Spirit staff Pet Advocate
In spite of their reputation as fiercely independent animals, there is one area where cats need human intervention to keep them safe. That is when dealing with heat.
You don’t hear about it often, but cats do not tolerate heat any better than people. Cats only pant or sweat through their foot pads in order to get rid of excess heat. As body temperature rises, the cat will suffer heat exhaustion and eventually heat stroke. If body temperature is not brought down quickly, serious organ damage or death could result.
Some of the signs that a cat is experiencing heatstroke are: rapid panting, bright red tongue, red or pale gums; thick, sticky saliva; depression, weakness, dizziness; vomiting – sometimes with blood; diarrhea; shock or coma.
If you notice that your cat is experiencing any of these symptoms your first course of action should be to remove the cat from the hot area immediately. Prior to taking him to your veterinarian, you may be able to lower his temperature by wetting him thoroughly with lukewarm water, then increase air movement around him with a fan.
It is very important that you DO NOT use very cold water or bring the cat into a room that is really cool right away as it can actually be counterproductive. Cooling too quickly and especially allowing his body temperature to become too low can cause other life-threatening medical conditions. If you can do so safely, check your cat’s temperature with a rectal thermometer:
- 100° to 103° F is normal to slightly elevated.
- 103° to 104° F is elevated and requires evaluation by a veterinarian.
- Over 105° F is potentially life threatening and requires immediate care.
The rectal temperature should be checked every five minutes. Once the body temperature is 103ºF, the cooling measures should be stopped and the cat should be dried thoroughly and covered so he does not continue to lose heat. Even if the cat appears to be recovering, take him to your veterinarian as soon as possible. He should still be examined since he may be dehydrated or have other complications.
Allow free access to water or a children’s rehydrating solution (e.g. Pedialyte, the sugar-free flavor) if the cat can drink on his own. Do not try to force-feed cold water; the cat may inhale it or choke.
If your cat is found unconscious in a hot environment, soak him with cool (not cold) water, being careful to keep water out of the nose and mouth. Place a bag of ice or frozen veggies between the legs and get your cat to the veterinarian immediately.
Diagnosis of heat exhaustion or heat stroke is based on a high rectal temperature (over 105° F.) If your cat has a temperature over 105° your veterinarian will want to evaluate him to be sure this is not a fever due to infection. There are several reasons why your cat may develop hypothermia such as, excessive stress, anxiety, or exercise. Cats with a short face (like Persians), or are obese do not tolerate heat well and are more likely to develop hyperthermia.
Treatment of hypothermia may include the cool water and ice as previously described as well as an intravenous (IV) line to run cool fluids directly into your cat that will be placed by your veterinarian. This will not only help to lower your cat’s temperature, it will help to counteract the effects of shock and minimize the risk of organ damage, which can be brought on by high body temperature.
Your cat’s temperature will be monitored frequently until the temperature begins to fall. Once it has fallen sufficiently, the cooling efforts will be gradually stopped to prevent excessive cooling (hypothermia). Prolonged high body temperature can lead to organ damage and failure, especially of the brain. Your veterinarian will want to keep your cat until his temperature is stable, and he can be evaluated for signs of organ damage.
Usually once the temperature is stabilized, no further treatment is needed. It may take several days for evidence of organ damage to develop, so if your cat does not seem completely back to normal within two or three days, talk to your veterinarian about your concern. Any aftercare prescribed by your veterinarian should be followed.
The best way to treat hypothermia in your cat is to prevent it. Be sure your cat always has access to cool shady areas and plenty of water. Never leave her confined in a car unattended, or anywhere else that she can’t escape the sun or heat. Keep her inside on very hot days.