Yes, domestic, stray and feral cats can suffer from heat stroke and it is an emergency that requires immediate assessment and prompt attention from caregiver and veterinarian. As it happens, cats do not tolerate high temperatures as well as humans. One obvious issue for domestic cats is that they don’t have the means to cool down through sweating or it is very minimal as they only sweat through their paws. You see this when you take your cat to a veterinarian and they become nervous in the consulting room and leave paw prints all over the consulting room table. They also pant rapidly to exchange warm air for cool.
Another symptom of a cat suffering from the heat is that they drool a lot and lick themselves to spread their saliva on their coats which evaporates and which helps to cool them through the physical properties of the latent heat of evaporation. However, this physical property does not work well when the air temperature is similar to the body temperature.
Cats can suffer from heat stroke under the following circumstances:
- When the environmental temperature is dramatically increased which perhaps is most likely to occur if they have been left inside a car on a warm or hot day and/or confined to a carrier or crate without water;
- They have a disease of the airway which prevents them dissipating heat through panting and rapid breathing;
- There breathing is interfered with by heart or lung disease which also prevents them from dissipating heat;
- They are suffering from a fever or seizures or have been engaged in strenuous exercise which results in excessive heat production in the body.
What are the symptoms?
Heat stroke begins with noisy, frantic and rapid breathing. The mucous membranes of the mouth and tongue become bright red. The saliva becomes tenacious and thick. The cat might vomit.
In measuring their body temperature with a rectal thermometer (non-mercury type), it might rise to over 41°C (10 6°F). These are the symptoms and measuring the cat’s body temperature will confirm heat stroke. It pays dividends to have a cat first aid kit.
It is important to treat heatstroke quickly because if it isn’t the cat becomes progressively weaker. They start to become unsteady on their feet and stagger and have bloody diarrhoea.
It will then progress to mucous membranes that become pale blue or gray followed by collapse, coma and death.
My book on veterinary medicine tells me that under the circumstances you should measure your cat’s temperature every 10 minutes. You should then move your cat to cooler surroundings such as an air-conditioned car. If their body temperature is above 106°F or if the cat becomes unsteady on their feet you can apply cold towels to the armpits and groin as well as the head or immerse them (while keeping their head above water) in cool water until their rectal temperature reaches 103°F.
Perhaps an easier way to treat your cat with heatstroke is to take them into the backyard and hose them down with a garden hose. I think that you will have to have someone holding your cat while this happens 💓. In addition, ice packs can be applied to the head and the groin area. Once the temperature drops to 103°F the cooling process can be stopped. You should then take your cat to veterinarian. If you delay in doing these things a cat can suffer from seizures, heart arrhythmias, and kidney failure.
The throat can swell up which can make the problem worse because they can’t breathe. This aspect of heat stroke can be dealt with by a cortisone injection administered by your veterinarian.
Heatstroke is particularly pertinent right now in the UK with temperatures reaching 40°C and I know that the southern states in the USA can become incredibly hot in the summer.
Prevention is largely common sense. If your cat does have an airway disease or difficulty in breathing then particular caution needs to be taken when the air temperature rises. Cats should not be left in cars with the window closed on even moderately warm days because a car acts as a greenhouse and temperatures can rise very rapidly as we all know from the stories that are frequently reported about babies, dogs and cats dying in cars.
In warm weather when travelling in a car with your cat it is probably best to use one of those open wire cat carriers of the kind that I have which allows the air to pass through freely. If your cat goes outside there should be shady spots and cool water available as cats will naturally go to the shade. Persian cats, because they have breathing problems because of their flattened faces, need particular care from their caregiver in hot humid weather.
Below are some more articles on cat welfare.