Cats love heat. But it shouldn’t come as a surprise that too much heat can be just as dangerous for your pets as it is for you. While more common in dogs, heat exhaustion and even heat stroke in cats is a real concern in the summer, particularly with certain kitties. Find out what the signs are and how to cool down a cat during these hot months.
First, how do cats sweat?
You’ve probably never thought about the fact that your cat sweats, but he does—although it’s rare and not very effective at cooling him down. So how do cats sweat? Through glands in their paws (or “toe beans”)! And as you can imagine, these tiny foot pads don’t provide much area from which to sweat. This is why cats are more prone to heat exhaustion and heat stroke than most of us realize.
Causes of heat stroke in cats
While cats aren’t nearly as likely to be left in a parked vehicle as dogs are, it has been known to happen. Other more common causes of heat stroke or heat exhaustion in cats include:
- Becoming trapped in a clothes dryer (this happens more often than you’d think)
- Becoming trapped in a shed or other structure with unregulated temperatures
- Being left in a confined space without access to water or shade, such as a sunroom
- Being left in a cage in direct sunlight, such as on a road trip or even on the way to the veterinarian
Which cats are more at risk?
Certain cats are more prone to bad reactions to the heat. Very young, very old, immuno-compromised, pregnant or nursing, and obese cats are more likely to suffer heat stroke. Cats with underlying medical conditions such as heart disease, kidney disease, and asthma are also at an increased risk.
Furthermore, flat-faced breeds (brachycephalics) such as Persians, Himalayans, Scottish Folds, and British Shorthairs have respiratory systems that contribute to these issues. And finally, long-haired cats and cats with dark fur are more likely to overheat due to their insulating coats.
Signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke
The early signs that your cat may be experiencing distress from heat include:
- Restless behavior
- Slight panting
- Sweaty paws
- Excessive grooming
And as your cat’s body temperature rises, other more serious symptoms may set in:
- Rapid pulse or panting
- Bright red tongue
- Dark red or very pale gums
- Lethargy or coma
- Stumbling or disorientation
- Rectal temperature above 105 degrees F
How to cool down a cat
If you notice the early signs of heat stress in your cat (slight panting, restlessness, drooling), you’ll want to move him to a cool location and make sure he has plenty of water. If you can do so safely, check his temperature rectally. Normal body temperature for cats hovers at or below 102.5 degrees F—anything over that warrants at least a call to your veterinarian, if not an immediate visit.
When to go to the vet
If you notice any of the more severe symptoms above in your cat, you should get to a veterinarian right away. Heat stroke in cats can lead to organ damage or failure, and eventually death. Before you jump in the car with your cat, take these steps to cool down your cat:
- Take him to a cool environment and place a cool, wet towel or blanket underneath him.
- Offer him water, but don’t allow him to drink too much too fast.
- Take his temperature rectally (make sure to use lubricant)—if it’s above 104 degrees F, gently spray cool (not cold) water over his body and blow a fan over him.
- Dry him off slightly with a towel and transport him to the vet or animal hospital in a pre-cooled vehicle.
Preventing heat stroke in cats
Once you know the likely causes of heat stroke in cats, you can work backwards to prevent them: Always check the clothes dryer to make sure your cat isn’t inside; place fresh, cool water throughout the house; keep your cat indoors on hot days—and if this isn’t possible, make sure he has access to plenty of cool water outside; frequently check outdoor sheds, sunrooms, or other confined spaces where your cat could be trapped; never leave your cat inside a parked car without air conditioning; and if your cat is in a cage, make sure he isn’t in direct sunlight for too long.
With these practical tips in mind, preventing heat stroke in cats isn’t too much of a challenge. But if you ever suspect your cat might be having a bad reaction to the heat, make sure to contact your veterinarian or local animal hospital right away.
Cover photo by Mattia Astorino on Unsplash