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Heat stroke in cats: Prevention, symptoms, and treatment

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© New Africa - Shutterstock

Heatstroke is more commonly associated with dogs, or even humans, yet, it is just as much a health risk for cats, especially in the heat of the summer months!

By Justine Seraphin

Published on the 11/07/2021, 17:00

Heatstroke occurs when your pet’s body temperature rises so high that it’s above it’s normal range. This is known as hyperthermia, and when it happens, your pet’s body can start to shut down, which is very dangerous and can even be fatal.

While heatstroke is quite well known in dogs, it’s not so much in cats. Yet, both cats and dogs can suffer from heatstroke, so it’s really important to know how to keep them safe, especially in the summer.

What causes heatstroke in cats?

Heatstroke, or sunstroke, usually occurs when your cat has been exposed to high temperatures for a prolonged amount of time. However, there are some predisposing factors to heatstroke as well. For example, your pet might be more vulnerable if they are senior, overweight, suffer from a chronic illness, have a particularly thick coat, or a flat face.

What are the signs of heat stroke in a cat?

Cats tend to be more stoic and independent than dogs, so it can be harder to spot when they’re not feeling well. If temperatures are very high, and particularly if your cat is an outdoor cat, make sure you watch out for the following heatstroke symptoms:

  • Panting
  • Drooling
  • Sweating of the paw pads
  • Restlessness
  • Red tongue/gums
  • Pale gums
  • High heart rate
  • High temperature (above 40°C)
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Disorientation
  • Staggering
  • Lethargy
  • Seizing
  • Collapsing
  • Producing little to no urine
  • Coma

How do you cool down a hot cat?

If you think your cat could be suffering from heatstroke, then you’ll need to start on some emergency first aid treatment before calling your vet.

Firstly, take your cat out of the heat and sun and bring them into a cooler place (e.g. the basement). Wet a towel and place it underneath your cat. Apply cool or tepid water onto their fur, with particular attention to the areas with visible skin, such as the inside of the ears. If you have a fan, place it close to your cat to help them rid themselves of their excess body heat. Call your vet immediately and let them advise you on what to do next.

What do vets do for heat stroke?

If your vet deems your pet’s condition to be dangerous, they will probably ask you to bring them into the clinic. There, the vet may run some blood tests to check your cat’s organ function. They will probably place your cat on an intravenous fluid drip to help them rehydrate, and may give them oxygen to aid in breathing. To help them cool down, your vet may perform an enema. Even if these treatments are successful, your vet will probably keep your cat under surveillance for some time. Recovery could take several days.

What are the long term effects of heat stroke in cats?

Heatstroke can cause organ damage or even failure, if it isn’t treated fast enough. Once your pet’s body temperature has returned to normal, your vet will be able to assess whether there is permanent damage to your cat’s organs. If your cat has indeed suffered from kidney, liver or brain damage, it is possible that your vet will have to prescribe life-long medication to help them cope.

How can I prevent my cat from overheating?

Overheating can be a bigger risk for outdoor cats because it is harder for owners to keep an eye on them and monitor their time in the sun or their water intake for example. If temperatures are soaring, try to keep your cat indoors during the day. Let them out only at night when the sun has set. If your cat is outdoors on a very hot day, make sure they have plenty of access to shade and fresh water. Make sure you are home to let your cat in at any time, or that you have an open cat-flap that will allow your cat to come in and cool down whenever they need to.

Inside, if you don’t have air conditioning, it could help to have a fan on. Again, make sure your cat has a resting place in a cool part of the house and constant access to a bowl of fresh water. You can add a little chicken stock frozen treat to their water bowl to encourage them to drink more. Avoid playing with your cat during the hottest hours of the day, and give them a good brush to help them rid themselves of any excess fur. 

Keep this advice in mind and you are sure to have a purr-fect summer with your pet!

Frequently asked questions

What temperatures do cats get heat stroke?

Can indoor cats get heat stroke?

Does wetting a cat cool it down?