Heat Stroke in Cats

What is heat stroke in your cat?

Heat stroke (also known as hyperthermia) is a life threatening medical condition in which the body's internal organs (liver, kidneys, lungs, heart & brain) begin to shut down as a result of elevated body temperature caused by high temperatures & humidity.
Humans are able to reduce their body temperature by releasing sweat at the surface of the skin. Cats protect themselves against high temperatures by panting & licking the fur. Cats can become overheated very easily, more so than humans as panting isn't a particularly efficient way to cool down the animal.
The cat's body temperature is approximately 38.2 to 39.2 Celsius. If the outside temperature is warmer than the cat's internal temperature heatstroke is a very real possibility.

What are the symptoms of heat stroke?
  • Rapid panting
  • Bright red tongue
  • Brick red gums or pale gums
  • Salivating (thick)
  • Weakness
  • Anxiety
  • Dizziness
  • Muscle tremors
  • Lethargy
  • Capillary refill time of less than 1 second (pressing gums and the time it takes for the colour to turn back to pink from white)
  • Vomiting (possibly with blood)
  • Diarrhoea (possibly with blood)
  • Bleeding from the nose (this is indicative of disseminated intravascular coagulopathy [DIC]), which is a condition in which the blood clotting system fails.
  • Coma
Some cats are more susceptible than others, these include short nosed breeds such as Persians & Exotics, young & old cats, obese cats & cats with airway disease.
How to avoid heat stroke in cats:
  • Never leave your cat in a parked car, even in the cooler months, this is especially important in hot weather. If you are travelling with your cat in the car, provide adequate ventilation.
  • If your cat has access to the outdoors (either free to roam or in an enclosure) make sure they have access to a shaded area where they can escape from the sun & heat.
  • If your cat is indoors only, give it access to a cool area. It is especially important not to confine the cat to any room where temperatures are especially high, such as a sunroom.
  • Always ensure your cat has an adequate supply of fresh, cool, clean water, indoors & outdoors.
  • Avoid strenuous or high level of activity in high temperatures.
  • Limit exposure to the outdoors in the hotter months between 11.00am & 3.00pm.
  • Keep your cat indoors during hot days, and if possible with the air conditioning or a fan turned on.
 Should I treat my cat at home & how?
If the heat stroke is mild (body temperature of 40 degrees Celsius), you may be able to bring the cat's temperature down at home by wrapping it in cool, wet towels to the fur or immersing the cat in cool water. Apply ice packs to the head. Once the body temperature has returned to normal, stop cooling or you may cause hypothermia in your cat. Monitor your cat's rectal temperature, every 5 - 10 minutes. Once you have brought your cat's temperature down take it to the vet. The cat may appear to be over the incident, but damage may have been caused to the organs, so it is always recommended your cat is given a check over by a veterinarian.
If you have a fan or air conditioning turn this on, evaporation will help cool the cat.
Keep your cat in a cool place.
Offer plenty of cool, fresh water.
If the body temperature is 40.5 degrees Celsius or higher, take the cat to the vet immediately. If possible, have somebody else drive, while you attempt to bring down the temperature on the way, via the above methods.
How will my veterinarian treat heat stroke in my cat?
Some ways your veterinarian will treat your cat are as follows:
Your veterinarian will carefully bring your cat's body temperature down to a safe level.
The cat may be given oxygen.
Fluid therapy to correct dehydration.
Heat stroke can be associated with swelling in the throat, aggravating the problem. Your vet may give the cat medication to treat this.
Your cat will be carefully monitored for signs of organ damage.
Cats who have suffered heatstroke are at greater risk of getting it again. So it is important to take the necessary steps to avoid this.
Carefully monitor your cat's health for signs of possible long term damage caused by the heatstroke & speak to your veterinarian if you see anything unusual.
Watch for blood in the urine.
Your veterinarian may prescribe a special diet which will put less strain on the damaged kidneys.

No matter what the problem with your cat is, if you are worried and your pet is sick you should always bring it to the vet for us to treat.