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.