Last Updated on February 14, 2021 by Julia Wilson
Cats evolved from desert-dwelling animals but can still be at risk of overheating as the warmer months hit. Unlike people who sweat to cool down, cats only have sweat pads on their feet and nose. If the cat is unable to cool down sufficiently, he or she is at risk of heatstroke (hyperthermia) which can be deadly.
It’s hard to give an exact temperature as the answer will vary from cat to cat. What we can do is be prepared and take steps to ensure our cats remain cool as the mercury rises so that we can avoid cats overheating and developing heatstroke.
What is heatstroke?
Heatstroke occurs due to prolonged exposure to excessive environmental heat and differs from a fever, which is an increase in body temperature usually due to an infection.
The normal body temperature of a cat is 100 – 102.5°F (37.7 – 39.1°C)., temperatures over 104° (40° C), coupled with central nervous signs (CNS) dysfunction which develop due to the brain overheating.
How hot is too hot for a cat?
How hot is too hot for a cat is subjective. A cat who lives in a warm climate such as Australia is generally exposed to higher temperatures than a cat who lives in Scotland. So, the Australian cat has experienced many days over 25, but the Scottish cat may not have. I recently listened to a veterinary podcast about hyperthermia (I can’t remember where I found it or I would link to it), where the speaker discussed a case in which a French Bulldog from Scotland developed hyperthermia during a walk with a small amount of running on a 19-degree day
Because there is no line in the sand regarding how hot, it is impossible to give a concrete answer. As a guide, if it’s too hot for you, it’s definitely too hot for your cat who has very few sweat glands as well as a coat and their only way to cool down is panting and grooming which transfers saliva to the coat.
Some cats are at increased risk of heatstroke, this group includes:
- Brachycephalic breeds with short noses such as Persian and Exotic cats
- Young kittens and senior cats:
- Senior cats
- Cats with underlying heart or breathing disorders
- Obese cats
- Pregnant and nursing queens
- Longhaired breeds
- Dark-haired breeds
- Extreme exercise (more common in dogs)
How to tell if a cat is overheating
Cats can’t tell us when they are uncomfortable and it is up to us to make sure they stay safe during warm weather. Signs a cat is too hot include the following:
- Red gums
- Increased body temperature
- Sweaty paws
- Muscle tremors
- Elevated heart rate
How to keep cats cool in summer
During the warmer months, it is important to consider our four-legged family members even when we are out of the home.
- Ensure the cat has access to cool, fresh water at all times
- If your cat has access to an outdoor enclosure, provide plenty of places to shelter from the sun using plants or cubbies
- Provide the cat with a cooling mat, available from pet stores
- Pour some water into a baking tray and freeze overnight, remove in the morning and leave out for the cat
- If your cat is indoor/outdoor, keep it inside during the warmer hours of 10 am to 4 pm and make sure there is adequate shade in the garden to escape the sun
- Keep cats indoors on especially hot days
- Leave access to rooms with tiles, as cats will often benefit from the cool feel of the tiles on a hot day
- Do not leave a cat unattended in a car
How to treat heatstroke
Any cat with suspected heatstroke should see a veterinarian, no matter how mild or severe. But, emergency procedures at home may be necessary to bring the temperature down. As always, it is best to call your veterinarian who can give instructions on what to do.
Mild heat exhaustion (body temperature of 104°F or 40°)
- Move the to a cool/shady spot, turn on air conditioning or fans if possible to cool the cat down and help with evaporative cooling
- Spray the cat with cool water
- Offer plenty of cool, fresh water to drink, but do not force water down the cat’s throat
Why not ice packs or frozen vegetables to the head and between the legs? As the body heats, capillaries dilate (vasodilation) which brings warm blood up to the surface of the skin, allowing heat to dissipate from the body. Applying ice rapidly cools the surface of the skin, which causes vasoconstriction and diverts warm blood back to the core of the cat.
Moderate to severe heat exhaustion (body temperature is 105F or 40.5C)
Take the cat to the vet immediately. If possible, have somebody else drive, while you attempt to bring down the temperature on the way via the above methods.