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Heat stroke in cats

Heat stroke in cats: How to cool down a cat

Despite their desert origins and reputation for lounging in sun puddles, cats, like dogs, are at risk of heat stroke when ‌temperatures begin to rise. Heat stroke in cats can be a serious and potentially life-threatening condition, especially for outdoor cats who may not have the places to relax out of the heat. Understanding the signs of heat stroke and taking appropriate measures to cool down your cat is crucial for their health and happiness. 

This article will delve deeper into heat stroke in cats, discussing its symptoms, preventive measures, and necessary actions if your cat experiences heat stroke.

Let’s take a closer look at heat stroke in cats, how to spot it and how to keep your cat safe and cool.

Brief summary

  • Heat stroke in cats is a condition where the body struggles to regulate its temperature
  • Symptoms include restlessness, sweaty paws, excessive grooming, panting and drooling
  • To prevent heat stroke, provide constant access to fresh water, create a cool environment and offer frozen treats.
  • Move them to a cooler area, wet their coat with cool water, provide drinking water, and contact a vet if they show signs of heat stroke
  • Short-nosed breeds, overweight cats, kittens and seniors are at high risk of heat stroke

Heat stroke in cats

Like humans and dogs, cats can experience hyperthermia when subjected to extreme heat. Hyperthermia is when the body experiences an abnormally high temperature and struggles to lower it in its usual ways. 

Cats primarily rely on drinking water, seeking shade or cool surfaces, licking themselves and sweating through their paws to regulate their body temperature, although they will also pant to cool down as a last resort. If a cat's body temperature continues to rise without being able to cool down, heat exhaustion can occur. This can then escalate to heat stroke. 

Heat stroke is a serious problem, and can result in loss of consciousness and seizures, posing a severe threat to your cat's health.

Recognising the signs of heat stroke in cats

heat stroke symptoms in cats

Awareness of the warning signs indicating your cat may suffer from heat stroke is essential. If your cat is distressed due to excessive heat, watch out for the following symptoms:

Restlessness and actively seeking cool areas

Cats may exhibit increased agitation and search for cooler spots to escape the heat. If it's hot out and you can't find your cat, look in bushes, sheds and garages, or under beds, in the bathroom or under the sofa. These are areas of the home and garden that are usually cooler. Conversely, they may seem very lethargic and less responsive than normal.

Sweaty paws

Cats have fewer sweat glands than us, so can only lose a limited amount of heat this way. One place that they can sweat from is their paws. If your cat's feet are wetter than usual or you notice they are leaving paw prints as they walk, it may be a sign that your cat is overheating. 

Excessive grooming

Cats are notorious for cleanliness. You often see them licking themselves, keeping themselves clean and removing any excess or old fur. As a cat owner, you'll generally know what regular grooming looks like with your cat. If they're grooming excessively, they may be trying to cool themselves down with their saliva

Panting or drooling

Because cats can't sweat much, they pant to cool themselves, although generally only resort to this when they are already overheating and in some distress. When a cat pants, their tongue produces tiny water droplets, which evaporate. This creates cool air, which flows over the mucous membranes in your cat's mouth and nose. This evaporation will eventually cool their body temperature. 

Other signs of heat stroke

As the cat's body temperature continues to rise, the signs of heat exhaustion may progress and include:

Vet's view

By Lizzie Youens BSc(Hons) BVSc MRCVS

It wasn’t a hugely hot day when the cat was brought in, but he’d been accidentally locked in a greenhouse for two hours, inside which the temperature had soared. He was drooling badly, staggering around and had vomited. 

The owner had phoned ahead so we were expecting his arrival, and I was already suspicious of heatstroke. A body temperature of 41.5°C confirmed my fears. With his extremely elevated temperature, a high heart rate, rapid breathing and a dark red colour to his tongue and gums, I knew he needed urgent assistance. 

We initiated active cooling immediately with cold water, ice packs and a fan. An IV line was placed to administer fluids as he was dehydrated, risking damage to vital organs. Luckily, the cat responded well, with his body temperature slowly returning to normal and his symptoms resolving. He stayed in for monitoring for the rest of the day, but then was well enough to be discharged to his extremely relieved owners. 

I was relieved too – heatstroke is less common in cats than dogs, but can be extremely serious and doesn’t always have a happy ending. 

How to cool down a cat?

Prevention is always better than cure, so it's essential to keep your cat cool before they become overheated. Luckily there are some great ways to help your cat stay cool.

Provide access to fresh water

Ensure that fresh water is available to your cat at all times. Consider placing multiple water bowls around the house and monitor the water level regularly. Make sure you use suitable bowls as well. Some cats dislike having their whiskers touch the edge, so a wide, shallow bowl would be best. Other cats like running water, so you could use a cat fountain or run the tap for them.

Create a cool environment

During hotter parts of the day, keep your cat indoors, where the temperature is typically lower. Keep curtains or blinds closed to block the sun, but open windows to promote air circulation and use fans or air conditioning if possible. 

If it's sweltering, placing a wet cloth on the fan or aiming it at a frozen water bottle will help cool the air down even better.

Frozen treats

Consider freezing the spring water from a can of tuna. Not only will it keep them stimulated, but it will also provide a cool, tasty treat and will help keep them indoors. 

Cooling aids

Place ice packs or frozen water bottles wrapped in a towel for your cat to rest on. This can provide a cooling sensation and help regulate their body temperature. 

You can also get a cat cooling mat. These mats typically contain a gel-like substance that reacts to your pet’s bodyweight and cools down when the cat is resting on it. It helps to put it in a dark room before you use it to get the full benefits. You can place them under your cat’s usual bed to allow for a cooler resting place. 

Check sheds and garages

Cats are known for seeking out odd resting places, and can occasionally get shut into sheds, garages and greenhouses. These small spaces can become extremely hot, so always check before you shut the door.

If your cat experiences heat stroke

Immediate action is crucial if you suspect your cat is suffering from heat stroke. Follow these steps to provide initial treatment while seeking veterinary assistance:

Move your cat to a cool, shaded area

Transport them to an indoor or shaded outdoor area away from direct sunlight. The indoors will be better as you can regulate the temperature easier. 

Apply water

Use a damp cloth or towel soaked in cool water to gently wet your cat's coat. If possible, wet your cat's belly where the hair is lighter. The best thing to do is wet your cat while blowing cool air over them. This will help speed up their evaporative cooling, helping them regain a safe body temperature quicker. Don’t leave wet towels lying over the cat - this will trap the heat. Either apply water directly to the cat, or keep wetting the towel constantly so that the surface remains cold.

Use mist spray

A mist spray can help cool down your cat's coat by providing a fine water mist. This can be particularly useful if your cat is uncomfortable with getting wet. 

Provide access to drinking water

Provide fresh water for your cat to drink at all times, and ensure they have more than one water bowl. Allow them to consume as much water as they desire to prevent dehydration. You can add some tuna water to their water bowl to entice them to drink.

Contact your vet

If your cat appears unwell after getting hot, seek veterinary advice urgently. The quicker they can begin to treat them, the better their chances. Your vet may put them on a drip if they are severely dehydrated, and treat any consequences of severe heat stroke, such as seizures.

What’s the prognosis for cats suffering from heat stroke

The outcome of a cat with heat stroke depends upon the severity of the heat stroke, the cat's age and health, and how quickly you can get them veterinary care.

In mild cases of heat stroke, where the cat's body temperature has not risen to extremely high levels and treatment is provided quickly, the prognosis is good. The cat should recover fully with appropriate care and hydration.

In severe cases where the body temperature has gone up drastically, and veterinary care is not administered soon enough, the prognosis is more guarded. Heat stroke can lead to organ damage, including damage to the brain, kidneys, and liver. This can result in long-term health issues or even death.

Are there any studies looking at heat stroke in cats?

Yes, there are. One UK study into heat-related illness in small animals presented to veterinary practices between 2013 and 2018 found that heat-related illness can affect all small animals and is likely to become more common as climate change continues. 

It states that environmental temperatures, such as where your cat sleeps or lives, accounted for all heat-related illnesses. The study highlights the risk of heat-related illnesses to all pet animals during the UK's warmer summer months (June to August).

Cat heat stroke is a serious condition requiring prompt attention and appropriate care. Understanding the signs of heat stroke and taking preventive measures can help protect your cat from the dangers of excessive heat. 

Frequently asked questions

What risk factors make cats more susceptible to heatstroke

Compromised airways

Cats with brachycephalic (short-nosed) breeds, like Persians or Himalayans, are more prone to heat stroke because their shortened airways make it difficult to cool down efficiently. These cats have limited ability to pant and dissipate heat compared to cats with normal nasal anatomy.

Overweight or obese cats
Cats that are overweight or obese have a higher risk of heat stroke because the excess body fat acts as insulation, making it harder for them to regulate their body temperature effectively. Additionally, obese cats often have reduced physical fitness, limiting their ability to handle heat stress.

Kittens and seniors

Both kittens and senior cats have reduced heat tolerance compared to adult cats. Kittens have immature thermoregulatory systems, making them less efficient at dissipating heat. On the other hand, senior cats may have underlying health issues or reduced mobility, which can affect their ability to cope with high temperatures.

Long-haired cats

Cats with long, thick coats are more likely to overheat. Always maintain good grooming habits, especially in the warmer months.

Sick cats

Cats that are already ill or have pre-existing health conditions may have a compromised ability to regulate their body temperature. Illnesses affecting the respiratory or cardiovascular systems can make it harder for a cat to cool down when exposed to heat.

Trapped in hot areas

Cats trapped in hot environments like greenhouses, garages, sheds, cars, or clothes dryers are at a high risk of heat stroke. These enclosed spaces can quickly become extremely hot, especially during the warmer months. Cats left outdoors without access to shade or water are also at risk.

How does hydration prevent heat stroke?

Hydration is crucial in preventing heat stroke in cats. Dehydration can occur rapidly in cats, particularly in hot weather or when exposed to high temperatures for a long time. Because dehydration reduces a cat's ability to cool down, it increases the risk of heat stroke. 

By ensuring your cat has access to fresh water at all times and encouraging them to drink, you help prevent dehydration and maintain their hydration levels. Consider a cat fountain and keep numerous bowls of fresh water around the home. 

How can regular vet checks help your cat stay safe from heatstroke?

How to cool down a cat

Regular vet check-ups are important for keeping your cat safe from heat stroke. When you take your cat to the vet for regular visits, they can examine your cat's overall health and make sure they are prepared to handle temperature changes. The vet will check for any underlying medical conditions that could make your cat more vulnerable to heat stroke. For example, if your cat has respiratory or cardiovascular issues, the vet can provide guidance on how to manage those conditions during hot weather.

During the vet visit, the veterinarian can also advise you on keeping your cat cool and comfortable in the summer months. They may suggest specific modifications to your cat's environment, such as creating shaded areas or using fans to improve air circulation. They can recommend suitable times for outdoor activities and precautions when travelling with your cat in hot weather.

How can grooming keep cats cool?

Regular grooming helps keep cats cool in hot weather. It removes excess fur, prevents matting, and improves air circulation around their skin. Grooming also helps cats stay clean and comfortable. Use cat-specific grooming tools and be gentle. Creating a positive grooming experience strengthens your bond with your cat. Additionally, provide a cool environment and fresh water for optimal comfort.

Remember to provide access to water, create a cool environment, and use cooling aids during hot weather. If your cat does experience heat stroke, take immediate steps to cool them down and seek veterinary assistance without delay. Stay vigilant, keep your cat safe, and enjoy the summer months together.

Need more info?

If you need more help and advice on keeping your cat cool in the summer, or on preventing heat stroke in cats, have a chat with your local vet.

Find your nearest vet using our Find a Vet page, or speak to a vet online using Online Vets.

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