Heatstroke in Cats: Spotting the Signs and How to Cool Them

Feline heatstroke

The information in this article was reviewed and approved by registered veterinary nurse, Beth Walker

Animed Veterinary Nurse, Beth Walker

Cats tend to be better than dogs at regulating their own body temperatures since their ancestors originally came from the desert, but when the summer heat strikes, our feline friends can still sometimes suffer from overheating and dehydration. Heatstroke is the most life-threatening form of hyperthermia, and occurs when your cat is overwhelmed by heat and cannot control their body temperature. It’s very important that you keep an eye out for the signs of heatstroke in your cat, as being aware of the symptoms will enable you to act fast if it arises, reducing the chances of long-term organ damage and fatalities.

How Do Cats Cool Themselves During a Hot Day?

Heatstroke is less common in cats than it is in dogs, and for the most part, our feline friends are adept at controlling their body temperature.

As well as seeking shady spots when they feel too hot, cats will also lick themselves. This cools them down as their saliva acts like sweat does on humans, evaporating off their body and carrying heat away with it.

What Temperature is Too Hot for Cats?

The normal body temperature of a cat is about 38°C, which is higher than humans. The ideal room temperature for most cats would be between 25 and 30°C, although most healthy, adult cats are comfortable at temperatures as low as 15 to 20°C too.

Once the environment starts to get above 38°C, this is too hot for cats. If a cat’s body temperature goes above 40°C, they are at risk of heatstroke.

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What Causes Heatstroke in Cats?

Most commonly, cats suffer heatstroke after being accidentally trapped inside a hot, humid space with little ventilation. This could be a greenhouse, shed, garage, caravan or conservatory, for example.

Cats are also at higher risk of heatstroke if they have no access to shade cover or drinking water, or they have been excessively exercising in the hot weather.

Certain cats find it more difficult to cool down than others, and are therefore more at risk of heatstroke. These include:

  • Brachycephalic (flat-faced) breeds: Persian, Himalayan and British Shorthair cats for example, all have difficulty breathing because of the shape of their face, which makes it harder for them to cool down.
  • Cats with long, thick fur: These cats will also feel the heat more for obvious reasons. They are also more prone to tangles and matting which retain heat, so they should be regularly groomed, particularly in the summer.
  • Elderly cats and kittens: Very young or very old cats are more sensitive to extreme temperatures.
  • Cats with medical conditions: Cats with health problems tend to be more susceptible to heatstroke, particularly those with respiratory or heart problems.
  • Overweight cats: Fat is an insulator, so cats carrying excess fat will struggle to cool down as easily as cats of a healthy weight.
  • Exercising in hot weather: Too much activity when it’s very warm out can cause exhaustion, dehydration and lead to heatstroke.

How Do You Know if a Cat Has Heatstroke?

Some of the early signs of heatstroke in cats include:

  • Panting (this might progress to more distressed breathing)
  • Drooling
  • Bright red gums (or sometimes they can appear very pale instead)
  • Vomiting or diarrhoea (possibly containing blood)
  • Restlessness (your cat might be pacing, or appearing agitated as they search for a spot they can feel comfortable in)

As heatstroke progresses, your cat may also show the following symptoms:

  • Low energy
  • Stumbling or dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Low energy
  • Seizures
  • Collapse and unconsciousness

If your cat is panting, or showing any of the other signs of heatstroke, it’s crucial to cool them down as quickly as possible. The more quickly they are cooled, the better their chance of a full recovery.

Step-by-Step First Aid for Cooling Cats with Heatstroke

  1. Move them to a cool, well-ventilated place. This might be outside in the shade, or indoors in a cool room.
  2. Gently wet their coat with cool (but not freezing) water. You could do this by filling a cup with tap water and pouring it carefully over your cat’s body, or you could use a spray or hose. Be very careful that the water doesn’t go over your cat’s face as this could cause them to inhale some water. Don’t use ice-cold water as this can shock your cat, causing stress and increasing their temperature further. Even with the correct temperature of water, you should also be mindful of whether the water is causing a lot of stress to the cat – if it is, it could make things worse.
  3. Create a breeze. If you are inside, open windows and doors, and turn on a fan if you have one.
  4. You can also put your cat on top of a towel that has been soaked in cold water. Don’t cover them in a towel though, as this can cause their body temperature to increase further. Similarly, you mustn’t cuddle them as this will also make them hotter.
  5. Provide them with cold water to drink – but don’t force them to have it.
  6. As soon as you can, call your vet. Cooling your cat should be the priority, but it’s very important to get advice from your vet as soon as you can.
  7. If your vet advises you to take your cat into your nearest practice, make sure the car is cool with the air-conditioning on or windows open. Take a wet towel for your cat to sit on during the journey. Ideally have someone come with you who can continue to cool your cat with water.

For advice on how to avoid your cat developing heatstroke in the first place, read our 11 Top Tips for How to Keep Cats Cool in Summer.

Wrapping Up

While not overly common in cats, heatstroke can affect them and if it does, it can be potentially fatal. If you spot any of the signs of heatstroke in your cat, the most important thing to do is cool them as quickly as possible; the quicker you can bring their body temperature down, the better their chances of recovery.

It’s important to note that it doesn’t always have to be ‘hot’ for animals to suffer heatstroke; being trapped in a warm, poorly ventilated room, or exercising excessively in warm weather can also cause heatstroke.

For advice on heatstroke in dogs, read our blog.

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