Cats are adept at hiding when they are in pain or unwell. This is why it’s so important to be aware of your cat’s normal behaviour patterns and unique quirks, so you can quickly pick up on any sign that something is wrong. Heatstroke commonly affects dogs but it is far less common in cats, however, our feline friends can still suffer from this, sometimes devastating, condition.
What happens when a cat gets heatstroke?
When the outside temperature goes too high, the body temperature starts to rise too. Normally, the cat can maintain its body temperature between 38.2-39.0 degrees Celsius at normal ambient temperatures, using cooling mechanisms like licking the fur (this allows for heat loss through evaporation of the moisture) and some sweating through the pads.
When it’s too hot, their cooling mechanisms become saturated and less efficient. This means that the cat’s body temperature starts to rise. As its temperature gets too high, the delicate cell components and essential processes within the body can’t function as well. In severe cases, the cat can suffer organ failure or even death.
Why are felines a worry for heatstroke?
We all know that cats like to take themselves off and do as they please generally. They will often choose a nice place to rest but, if it’s too hot, this can leave them in a pickle. A cat that has gone into the shed or conservatory for a bit of sunbathing could get inadvertently trapped inside on a hot day, leaving them at risk for heatstroke. This goes for all cats who can’t find any shade or a cool place to hide out of the sun.
Additionally, cats who are overweight or have particularly long or thick coats will find themselves at a higher risk of developing heatstroke, as will snub-nosed breeds like British Shorthairs.
How do I know if my cat has heatstroke?
Any cat found in an overheated place should be suspected for having heatstroke should they seem unwell. Be aware that the signs may be subtle in some cats but this doesn’t mean they are OK. The common signs of heatstroke in cats are lethargy, anorexia, unwillingness to move, drooling, panting (open-mouth breathing is NEVER normal in the cat) and a temperature above 40 degrees Celsius.
If you see these signs after it’s been a hot day outside, or you find your cat has been trapped somewhere, it’s always a good idea to get them checked out by the vet. Equally, if you see your cat behaving abnormally or appearing unwell the day after a hot day, then it could be that they are suffering from the secondary effects of heatstroke.
Can I do anything if I think my cat has heatstroke?
If you suspect heatstroke (from the weather, or where you found your cat) and, on checking the temperature, your cat still has a temperature above 40 degrees Celsius, then you can start some emergency cooling at home. First, move them to a cool place, then start wetting the fur with cool or lukewarm water (not cold except under specific veterinary direction, because this can end up reducing the blood supply to the skin, which we need to evaporate the heat).
You can also use a fan to help evaporate the water, or apply wet, cool towels to the cat for up to 5 minutes (no longer because they will heat up). Offer sips of cool water to drink if your cat is willing. However, whilst it’s important to intervene quickly if you find your cat is in trouble, don’t delay taking them to the vets where they can give your cat the supportive care it needs to overcome heatstroke.