your pet, to make sure they don't die of dehydration or take a tumble into the toilet bowl while trying to quench their thirst. Do this because you love your little goblin, because it takes mere minutes, and also because, if your pet is anything like mine, he gets *very punchy* in oppressive heat. Don't we all, though?

For more guidance, the ASPCA has a list of important heat wave pet safety tips.