Heat Stroke in Cats
Many cats like the heat, but just like humans, they can suffer from heat stroke if exposed to extreme temperatures for too long. Easy access to plenty of fresh water is essential. Unlike dogs, cats don’t routinely pant to help regulate their body temperature. As a result, the cat’s body temperature can rise quickly if the surrounding air temperature is too high. Body temperatures above 105°F are concerning and can lead to death if they continue to climb. Continue reading to learn about the signs of heat stroke and what you can do to help your kitty stay cool.
Signs of Heat Stroke
Early signs of heat stroke may be subtle, and it’s important to know what’s normal for your cat. If gone untreated, heat stroke may lead to collapse or even death. Signs to look out for include:
- A dark red tongue
- Very pale or dark red gums
- Sticky or dry gums
- Weakness or wobbling
- Vomiting and/or diarrhea
- Difficulty breathing and collapse
- Loss of consciousness
Causes of Heat Stroke
A cat’s normal body temperature is 100.4 to 102.5°F. Temperatures over 103°F should raise concerns for a potential problem.
One of the most common causes of heat stroke in cats is being trapped in a hot, enclosed space. Never leave your cat in a car or poorly ventilated kennel during warm weather. A vehicle, even with the windows cracked, can increase in temperature by 20 degrees in as little as 10 minutes!
Short-nosed (brachycephalic) breeds are particularly susceptible to heat stroke. The flattening and shortening of the facial bones and upper airway cause increased airway resistance. This may lead to severe respiratory problems during times of heat stress. Overweight cats, kittens, those with long, thick fur, or underlying illness such as heart or respiratory disease, are also at increased risk of heat stroke.
How to Prevent Heat Stroke in Your Cat
You can help your cat avoid exposure to extreme temperatures by furnishing a temperature-controlled environment (if indoors) or providing shade (if outdoors).
- Make sure your indoor cat can move around as freely as possible and has access to cool, well-ventilated areas.
- Older cats and kittens are often more sensitive to heat. Always keep an extra eye on them during hot days.
- When it’s warm, set out extra bowls of fresh water. For cats that prefer to drink running water, drinking fountains are an excellent alternative.
- Never leave a cat alone in a car when it’s hot outside, even if you’re only away for a short time.
What Can You Do at Home to Help Your Cat?
If your cat shows signs of heat stroke, it’s important to act quickly!
- Move your cat to a cool, quiet area
- Offer fresh water to drink. Alternatively, a small syringe can be used to put drops of water on the cat’s tongue. Do not force the cat to drink a large volume of water or force a syringe into its mouth.
- Actively cool the cat by wetting her fur and paws, but do not submerge her head in water.
- Cold wet towels can be placed on the stomach, armpits and paw pads. Refresh them frequently.
- Take the cat’s rectal temperature every five minutes, if it is safe to do so, until the temperature is at or below 102.5°F.
- Mild heat stroke may not require further treatment, but you should always consult your veterinarian for advice.
- If your cat is in distress or collapsed, he must be taken to the veterinary clinic right away.
- Important: never give anti-inflammatory or any other medication to a cat without consulting your veterinarian.
Treatment of Heat Stroke
- In severe cases of heat stroke, rapid veterinary treatment is required - every minute counts!
- Call the vet to alert them that you’re on the way.
- On the way to the clinic, continue to cool your cat, if possible. Use a cold wet towel on her body and offer plenty of fresh cold water to drink.
At the veterinary clinic, whole-body cooling remains the focus of heat stroke treatment. Intravenous fluid therapy is often used to treat shock and electrolyte imbalances. Blood tests may be used to evaluate internal organ function. Critical patients may require oxygen support or medications.
Some cats may need to stay in intensive care for several days for close monitoring and stabilization.
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