Heat stroke or heat exhaustion is a very serious, life-threatening condition for cats. It can cause permanent damage to multiple internal organs, and can cause kidneys and the heart to stop functioning or fail. It can be fatal if not treated with urgency by taking your cat to a veterinarian or emergency veterinary hospital.
Heat stroke can happen anytime throughout the year, but it happens more often during the warm summer months. Cats are no different than people when it comes to tolerating heat. But it is even harder for cats to respond to heat and cool their bodies since they pant and sweat only through the pads of their paws to reduce excess heat. It’s much harder for cats to regulate their body temperature as a result. If they cannot cool themselves fast enough, they will quickly become overheated and suffer from heat exhaustion or heat stroke, which can be fatal. Don’t wait until the eleventh hour to seek treatment when it can be late. Watch out for signs of heat stroke and know what to do.
Know the warning signs for your cat, or an outside cat that you encounter, is in distress from excessive heat and severe dehydration. Heat stroke can happen to a cat at any age, but it particularly affects cats that are older, overweight, cats with heart or respiratory problems, cats with thick long hair (Persian, Himalayan, or domestic long-haired), cats with neurological disease, cats that are chronically dehydrated, cats with short snouts or flat faces (Brachycephalic anatomy), or cats that have been playing too long and become overheated. Heat stroke is extremely dangerous and can become deadly in a short period of time. A cat can go into kidney failure and cardiac arrest if their body temperature and heart rate are not brought down quickly enough.
Remember, cats rely on external cooling to lose heat. Plus, their long thick coats of hair can predispose them to heat stroke and overheating. So, remember to keep your cats cool and inside where their body temperature can remain normal, and they can avoid becoming dehydrated. Be extra careful to provide them with a well ventilated, cool, shaded environment with access to cool, fresh water every day. Pets are susceptible and vulnerable to heat, so be sure to keep this in mind – and watch for signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke in your cat, or any cat that you see outdoors, so you can know what to do to help them.
What is Heat Stroke?
Heat stroke happens when the core body temperature is above the normal range and results in heat injury to the internal tissues. Is occurs when heat generation exceeds the body’s ability to cool itself and lose the heat.
What are the Main Causes?
- A warm, hot, humid environment that doesn’t have enough ventilation or air circulation
- Inadequate shade
- Inadequate drinking water
- Too much exercise
Look for the Signs of Heat Stroke
Initial Signs of Heat Distress
- Restless, agitated behavior – look for a cat trying to find a cool spot
- Heavy panting, drooling, or excessive salivation, excessive grooming—trying to cool off
- Difficulty breathing or breathing distress
Signs of Heat Exhaustion
- Rapid breathing and rapid pulse or heartrate
- A purple or deep red tongue, white gums
- Staggering, stumbling gait – having difficulty walking
- Collapsing and lying down
- Little to no urine production
- Unconsciousness / Coma
- Rectal temperature is over 105° F
At this point, the cat will likely collapse, have seizures, slip into unconsciousness, or a possible coma.
Know the Signs of Dehydration
Dehydration can also be deadly very quickly. It can trigger serious kidney problems and kidney failure, and other organ failure, if the cat remains dehydrated and left in extreme heat for too long. Without enough water, the body can shut down. Being in the sun or outside in the heat for any part of a day, can be enough for your cat to become seriously dehydrated. Be aware of these symptoms of dehydration:
- Sunken eyes
- Sticky gums
- Loss of skin elasticity (pull up skin on the back of your cat’s neck, does it snap back quickly? It should.)
If your cat cannot get enough water and is showing the signs of dehydration, it may be necessary to take them to a veterinarian for subcutaneous fluid therapy for a day or two to replenish the electrolytes that have been lost.
How To Treat Heat Stroke and Provide Immediate Care
Learn how to do emergency first aid at home, first. The initial emergency treatment will be at home to normalize your cat’s body temperature, then take them to the vet or emergency.
If your cat is only stressed by the heat:
- Remove your cat from the heat outside.
- Cool your cat down to avoid shock. You can do the following to bring their body temp down.
- Put a cool wet towel on his head and neck, also on his belly where their heart is. Keep water out of their nose and mouth.
- Put a bag of frozen veggies or ice between their legs.
- Bring the cat inside and put the cat against the AC or a fan running inside your home along with a wet cold towel over their head and body.
- Put your cat in a tub and run some cool (not cold) water gently over their body, and let their paws and legs be in the water.
- Give them cool, fresh water to drink.
If your cat is conscious but showing signs of heat exhaustion:
- Do any of the above for 5 minutes, then prepare to take them to the vet.
- Take your cat to the nearest veterinarian for fluid therapy and additional care.
- Heat stroke is an emergency – even if your cat looks like they are recovering, always have a vet check them out first.
If your cat is unconscious:
- Put a cold wet towel around him, or soak him in cold water, then place a bag of ice or frozen veggies between his legs.
- Get your cat immediately to the nearest veterinarian or emergency veterinary hospital – don’t wait and don’t hesitate.
- Time is of the essence in preventing death.
How Veterinarians Address Heat Stroke
- Provide cooling treatments
- Provide supplemental oxygen
- Treatment with intravenous fluid therapy (IV fluids)
- Perform a blood test to check organ function
- Provide medication, as needed
- Provide ongoing monitoring and treatment, as needed
How To Prevent Heat Stroke and Dehydration
- Keep your cat inside during hot days.
- Keep your cat in a cool, well-ventilated space. Good air flow is critical.
- Outdoor cats need lots of shade and good ventilation.
- Access to plenty of water bowls in various rooms and spaces they frequent the most or access to fresh drinking water at all times. Extra water bowls on hotter days are good.
- If you must let your cat out, do it only in the cool early morning hours, never leave them out.
- Avoid concrete, asphalt areas or hot sand, or any other area that reflects heat and has little shade.
- Never exercise your cat, or play heavily, in warm or humid conditions.
- Know the signs of heat stroke!
If you know how to take your cat’s temperature with a rectal thermometer, know that 100-102.5° F is normal; 103-104° requires veterinary care; and over 105° F is life threatening, and requires immediate emergency veterinary care.
Plan in advance for an emergency, know where the nearest emergency veterinary hospital is located. Develop a relationship with your veterinarian. Have the phone and address of both in your smart phone, contact list, and easily available to you. Respond quickly, always better to be safe than sorry. Your cat is depending on you to do the right thing.