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Heatstroke in Cats: Risk Factors, Signs, Treatment and Prevention Tips

Cat sitting outside in the heat

Warmer temperatures are quickly approaching, and this means that your cat is going to be at a higher risk of suffering from heatstroke as they go about their daily routine. While they’re not as prone to heatstroke as a dog is, heatstroke with cats can still be a killer if you’re not careful. 

We’re going to outline what heatstroke is, how your cat could get it, signs, treatment, prevention tips, and more. When we finish, you’ll know exactly how to keep your cat safe from heatstroke, happy, and healthy all year round. 

What is Heatstroke?

Heatstroke is a medical condition that is characterized by the body’s inability to regulate its temperature or an unsafe increase in your cat’s body temperature. If it is a severe case of heatstroke, your cat’s organs can start to shut down because their body gets too hot, and this can lead to death. 

Heatstroke is also called hyperthermia, and it occurs when your cat’s body isn’t able to successfully dissipate the heat as fast as they need to in order to keep their body temperature at safe levels. Your cat can make excess heat if they’re exposed to warmer temperatures, if they’re anxious, or it can happen as a response to both things at once. 

Your cat can only regulate their rising body temperatures by sweating through the pads in their feet or panting. If you leave your cat in an area that doesn’t have good airflow, where they’re not able to get out of the direct sun, or where they don’t have water, heatstroke is a huge danger. 

Risk Factors for Heatstroke in Your Cats

Your cat is naturally at a higher risk for heatstroke as the temperatures rise and the humidity gets higher. However, your cat’s risk for heatstroke isn’t limited to their environment or the temperature, and there are certain factors that increase their risk. They include: 

  • Age – Just like people, the very young and very old have trouble regulating their own body temperature. You want to pay close attention if you have a kitten or older cat because they can develop heatstroke quicker. 

  • Breed – Flat-faced cats have a unique respiratory system, and this puts them at an overall higher risk for developing heatstroke. These cat breeds include but are not limited to British Shorthair, Himalayan, Persian, and Scottish Fold. 

  • Coat – Darker colored and thicker coats put your cat at an increased risk of developing heatstroke because they give your cat more insulation and absorb more heat. This is particularly true if your cat is in direct sunlight. 

  • Pre-Existing Medical Conditions – Certain medical conditions can make your cat more prone to developing heatstroke because they have trouble regulating their body temperatures. These conditions include bronchitis, chronic kidney disease, asthma, or heart disease that requires your cat to be on Lasix. 

  • Weight – Cats that are obese or overweight have excess fat cells, and these fat cells trap and lock in more heat. Overweight cats also generate more heat with exercise, and this can make them more prone to developing a case of heatstroke. 

Signs of Heatstroke in Cats

The good news is, heatstroke comes with several warning signs, and they allow you to monitor your cat’s condition because they get worse as the heatstroke gets worse. We’ve split the signs into two categories of early symptoms and heatstroke symptoms. 

Early Symptoms of Heatstroke

There are five early symptoms of heatstroke that you want to watch out for, especially when it gets warmer and more humid out. These symptoms include: 

  • Anxiety or Restless: Your cat knows something is wrong and that they’re uncomfortable, and this can cause their anxiety levels to raise. They may start meowing excessively, pacing, showing aggression, vomiting, mood changes, or following you around. 

  • Elevated Body Temperature: Your cat’s normal temperature range is 99.5-102.5 Fahrenheit. If your cat’s temperature goes between 103 to 104, they need vet attention. If it goes over 105, it can be life-threatening. 

  • Excessive Grooming: Your cat will groom themselves more than normal in an attempt to wet their coat and cool themselves down. However, this can actually cause them to get hotter because they’ll get more anxious as time goes on.

  • Panting and Drooling: Your cat can pant at first, and this can eventually be paired with drooling. They cool down by panting, and drooling is a sign that they’re way too hot. 

  • Sweating from Feet: Your cat cools down by sweating from the pads on the bottom of their feet, and it’s one way to tell that your cat is too hot. Touch the pads of their feet and see if they’re damp. 

Active Heatstroke Symptoms in Cats

If you don’t catch the early symptoms, your cat can go into active heatstroke. This is where you’ll start to see the more severe symptoms that require immediate veterinary care because they can lead to seizures and death. They include: 

  • Collapse/Coma: One of the final stages of heatstroke is collapse and a coma. This happens when your cat’s organs start to shut down due to their higher body temperature. 

  • Dizziness: As your cat’s temperature rises, they can get dizzy and disoriented. You may notice that they seem confused or they have trouble navigating around the house without falling over. 

  • Lethargy/Weakness: Your cat will get weaker and more lethargic as the heatstroke progresses. They may have trouble standing and walking, and you may have trouble getting them up and moving.

  • Muscle Tremors: muscle tremor is a sudden and involuntary spasm of the muscles in your cat’s body. They usually happen in one or more body areas at the same time, and they can get worse as your cat gets warmer. 

  • Rapid Breathing and Pulse: Your cat will try to cool itself down by breathing quickly, and their anxiety levels will continue to rise. These two things contribute to your cat’s rapid breathing rate and fast pulse. 

  • Seizures: Heatstroke can wreak havoc in your cat’s brain, and it can cause a burst of electrical activity. When this happens, your cat can drop to the ground and have a seizure that lasts for a few seconds.

  • Vomiting and Diarrhea: With heatstroke comes dehydration, and dehydration can cause your cat to throw up.It can also cause diarrhea, and this contributes to their dehydration levels. 

Cat Heatstroke Treatment

Once you notice that your cat is experiencing heatstroke, there are several immediate steps that you should take to help reverse it. You will want to get your cat to the vet as soon as you can, but there are a few things you can do first. 

You want to start by moving your cat out of the direct sun and into a cooler, shady, or air-conditioned space to prevent more heat absorption. Lay your cat on a cool, wet blanket or towel to help kickstart the cooling process and draw the excess heat away. 

If your cat is still awake and alert, offer them small amounts of water over a several minute span, but don’t force them to drink anything because it could make them choke. You also don’t want your cat to drink a lot of water at once because they’ll most likely throw it back up immediately. 

Take note of the time when you first start cooling your cat down because this will help you give your vet an accurate timeline. It’ll also help to prevent you from performing first aid measures too long and delaying getting your cat to the vet. 

Get a digital thermometer and take your cat’s temperature rectally. Make sure that you lubricate the thermometer before you insert it with a lubricant or water if there is no lubricant on hand. 

If your cat’s temperature is over 104 Fahrenheit, you can start slowly cooling them off by misting cool water over their body and blow a fan on them. Your cat may not want to lay still, and this can cause them to overheat even more if they start moving. Stop cooling your cat when their temperature drops to 103.5 Fahrenheit. 

Get a towel and gently dry some of the water off your cat because this can prevent cooling them off too much. Pre-cool your car, and get your cat to the vet immediately. Call ahead and let them know that you’re on the way with a cat that has heatstroke. 

When you get to the vet, they may give your cat IV fluids to help rehydrate them and further cool them down. They may also keep your cat overnight to observe them and make sure they’re okay. 

Ways to Prevent Heatstroke in Cats

Ideally, preventing heatstroke is much better than trying to treat it once your cat has it. There are several things you can do to prevent it and keep your cat healthy all year long. 

Related: Top 5 Life Jackets for Cats

You can keep your cat indoors during the hotter and more humid days of the year because they’ll have access to shade. You always want to make sure that your cat is very well groomed as well because this can help heat dissipate from your cat’s coat instead of getting trapped by their skin.

If you can’t keep your cat indoors, make sure that they have access to a shaded area like a canopy, under your porch, or under trees where they can go to avoid the heat. Just make sure the area has good airflow too because this can help cool the entire area down. You may want to think about having a cooling pad for your cat to help cool them down in the shade.

Your cat should always have access to a clean and cool water source because they can drink it to help cool down their body temperature and prevent heatstroke. You want to refresh this water a few times a day and keep it in the shade, or you can add ice cubes to it. 

Never put your cat in a room or an area where they can’t escape if it starts to heat up. They should always be able to get themselves someplace cool and shaded, whether this is indoors or outside. 

If your cat starts to show signs of heatstroke, bring them into a cool environment and place a damp towel on or under them. You also want to take them to the vet for a checkup because the vet can do more to help reverse the heatstroke symptoms your cat may have. 

Bottom Line

In cats and any animal, heatstroke can be a deadly health problem that escalates very rapidly. You want to do all you can to prevent it, and get your cat to the vet if you notice that they’re starting to develop any symptoms. This can help your cat live a long and healthy life.