Even though heatstroke is more common in dogs than in cats, cats can get it, and it is a life-threatening condition that requires immediate veterinary attention.
Dogs can regulate their body temperature by panting, at least up to a point, but cats normally don’t pant unless they’re already in respiratory distress. Most cats will instinctively move to cooler locations to cool themselves down, but if they’re unable to escape the heat, their body won’t cool down fast enough.
Heatstroke occurs when the cat’s body temperature rises above 104 degrees, which can cause damage to internal organs and cells and can quickly lead to death.
- Panting or rapid breathing
- Excessive grooming
- Sweaty paws
- Bright red gums and tongue
- High fever
- Extreme lethargy
Prompt treatment is of the essence
Prompt treatment is of the essence. Get your cat to a veterinarian immediately if you think she has heatstroke. While transporting the cat you can
- Cover her with towels soaked in cold water.
- If your cat is conscious, try to get her to drink some cold water. You can use a syringe if possible, or squeeze water from a wet cloth around her mouth.
- Never use ice packs or immerse your cat in ice cold water to reduce body temperature. The sudden drop in temperature can cause your cat to go into shock.
The best way to prevent heatstroke is to keep your cats inside. If your cat does go outside, make sure she has access to plenty of fresh, cold water, and shady areas. But even indoor cats may suffer from heat exhaustion on really hot days, especially in homes without air conditioning.
For more on how to prevent heatstroke and keep your cats comfortable in hot weather, read Keep Your Cat Cool This Summer
This post was first published in 2011 and has been updated.