What You Should Know About Heat Stroke in Cats



Updated: May 16, 2018

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Rising temperatures mean rising health and safety risks for our pets. You’re likely (hopefully) to be seeing lots of warnings regarding the dangers of heat and cars for dogs, but you may be wondering if your cats are at risk of heat stroke.

The answer is a firm yes(ish).

While cats can suffer from heat stroke, it doesn’t happen as often as with dogs. For example, cats don’t tend to go for car rides around town like dogs and most people don’t take their cats jogging or for marathon playtime sessions at the park. More to the point, cats tend to be smarter (or more concerned) than dogs about their own comfort, and they do a better job of seeking out cooler areas when they need to.

What NOT to Do for Heat Stroke in Cats

  • Do NOT force your cat to drink water or pour water into their mouth.

  • Do NOT use ice or extremely cold water, including ice packs.

  • Do NOT submerge them in water.

  • Do NOT cool off your pet too fast.

  • Do NOT skip the trip to the vet. Temperatures can spike again, and there may be damage to internal organs.

With that said, cats can still suffer from heat stroke. Unlike typical cases involving dogs, cats are more likely to get heat stroke in the following situations:

  • Becoming trapped in a clothes dryer (this is not an infrequent occurrence)

  • An outdoor cat getting trapped in a shed or other “oven-type” structure during a hot period

  • A cat left confined without ready access to water and shade

  • A cat left in a hot car for a prolonged period of time (as might happen during a long distance drive for a move or trip)

Risk Factors for Heat Stroke in Cats

As temperatures warm and the humidity rises, the chances for heat stroke increase. But your cat’s risk of heat stroke is not limited to the climate in your area or your cat’s environment (such as indoor vs. outdoor). There are also pet-specific predisposing factors that can increase the risk.

The following characteristics can place your cat at increased risk for suffering from heat-related illnesses. Be sure to work with your veterinary team to best manage your cat’s risk of suffering heat stroke.

  • Age: Because of their relative inability to regulate their own body temperature, very young and very old cats are at increased risk of developing heat stroke.

  • Weight: Pets who are overweight or obese are more likely to develop heat stroke. Fat cells serve as increased insulation that, while beneficial in the cold, have the opposite effect when temperatures rise. Additionally, overweight cats generate more heat from even mild exercise. Speak with your veterinarian about your cat’s weight, or check out this guide to determine whether your cat is too heavy.

  • Breed: Because of the overall structure of their respiratory system, brachycephalic (snub-nosed or flat-faced) cats are very much at increased risk for suffering from heat stroke. At risk cat breeds include Persian, Himalayan, British Shorthair, and Scottish Fold, as well as snub-nosed mixes of these breeds.

  • Existing Medical Conditions: Cats with pre-existing medical conditions like chronic kidney disease, bronchitis or asthma, and heart disease requiring lasix (or another diuretic, commonly known as “water pills”) administration.

  • Coat: Cats with thicker, darker-colored coats may be at increased risk of suffering from heat stroke compared to those with thinner, lighter-colored coats. Such coats provide more insulation and heat-absorption.

Cat in Sun

How to Minimize Heat Stroke Risk in Cats

  • Make sure you see your cat every day, to ensure (among other things) they’re not trapped in a shed or elsewhere.

  • Ensure that your cat always has easy access to plenty of fresh, cool drinking water.

  • Feed canned food. If you don’t already do so, consider adding some canned food to your cat’s meals during the warmer days of the year.

  • Add some tuna water to your cat’s water dishes to encourage more drinking.

Pet First Aid Checklist

What Are the Dangers of Heat Stroke?

Heat stroke is the result of your cat’s body absorbing heat faster than it can dissipate it. The degree and speed to which a cat can suffer from heat stroke is largely dependent on environmental factors and the unique attributes of your cat, but the dangerous problems typically happen when the cat’s internal temperature climbs (and stays) above roughly 104°F.

At this temperature, the critical body processes and reactions no longer function properly, putting organs and body systems at risk for damage and failure. Heat stroke most often affects the kidneys, liver, brain, blood-clotting system, and other vital organs and functions.

How to Recognize the Signs of Heat Stroke

Unfortunately, cats can be very good at hiding health problems. If you notice your cat exhibiting one or more of the following symptoms, it could be an indication they are suffering from heat stroke or some other condition that warrants medical evaluation.cat-panting-in-grass

  • Panting
  • Sweaty feet (cats sweat through glands in their paws)
  • Disorientation
  • Vomiting
  • Restlessness
  • Lethargy
  • Drooling or thick/sticky saliva
  • Bright red tongue, mouth
  • Rectal temperature above 105ºF (normal temperature should be 103ºF)

How to Treat Heat Stroke in Cats

  1. Move your cat into a safe, shady, or air-conditioned environment to prevent injuries and further heat absorption. Put a cool, wet towel or blanket underneath them.

  2. If they are alert enough and able to drink water, offer small amounts frequently. You can add some tuna water or chicken broth to the water to encourage them to drink. But you don’t want them drinking too much or too fast, as either can cause additional problems.

  3. Take note of the time. This will be helpful when you arrive at the vet, and it will also keep you from performing first aid too long and unnecessarily delaying veterinary treatment.

  4. Measure rectal temperature with a thermometer (preferably digital, rather than glass) and plenty of lubricant (you can also use water or saliva, if no lubricant is readily available).

  5. If their temperature is above 104°F (40°C), begin cooling by gently spraying cool (not cold) water over their body. Blow a fan over them, if you have one available. (Note, cats are unlikely to stay still in this situation, regardless of whether they need help. Exercise caution when administering care.)

  6. Stop cooling once your cat’s temperature reaches 103.5°F (39.7°C).

  7. Take note of the time and temperature when the cooling was stopped.

  8. If there is a dry towel or blanket available, use it to dry your cat off slightly. This can help prevent continued and excessive cooling.

  9. Bring your cat immediately for veterinary evaluation and care. Ideally, pre-cool your car and call ahead to let the vet know you’re on the way with a cat that has suffered heat stroke.