Keep Cool, Kitty, And Carry On: What You Need To Know About Heatstroke In Cats

Posted on: 26 January 2018

Whether your kitty ventures outdoors or remains inside without the benefit of air conditioning, be attentive to heat wave temperatures during the summer months. Heatstroke can have fatal consequences, so learn how to recognize the signs, how to provide immediate life-saving care when heatstroke strikes and what you can do to prevent such a situation from occurring.

Inefficient Kitty Cooling Systems

Hyperthermia, or heatstroke, occurs when a cat's core body temperature soars too high. Some temperature range guidelines to be aware of for your cat are as follows:

  • 100.0 to 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit is the normal body temperature range for a cat.
  • 104.0 to 106.0 degrees Fahrenheit is considered a moderate heatstroke range for a cat.
  • Temperatures that exceed 106.0 degrees Fahrenheit are indicative of severe heatstroke in cats.

The reason that cats can fall victim to heatstroke when exposed to high temperatures can be blamed on their inefficient cooling systems. When you become overheated, you sweat. This human bodily response aids in expelling toxins from the body as well as in cooling down the body's surface temperature as the moisture evaporates. Cats can only sweat through the pads on their paws. This is sufficient if your cat is only moderately warm, but in the throes of a summer heat wave, those tiny pads are too small to keep up with her rapidly rising core temperature. In an attempt to cope with her discomfort, she will start to pant. If you observe your cat panting on a hot day, be sure to assess her for any additional signs that her temperature may be climbing too high.

Signs of Heatstroke

Heat stress is the precursor to heatstroke. Your cat will exhibit the following signs when she starts to feel hot and uncomfortable:

  • Panting
  • Drooling
  • Restlessness
  • Moist paws
  • Excessive grooming

At this stage, her body temperature may still be at the high end of the normal range, and relocating her to a cool environment with fresh water for her to drink can prevent a progression to heatstroke. However, if these signs go unnoticed or unaddressed, her body temperature will continue to rise. Signs of heat stroke include the following:

  • Redness of the tongue and mucous membranes
  • Rapid respiratory and pulse rates
  • Sluggishness
  • Stumbling or decrease in coordination
  • Vomiting

Once a cat's body temperature exceeds 106 degrees Fahrenheit, collapse, seizures and coma occur, followed by organ failure and death. As soon as you notice any signs of heatstroke, do not delay in pursuing emergency care.

Take Her Temperature and Take Action

If your cat is conscious and presents with signs of heatstroke on a hot day, move her immediately to a cool area and take her temperature. Wet a towel with cool, not cold, water and place the towel over your cat's body and head, leaving her face uncovered. Resist the temptation to use cold water. While lowering your cat's body temperature is the immediate priority, doing so too rapidly with cold water can result in shock and other medical concerns. You should also provide your cat with as much drinking water and she wants to lap up, but do not force-feed the water into her. Force-feeding could result in aspiration or choking. Take your cat's temperature every five minutes until it has come down to 103 degrees Fahrenheit, at which time you should transport her to your veterinarian for an evaluation.

If you discover your cat unconscious on a hot day, move quickly to take her temperature and to cover her with a wet towel in the same manner as described above. Once the towel is in place and you have a temperature reading, take your cat with her towel immediately to an emergency veterinary facility. For the ride, you can also wrap a bag of frozen vegetables in the excess length of towel and place it in her groin area. Once you get to the veterinary clinic, lifesaving care for heatstroke will include observation and treatment for shock, fluid therapy and oxygenation. Blood tests will also be performed to monitor your cat's organ function capacity.

You Can Prevent Heatstroke

Keep in mind that while heatstroke can occur in any cat, your feline friend is especially at risk if she has a history of a prior heatstroke episode, if she is a senior, obese or one of the following brachycephalic breeds:

  • Persian
  • Himalayan
  • Burmese
  • British shorthair
  • Exotic shorthair
  • Scottish fold

Always ensure that your cat has a shady or cool location available where she can retreat from the heat, and always supply her with plenty of fresh and cool drinking water. If your cat typically goes outside for some feline revelry, keep her indoors on particularly hot days. If you do not have a central air-conditioning unit in your home, consider purchasing a window air-conditioning unit or a room fan to keep one room in your home cool and comfortable for furry family members. 

Never leave your cat in the car, even if you just need to duck into a store for a quick errand on your way home from her veterinary checkup. It may be a comfortable 80 degrees outside, but the interior temperature of your parked car can exceed 110 degrees within 30 minutes.

When the ambient temperature rises, be proactive in helping your kitty to keep cool and carry on. For more information, contact establishments like Center-Sinai Animal Hospital.