What is Heatstroke ?
Heatstroke is characterized by an increase in body temperature and the inability of the body to regulate temperature. In severe cases, your pet's organs can begin to shut down due to increased body temperature and the condition can be life-threatening. Veterinary care should be obtained whenever heatstroke is suspected.
Hyperthermia, or heatstroke, occurs when your pet's body cannot dissipate excess heat as fast as is required to maintain a normal body temperature. This can occur because your pet is generating excessive heat due to exercise or anxiety or is exposed to high temperatures in their environment, or a combination of both.
Cats are susceptible to heatstroke because they can only regulate their body temperature through panting or sweating from their foot pads. A pet that is left in a poorly ventilated area, unable to avoid direct sunlight, or without access to water, such as in a car or shed can quickly succumb to heatstroke.
Symptoms of Heatstroke in Cats
Symptoms of heatstroke increase in severity as the condition progresses. They range from initial behavioral symptoms your cat will exhibit in an attempt to regulate body temperature to symptoms indicating that organs are beginning to shut down and the nervous system has become impaired.
Early Symptoms of Heatstroke
- Sweating from feet
- Excessive grooming (to cool down)
- Elevated body temperature; 103-104 degrees Fahrenheit
- Body Temperature 104-105 degrees Fahrenheit or higher
- Red tongue
- Vomiting and diarrhea
- Rapid pulse
- Rapid breathing
- Muscle tremors
Causes of Heatstroke in Cats
Heatstroke can be caused by the body generating or being exposed to heat in excess of what can be dissipated by the body in order to maintain normal body temperature. Factors that contribute to this are:
- High ambient temperature
- Inability to access shade or escape direct sunlight
- Non-ventilated environment, such as a vehicle
- Lack of access to water
- Excessive anxiety
- Excessive exercise
Senior cats, kittens, and flat-faced cats such as Persians are more susceptible to heatstroke. In addition, cats suffering from chronic or acute illness and obese cats are more likely to be affected than others.
Diagnosis of Heatstroke in Cats
Your veterinarian will ask you about your cat’s activity and environment to determine what risk factors for heatstroke your pet has been exposed to. Factors such as exposure to high ambient temperature without ventilation, inability to access shade or water, or excessive activity should be communicated to your veterinarian.
Your veterinarian will take your cat’s body temperature to determine if it has become elevated. Your cat's normal body temperature should be in the 100 -102.5 degrees Fahrenheit range. A body temperature of 102.5 -104 degrees Fahrenheit is elevated and a temperature of 105 degrees Fahrenheit or higher is life-threatening.
Blood work and urinalysis may be performed by your veterinarian to rule out whether an elevated temperature is due to infection as opposed to heatstroke.
Treatment of Heatstroke in Cats
If your cat is conscious and heatstroke is suspected, move your cat immediately to a cool environment and give them access to water. Do not force your cat to drink water as this could result in choking. Consult a veterinarian as soon as possible.
If your cat is unconscious or has impaired consciousness, apply cool--not cold--water to your cat’s body and apply ice packs between your cat’s legs. Get your pet to a veterinarian immediately.
Your veterinarian will continue to cool your cat with cool water and ice packs, but may also administer cool or room temperature intravenous fluid to decrease your cat's body temperature and counteract dehydration. Your veterinarian may also administer oxygen therapy if needed.
Body temperature will be closely monitored every 5 minutes until it is in the normal range. Cooling methods will be stopped to avoid over-cooling.
Your veterinarian may hospitalize your cat if organ damage is suspected so your cat can be more closely monitored and treated.
If your cat's throat is swollen, which is common in cats with heatstroke, your veterinarian may administer steroids to reduce inflammation. In addition, because blood clotting can be affected by severe heatstroke, your vet may check this through blood work and administer anticoagulants if required.
Recovery of Heatstroke in Cats
If no organ damage has occurred, recovery should be complete. However, a cat that has suffered from heatstroke may be more prone to recurrence. Care should be taken to ensure they are not exposed to factors that could precipitate heat stroke in the future.
You should monitor your cat for possible complications from organ damage, especially if elevated body temperature was prolonged, including watching for blood in the urine which would indicate kidney damage. Seek veterinary help immediately if signs of organ damage manifest.
Heatstroke Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
My cat was lounging on a bed with a lot of direct sunlight. She is white so we noticed that her ears were red. Since that day (2 days ago) she has been weak and sleeping a lot. Her coat also doesn’t look very good. Does she have heatstroke and what can I do to help her get better quickly? Finances are tight so if we are able to make her better ourselves then it would be great
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We have a cat who seems to have experienced some heat stroke symptoms recently, especially today. It's been quite hot recently and today our cat has been throwing up. He is a Maine Coon mix so he has long and dense fur which I'm sure exacerbates the problem.
We've cranked the ACs higher and blocked off the main room to keep it cooler than the rest of the house. And we have put some water on his paws/body earlier to help him cool off.
The main symptoms he's shown are:
- Vomiting (we've found 10 small separate instances throughout the day)
- Seems to be walking a bit gingerly, not stumbling or falling over but less spry than usual.
- More lethargic and stressed looking that usual.
- Possibly a higher heart rate/breathing rate than normal.
We plan on taking him to the vet tomorrow (It's night now, and started late this afternoon) but just wanted to see get some advice here if possible.
A couple weeks ago we had our first heat wave, and he was getting pretty hot. I was playing with him (so he was active and running around) and he started panting. I took him down to a cool spot, wet his paws, etc. and he seemed fine. We have since put in ACs and haven't noticed anything until today (today is about the 4th 90+ degree day in row - hotter than normal where I live).
We have considered getting his fur trimmed by a groomer, but have read mixed opinions on the effectiveness of this. Some say it helps, but others say they need they're long hair and can make it worse?
And for what it's worth, he gets car sick almost every time he goes for a ride. When this happens he will usually defecate and/or vomit, so he gets a bath when we get home. All the stress from the car ride and bath makes him act more lethargic and mellow for the rest of the day. He is acting similar to this now. I don't think the heat has been a factor for the past several hours but he still looks stressed. He also had a bad reaction to flea meds a couple months ago and was throwing up all day. Just adding this to share that he has a pretty weak stomach and is prone to stress.
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I live in the south of sunny Florida. Unfortunately my cat was left in my black Subaru car two days ago. I don’t understand how he got there but by the time I found him he was wet and panting. My guess is that he’s been in there for 7+ hours. I quickly brought him in and layed ice packs around him. He’s been drinking water and recovering. He hasn’t been himself fully. I’m very worried it might of caused more damage then I imagined. I wonder if I should seek veterinary attention. Please help!!
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My cat the past two days has been vomiting slightly, there has been grass in the vomit, temperatures are very high at the moment in the area I live in and are not usually this high, my cat likes the outdoors and didn't want to come in at all for food or water, he is in a street with plenty of shade, he comes in at night and goes back out in the morning, the weather has been like this for 2 days but I've noticed this second night he is extreamly thirsty and I've gave him some water, I've put him on a cool towel and tried to cool him down with ice, he's not panting, he keeps licking himself, not drooling just a tidy bit of vomit but not much because he's not ate, he's white and grey and has had sunscreen on the white bits, he's alert but very tired but he has been out all day so he typically is when he's brought it at night, could it just be a bug he has or would it be sunstroke or are his symptoms to mild to say it's sun stroke could it just be the change in weather
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