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Back and white cat enjoying cool air from a fan in the summer heat

The essentials

  • Cats don’t sweat — This makes it harder for them to regulate their body temperature on hot summer days. Cats are usually more heat tolerant than dogs, but they can still overheat when temperatures exceed 85° F indoors and 100° F outdoors.
  • Staying cool is essential to a cat’s health — Older cats and cats with health problems are more susceptible to heat-related conditions like dehydration, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke.
  • You don’t need AC to keep your cat cool — There are plenty of budget-friendly ways to cool down your feline friend without air conditioning.

Record-breaking summer temperatures aren’t just tough on us humans — our feline friends are every bit as susceptible to the effects of excessive heat, and they need our help to stay cool now more than ever.

Since cats only have sweat glands on the hairless parts of their bodies, like their paws, they mainly cool themselves off by grooming. They lick their fur to eliminate heat-trapping excess hair and leave behind small amounts of saliva, which help cool them off as the saliva evaporates. The descendents of resilient desert dwellers, cats are genetically inclined to regulate their body temperature by seeking shade and cool surfaces when it starts to warm up.

But just because cats are naturally good at keeping themselves cool doesn’t mean they can’t benefit from a little extra protection against the harsh summer heat. Be on the lookout for signs of overheating and try out these tips to keep your kitten cool all summer long.

Signs your cat may be overheated

Knowing the signs of heatstroke and heat exhaustion can help you act fast in the event of a real-life emergency. Common symptoms of overheating in cats include:

Panting. While panting is more common when dogs are trying to cool off, it could mean trouble if you notice your cat panting . This can develop into distressed or noisy breathing as the heatstroke gets worse.

Restlessness, confusion, or agitation. Cats experiencing heatstroke may appear to be pacing around in search of shade and/or water.

Increased heart rate. Heatstroke causes a sharp increase in a cat’s heart and respiratory rates as their body temperature rises.

Dizziness. If your cat’s struggling to get to their feet or regularly falling down, they may be experiencing dizziness related to heat exhaustion. In most cases, this loss of balance is overtly noticeable, since cats are usually poised and agile. Subtler signs of dizziness may include tilting their head to one side and rapid eye movement.

Mild weakness. Heat exhaustion is more likely to occur after a long period of strenuous physical activity, and it’s common for cats suffering from heat-related injuries to appear tired or sluggish. It’s also common for overheated cats to stretch out completely on one side.

High body temperature. Heatstroke occurs when the body is no longer able to efficiently regulate its own temperature, which is why fever is a universal symptom in  affected cats. Many cats experiencing heat stroke will also have ears that are warm to the touch, but you can monitor their temperature with the help of a thermometer.  Seek veterinary help immediately If your cat’s temperature exceeds 104°F.

Vocalization. If your cat whines or expresses any other kind of vocal discomfort after being outside or performing rigorous exercise, it could be a sign they’re feeling too hot.

🚨 Seek out immediate veterinary attention if you think your cat is suffering from a heat-related injury.

Common causes of overheating in cats

A cat’s body temperature normally falls between 100 and 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit. When their body temperature exceeds 104 degrees, they enter a state of hyperthermia, commonly known as heatstroke. Milder cases of overheating may result in heat exhaustion, in which a cat’s body lacks sufficient moisture but they are still able to walk, drink water, and stop themselves to take breaks.

Weather conditions, excessive exercise, and an increase in body weight are among the most common causes of overheating in cats. Other factors like breed and age can also make a cat more susceptible to overheating.

Hot weather and cats

Temperatures exceeding 80 degrees Fahrenheit quickly become uncomfortable for a cat. Summer heatwaves in the triple digits are especially dangerous, especially for cats who spend a lot of time in warm spaces or outdoors. Indoor cats are also at risk of developing heat exhaustion if left in an enclosed area with limited air flow.

Excessive exercise

Many cats will naturally save their hunting and playtime activities for the cooler parts of the day, but they can overheat if excessively exercised in a hot enclosed space or outdoors. If you are going to exercise your cat on a sweltering summer day, only do so in an air-conditioned room with ample shade.

Increase in body weight

Obese and overweight cats have an increased risk of developing heat exhaustion, since the extra weight interferes with the thermoregulatory processes their bodies normally use to keep cool.

8 ways to keep cats cool in the summer

These tried and true strategies are sure to get you and your cat through the worst of the summer heat. Make sure to provide them with a steady supply of fresh water and keep their surroundings comfortable with the help of cooling devices, and you should be set for the season.

Hydration tips

1. Supply fresh water. Since cats are descended from desert dwelling ancestors, they have a genetically low thirst drive that allows them to survive on less water than other pets like dogs. They’re also more sensitive to the taste of water, and the way it’s presented to them. Experts recommend enticing your kitty to drink more with the help of a cat water fountain, which releases fresh, moving water throughout the day.

2. Opt for wet food over dry. Wet food contains as much as 66 percent more water than dry food, which can go a long way towards keeping your cat cool and hydrated during the summer (especially if they’re reluctant to drink). Wet food also contains fewer carbohydrates than dry kibble, which cats are unable to convert into energy. In this sense, switching to wet food limits your cat’s consumption of unnecessary calories and keeps their body’s internal thermoregulation system running smoothly.

Providing a cool environment

3. Adjust your home thermostat. Cats love warm, cozy spaces they can curl up and nap in, but that doesn’t mean you should just let your house heat up during the summer months. To keep the both of you happy and cool, experts suggest a moderate AC setting between 75 and 78 degrees Fahrenheit. If you don’t have AC, you can keep your cat cool with the help of heavy, light-blocking curtains and special cooling pads.

4. Create a cool spot for your cat. If you have an outdoor cat, it’s especially important to set up a cooling station for them come summertime. Cool spots should contain essentials like fresh, running water, wet food, and ample shade. You may also want to use a small fan to increase airflow through the area. If your kitty cooling spot is inside, consider setting it up near an open window.

Exercise and play-time

5. Regulate exercise intensity. It’s important to give your cat regular exercise, but you should avoid getting them too worked up during the hottest hours of the day. If you walk your cat, keep it short and wait until the morning or after dusk to limit their exposure to the worst of the heat. Trust your gut if you think it’s too hot for your cat to go outside and try playing with some indoor cat toys instead.

6. Play during cooler parts of the day. Early to late afternoon is generally the hottest part of the day, and it’s during this time that pets have the highest chance of overheating. Keep your play sessions indoors and limit them to the cooler hours of the day so your cat can let off all the steam they want without risking injury.

Cooling devices

7. Use a cooling mat. Cooling mats (also known as beds) contain cold water or gels designed to maintain a cool temperature for your cat to lay on. These are especially helpful if your home doesn’t have many natural cool surfaces like tile or wood flooring, or if you can’t afford to keep the A.C. running all the time.  Alternatively, you might consider a cooling vest, which functions similarly but is meant to be worn by your cat — just keep in mind that some cats won’t tolerate wearing these.

8. Find a quiet fan. Owners without air conditioning can keep their indoor cats cool using a few well-placed fans around the house. If you want to take things a step further, try putting a fan over a bowl of ice to make the air cooler as it flows into the room. Outdoor fans can also help cats cool outside the house, as long as they’re equipped with weatherproof cords that are taped down to prevent any unwanted tripping or chewing.

Tips for helping overweight cats cool down

Overweight cats can benefit from these cooling methods just as much as healthy cats, but they’ll still be at a higher risk for heatstroke until they’re back to a healthy weight and able to properly regulate their internal body temperature. That’s why diet and exercise are two of the best ways to keep any cat cool and comfy all year long.

Regular exercise is key

Cats aren’t made to endure long periods of strenuous activity like dogs, but they still require daily exercise to stay healthy. Vets recommend around 30 minutes of moderate playtime every day, though older cats and cats with underlying health problems may need to limit their playtime further. Split up each play session into a 10 or 15-minute period, and use wands, teasers, and puzzle toys to get your cat moving and stimulate their mind.

A balanced diet makes a big difference

Proper nutrition is equally important to cats for maintaining a healthy weight and living a long life free of the breathing issues, heart problems, and the heightened risk for heatstroke that result from excessive weight gain.

As obligate carnivores, cats need to get most of their nutrients from meat products — preferably a high-quality commercial cat food containing high amounts of protein, moderate amounts of fat, and a minimal amount of carbohydrates. These vet-formulated blends also  contain several other vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, and amino acids cats need to maintain optimal health. Since each cat’s dietary needs are different, we recommend consulting your vet to determine the best nutrition plan for your cat.

The most important caveat is to avoid the cat from getting fat in the first place and start them out eating controlled amounts (2-3 times daily from kittenhood) as they will develop strong habits for "clean" eating for a lifetime, but this depends on the owner/caretaker. The more appropriate weight it is easier for regulation mechanisms of the body to work more efficiently.

Dr. Bruce Armstrong

👉 Wet cat food contains less carbs than dry food and up to 66% more water, which is a great way to keep your kitty hydrated on scorching hot days. 

When to consult a vet: recognizing emergency situations

If your cat seems a little overheated, get them out of the sun and help them get hydrated. While minor cases may pass with water and rest, it’s always best to err on the side of caution if you think  your cat is suffering from heat exhaustion or heatstroke. Contact a vet immediately if you notice any of these emergency signs:

Signs of heatstroke in cats

  • Red gums or tongue. A bright red tongue is generally an indicator that your cat’s body is experiencing distress as a result of rising temperatures.
  • Drooling, vomiting, or diarrhea. The rapid rise in body temperature accompanied by heatstroke leads  to dehydration and electrolyte imbalances that can trigger nausea and gastrointestinal upset in some cats.
  • Collapse. Heatstroke causes blood vessels to expand, which leads to a drop in blood pressure that can cause fainting.
  • Seizures. If a cat’s body temperature is high enough, it may cause the cat to have a seizure and fall into a coma. This can be life-threatening without the proper medical attention.

What to do if your cat is exhibiting signs of heatstroke

Take action as soon as you suspect your cat is overheating to minimize the extent of heat-related injury. Some vets recommend cooling your cat off before transporting them to a veterinary facility. To do so, you’ll want to follow these steps:

Cold water on the paw pads and/or wiping down with cool water, (although not too cold), will help lower your cat’s body temperature. Don't try to bring the body temp down too fast or too much as it can cause hypothermia.

Dr. Bruce Armstrong

Take them somewhere cool — Start by moving your cat to a shady room with either air conditioning or a fan.

Offer water — Start by offering small sips of fresh water, but don’t force them to drink if they don’t seem into it. If they’re reluctant to drink, try encouraging them by adding low-sodium broth or tuna juice to the water. You can also try applying ice packs to their fur and paws at this stage.

Monitor their temperature — Use a thermometer to monitor your cat’s temperature (ear thermometers are usually easiest) and allow them to rest until it starts to return to normal. Once your cat’s temperature and energy level seem to have regulated a bit, it’s generally safe to take them to the vet.

Prepare an emergency kit — Take the time to prepare an emergency kit in case your cat becomes overheated in the future. Include essentials like a water bowl, ice packs, and contact info for your veterinarian so you can act as quickly as possible in the event of an emergency.

🚨Skip these steps and seek out immediate veterinary care if your cat shows advanced signs of distress or is unresponsive.

No one can foresee the occasional accident, but heat-related pet injuries are often easily avoidable as long as the proper measures are taken beforehand. If your cat has thick fur, make sure to prioritize regular grooming so they can properly regulate their body temperature in the heat.

Heavily matted cats probably should be clipped down for the summer months to allow good air circulation and dissipation of heat from the body.

Dr. Bruce Armstrong

Give them access to plenty of shade, plenty of water, and a cool place to escape to when the heat waves roll around, and they’ll survive the summer without a problem.

Frequently asked questions

How do cats keep cool in hot weather?

Cats are naturally pretty good at keeping themselves cool in warm  weather. They do this by licking their coats, which leaves behind a thin layer of saliva that cools them off as it evaporates. Cats also cool down by releasing perspiration through the sweat glands in their paw pads.

Does wetting a cat cool it down?

It can. Cats are notorious for hating the water, but you can help cool yours off by wetting a small towel with cool water and lightly dabbing it over their fur.

How do I know if my cat is too hot?

Panting is a common initial indicator that a cat is overheating. This can be accompanied by heavy breathing noises and may intensify as their condition worsens. Other signs of overheating include an increased heart rate, glazed eyes, red tongue or gums, lethargy, and confusion.

What should I do if my efforts to cool down my cat do not work?

If you’ve tried cooling off your cat at home and it doesn’t seem to be helping, you need to seek out immediate veterinary attention. Heatstroke is a potentially life-threatening condition that requires fast treatment.

How can I prevent my cat from overheating in the first place?

Keep them cool, of course! Make sure your cat always has access to fresh water, shade, and a cool room ventilated by either air conditioning or a fan. You can further lower your cat’s risk of overheating by keeping them indoors during the hottest hours of the day, and limiting their daily exercise to either the morning or evening after dusk.