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cat parent must-knows
Heat exhaustion in cats

The essentials

  • When temperatures exceed 80 degrees, your cat is at heightened risk — It’s best to keep indoor temps between 60 and 70 and ensure outdoor cats have extra protection.
  • If you notice recurring symptoms, get help — Immediate attention is required if your cat’s body temperature becomes so high that they struggle to cool down on their own.
  • Commit to best practices during hot weather — Don’t skimp on vet checkups during the summer months, and make sure your cats always have access to air conditioning and cool water.

It’s no secret that cats love warmth. You’ve probably witnessed yours basking in a sun puddle or lazing on your porch on a hot summer day. But your pet relies on your guidance to keep them from overheating, especially during heatwaves and soaring temperatures. Overheating can lead to serious, potentially fatal conditions in cats, such as heat exhaustion and heatstroke.

What is heat exhaustion?

Heat exhaustion refers to the symptoms or conditions that occur when the body overheats. These include discomfort, weakness, or lethargy . Heat exhaustion is considered a precursor to heatstroke, which is an actual illness that occurs from increased body temperature. Heatstroke can cause lasting damage or prove fatal in some cases. Cats may experience heat exhaustion when their bodies struggle to cool themselves due to extreme temperatures. Lack of moisture, typically from dehydration, can also be a culprit.

Causes of heat exhaustion in cats

Cats of certain breeds or ages may be at heightened risk of experiencing heat exhaustion. However, all cats are at risk of overheating when their bodies lack moisture. This is often due to extreme heat and dehydration, which makes it difficult for them to cool down naturally. Some common causes of heat exhaustion in cats include:

Natural difficulty regulating body temperature. Unlike humans, cats do not sweat to cool down. You usually won’t find them panting like dogs unless they’re stressed or until they’re already overheated.  That makes it even harder for cats — especially sick cats — to regulate their body temperatures and cool down on their own, predisposing them to heat exhaustion.

Scorching outdoor temperatures. Summer heatwaves and temperatures exceeding 80 degrees can be uncomfortable and dangerous for your cats. This is especially true if they spend much of their time outdoors or in warm spaces.

Lack of cool air. It’s true that most outdoor cats automatically seek shade on a sweltering day. But, when left in a too-warm enclosed space with rising temperatures, like inside a car or house without air conditioning, all cats are at risk of heat exhaustion.

Obesity. Just like dogs and humans, obese or overweight cats are at increased risk of heat exhaustion. Extra pounds often interfere with thermoregulation or the process that allows the body to maintain a healthy internal temperature. Without efficient thermoregulation, the body has an even harder time cooling down.

Young and old cats. Very young kittens and senior cats with comorbidities are at increased risk of heat injury and exhaustion.

Short-nosed breeds. Brachycephalic or short-nosed cat breeds such as Persian or Himalayan cats, also have a higher risk of suffering from heat exhaustion and heat-related illnesses.

Thin or thick coats. You may think that trimming your cat’s fur would only benefit them in the hotter months. In actuality, cats need their coats for protection from sunburn and insect bites. Shaving can even contribute to dehydration. However, cats with thick coats can be at risk when the temperatures become overwhelming and their fur begins to trap heat.

Illness. Cats with respiratory illnesses, especially laryngeal paralysis or collapsing trachea, as well as those with heart conditions or endocrine diseases, are at heightened risk of overheating.

The dangers of heat exhaustion and heatstroke

Heat exhaustion in cats refers to the discomfort, weakness, or lethargy that transpires when the body becomes overheated. It can lead to a multitude of heat-related injuries, including heatstroke, a state of hyperthermia that occurs when internal body temperatures exceed the normal range. Heatstroke is a life-threatening condition in cats. Without immediate care, it can damage your pet’s internal organs to the point of dysfunction, ultimately proving fatal.

Signs of heat injury in cats

A little knowledge can go a long way when it comes to recognizing warning signs. Some common heat injury signs to look out for include:

  • Excessive panting
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Increased heart and respiratory rate
  • Red or pale gums and tongue
  • Dizziness
  • Muscle tremors
  • Drooling
  • Mild weakness
  • Collapse
  • Seizures
  • Bloody diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Trouble urinating
  • A temperature of 104 or higher

What to do if you suspect your pet has a heat injury

If you think your cat has a heat injury, you should do everything possible to cool them down and seek professional attention from your veterinarian as soon as possible. These tips can help make a difference in keeping your cat safe.

  • Wet their fur and skin with cool water — Use cool, but not ice-cold, water and apply or spray it on your cat’s skin and fur. Ice water may cause blood vessels to constrict and prevent cooling.
  • Remove them from the warm environment — You’ll want to remove your cat from the hot environment and into a cool area, preferably with air conditioning or fans to maximize heat loss.
  • Hydrate your cat — Give your cat a bowl of water as soon as possible to get them hydrated.
  • Head to the vet immediately — Heat injury, especially heatstroke, is life-threatening and requires immediate veterinarian attention. Your vet will check your cat’s internal body temperature as well as vital signs before administering emergency treatment. This may include intravenous fluids, supplemental oxygen, and/or medication.

Emergency vet visits may be covered by pet insurance. If your pet isn’t covered, get your quote today based on your pet’s breed, age, and location at Fetch by the Dodo.

How to keep your cat safe from heat exhaustion

Heat exhaustion can lead to life-threatening conditions, but the good news is that you can help prevent injury by ensuring their environments are safe. During the particularly hot months of the year, there are certain precautions you can take to keep your cat from overheating. Here are some do’s and don’ts.

Do:

  • Control indoor temps — Ensure your cat’s indoor environment includes cool, well-ventilated spaces with temperatures well below 80 degrees.
  • Ensure access to water — Keep your cat well-hydrated by adding water bowls wherever they tend to spend their time. You’ll want to ensure the water is cool, and if outdoors, this may require topping new water off now and then.
  • Keep outdoor cats in — Ideally, during extreme temperatures, you’ll want to bring your outdoor cats indoors to help prevent overheating.
  • Provide access to cool surfaces — Because cats don’t sweat to cool themselves the way humans do, conduction on surfaces such as cool tiles or other cool surfaces can help cats transfer some excess internal heat.
  • Monitor common warning signs — Look for any signs and symptoms of heat injury so you know when to act.

Don’t:

  • Skimp on vet visits — During routine vet visits, your provider can tell you if your cat is predisposed to heat injury or other medical conditions and offer additional advice targeted to your cat’s needs.
  • Leave your cat in a car — Never leave your cat in a car even if temperatures are mild as these spaces can rapidly warm and overheat your pet.
  • Overdo it — Don’t overdo playtime or exercise for your cat during the sweltering months, especially if you notice some lethargy.

Frequently asked questions

What temperature is comfortable for cats?

Indoor cats are most comfortable between 60 and 70 degrees, though outdoor cats’ tolerance may vary. The goal is to keep their internal body temperature between the healthy range of 100 to 102. When temperatures exceed 80, your cat is at heightened risk of experiencing heat exhaustion, heatstroke, sunburn, and other heat-related complications.

How do cats cool themselves?

Cats sometimes pant to regulate their body temperature and cool down. However, scorching temperatures and high humidity can prevent cats from panting effectively at all.

What do I do if my cat has a heat injury?

If you suspect heat exhaustion in your cat, you should visit a vet as soon as possible. In the meantime, wet their fur with cool, but not ice-cold water, hydrate them, and remove them from the hot environment.