Cats like warmth and like to lie in the sun or stay near a fire or a radiator. In spite of this, cats do not tolerate excessive heat any better than people.
This is why temperature regulation is important. Because cats are not able to cool themselves as well as humans, we have to provide them with a cool and shaded environment with access to clean drinking water.
The average short-haired cat has a body temperature of about 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Long-haired ones have higher body temperature because of their fur. Having a temperature of 105 degrees Fahrenheit or above is too hot for most cats and may lead to heat stroke (hyperthermia). If the body temperature is not brought down quickly, it could result in serious organ damage or even death.
So what temperature is too hot for cats? The answer depends on the breed and age of the cat but generally a temperature of more than 90 Fahrenheit is too hot for most cats.
Heatstroke is a state of hyperthermia (elevated core body temperature above the normal range) resulting in heat injury to tissues. It occurs when heat generation exceeds the body’s ability to lose heat.
Listed below are the main predisposing factors for heatstroke:
- A warm/hot, humid environment with inadequate ventilation like an animal being left in a non-ventilated room or car
- Inadequate shade
- Inadequate drinking water
- Excessive exercise
Signs of Heatstroke
Below are initial signs that typically indicate the heat is causing heat stress to your cat:
- Restless behavior as your cat tries to find a cool spot
- Panting, sweaty feet, drooling, excessive grooming in an effort to cool off
- Rectal temperature is usually normal to slightly elevated
As your cat’s body temperature begins to rise, signs of heat exhaustion become evident, including:
- Rapid pulse and breathing
- Redness of the tongue and mouth
- Stumbling, staggering gait
- Rectal temperature is over 105°F
At this point, the body temperature is high enough to cause the cat to collapse and have seizures or slip into a coma. A hyperthermic cat will not be able to breathe properly as heat stroke could impact its lungs.
What to do if your cat gets hyperthermic
Initial emergency treatment must be done immediately in order to normalize body temperature.
Move the cat to a shady and cool place to bring its body temperature down. Apply or spray cool water onto the animal’s fur and skin. Then apply a fan to maximize heat loss. Wetting down the area around your pet can also help. Do not use ice-cold water or ice as this may worsen the problem.
If your pet is alert enough and able to drink water, offer small amounts frequently. After the initial care takes your pet to the nearest vet. Remember that heatstroke is an emergency and should always be evaluated by a vet, even if your cat seems to be recovering.
Vets are trained to assess the severity of the heatstroke and provide emergency medical treatment as required. The vet will probably place an intravenous (IV) line to run fluids directly into your cat. This will help lower the temperature, counteract the effects of shock, and minimize the risk of organ damage.
The temperature will be monitored continuously until it begins to fall. When it becomes stable, your cat will be evaluated for signs of organ damage. It may take several days for evidence of organ damage to develop, so if your cat does not seem completely back to normal within 2-3 days, express your concern to your vet.
The good news is that it is easy to prevent a heatstroke with the following tips:
- If it is too hot outside ensure that your cat is kept inside the house. A room with a temperature of about 77°F (25° C) or a little less is comfortable for both cats.
- Your cat should have access to cool and fresh water at all times. If you will be away, there are water fountains designed for cats you can purchase.
- Cats often stay in cool and shaded places such as bathrooms and closets when they need to cool off. Ensuring they can reach those areas can help them. Just make sure they do not get trapped there.
- Using a cooling mat will help in reducing your cat’s overall body temperature.
- You can also prepare frozen treats for your pet. You can freeze gravy, meat stock or other savory liquids into ice cubes. Licking them will help them cool the cat and provide hydration.
- Never leave your cat in a car in hot weather as the temperature rises extremely quickly even on mild temperature days. Being left in a car is one of the most common causes of hyperthermia.
- Regularly groom your cat, especially if it’s longhaired. Brushing your pet will help in maintaining a comfortable body temperature. It will remove excess fur and also distribute natural oils around its body.
- If your cat loves going outside, check the weather first before letting them go. If the weather is too hot for you, then it is probably the same for your feline.
Cats Susceptible to Overheating
All cats are susceptible to heatstroke, but the following factors make a cat even more vulnerable:
- Age – Kittens and older adults are less able to handle extreme heat because their bodies do not regulate temperature well.
- Weight – Cats that are overweight are more susceptible because their extra body fat absorbs more heat.
- Respiratory or heart problems – Cats with breathing difficulties or heart problems are more vulnerable to heatstroke.
- Hair – Long-haired cats are more susceptible to overheating than short hairs. Hairless cats like the Sphynx are more vulnerable not just to hot weather but to cold as well. Cats with thick and dark coats are more susceptible than those with light and thin coats because dark colors absorb more heat than light colors.
- Brachycephalic anatomy – Flat-faced cats like Persian, Himalayan or Exotic Shorthair are susceptible to hyperthermia because of their common breathing difficulties.
Other heat dangers
There are other dangers caused by heat to cats:
Cats do not usually drink enough water so they can easily get dehydrated. Symptoms include skin tenting, panting, refusal to eat, tacky and dry gums, sunken eyes, and increased heart rate.
Spending too much time out in the sun can cause sunburn for your cat just as with humans. Hairless cats and shorthairs are more susceptible because they have less protection from the sun. Cats who lie on their back can get sunburn on their underbelly.