The signs your cat may have heatstroke (and how to prevent it)

Sunlight can be a huge mood lifter for pets and humans alike. Whiling away the hours in glorious sunshine is the epitome of relaxation, while soaking up all that vitamin D is good for bone, muscle and heart health.

As those temperatures begin to climb though, we need to make sure our cats aren’t experiencing heatstroke.

Heatstroke occurs when the body struggles to control its temperature and begins to overheat.

It tends to follow on from the less serious heat exhaustion, and usually comes following prolonged exposure to high temperatures combined with extreme physical exertion.

Naturally, direct sunlight is considered a main contributor, but there are other factors to consider.

Any hot or humid environment with inadequate ventilation has the potential to cause a cat heatstroke, and shows that, although more prevalent in the summer months, the condition can strike at any time of year.

Inadequate shade and a lack of water can also play a part in your cat overheating, so should always be taken into account.

Pet parents can sometimes struggle to spot the signs of cat heatstroke so it’s imperative we know what to keep an eye out for.

How to tell if your cat is hot is a vital pet parent responsibility, and identifying the symptoms early could easily be the difference between spending time cooling them down or spending time at the vets.

Common signs of heatstroke

  • Panting. As a cat’s body temperature begins to rise they will try and find ways to cool themselves down. One of the initial signs a cat may be suffering from some form of heat distress is panting. A common cooling mechanism, cats will breathe with their mouth open and tongue out, accompanied by heavy breathing noises, when they’re too hot. As the heatstroke worsens, the panting will increase. Panting is a perfectly normal response to overheating and should begin to subside as your cat cools down.
  • Dizziness. A cat that’s struggling to get to his or her feet, or who has begun regularly falling down, may be suffering from dizzy spells brought on by heatstroke. Given how agile cats are, a sudden loss of balance tends to be very noticeable. Other, more subtle, signs of dizziness can include head tilting to the side and rapid eye movement.
  • Seizures. If a cat’s body temperature continues to rise it can lead to them suffering seizures. Violent shaking, unusual movements, collapsing and loss of consciousness are all associated with seizures, which can vary quite significantly in severity. Whenever you think your cat may be suffering a serious seizure, or it hasn’t stopped after two or three minutes, it is imperative you seek emergency medical attention. You should always ensure there is nothing nearby your cat could hurt themselves on when they are experiencing a seizure.
  • Vomiting. Cats do vomit from time to time – for a variety of reasons – so there is no need to be concerned if it happens once or twice. Be sure to check for blood in the vomit as this can be symptomatic of heatstroke. If the vomiting persists for a prolonged period of time then you will need to contact your vet.
  • Lethargy. Heatstroke can come following an intense period of physical exertion. So it’s no surprise that cats can appear tired or sluggish while suffering its effects. They may begin exhibiting signs of weakness, such as struggling to hold themselves up. Cats aren’t always the most active of animals so tiredness can be a difficult spot. Make sure you check for other symptoms alongside it.
  • Restlessness. The warmer a cat gets, the more uncomfortable they tend to become. This can result in restless behaviour, such as repeatedly pacing back and forth, as they try to cool down or find themselves a place in the shade. Excessive grooming is another way they may try and lower their body temperature.
  • Tongue and saliva. If you think your cat may be suffering the effects of heatstroke, check their tongue and saliva. A bright red tongue combined with thick, sticky saliva is generally a sign that your cat is in distress from rising temperatures. Increased salivating and drooling are also symptoms you should be keeping an eye out for.
  • Gums. Dark red or very pale gums are common heatstroke indicators. One way to check if your cat is experiencing heatstroke is to place your finger on their gums and apply a small amount of pressure. If it takes more than a couple of seconds for the area to turn pink again, then your cat may be struggling with heat distress.
  • Sweaty paws. One of the ways humans manage to regulate their body temperature is through sweating. Cats do the same, however because they don’t have as many glands as we do, it’s not as effective. The few glands they do possess can be found in their paws, so if you notice a trail of wet paw prints across the kitchen floor this could be because your cat is sweating.
  • Reduced urine production. Little to no urine in your cat’s litter box could be a sign they are battling heatstroke. Less-frequent urination can occur when the body becomes dehydrated as a result of rising temperatures. Blood in the urine is also a symptom of heatstroke.

Avoiding heatstroke from the outset

We can’t be with our cats every second of the day, but there are a number of preventative measures we can put in place to ensure heat exhaustion or heatstroke never become an issue.

The most obvious step to take is limiting the amount of time our feline friends are in the sun for. Even if it appears relatively cool outside, direct exposure to the sun for a prolonged period can lead to overheating and our cats becoming poorly.

If the temperature is extremely high outside, it may be a good idea to stop them going outdoors completely, until it cools down.

In the house, there should be a cool, ventilated area for your cat to access at all times in case they need to cool-off.  Always avoid exercising your cat in hot weather. And aways make sure they’re able to drink clean, fresh water at all times of the day in order for them to remain hydrated.

If you’re concerned that your cat is showing the early signs of heatstroke, remove them from the hot environment immediately, spray them with cool – not ice cold – water and let them drink all the water they require.

If they’re continuing to struggle with overheating, take them to a vet to be checked over.

If you are taking them in a car, ensure the vehicle is well ventilated, and do not leave them in there alone.


Share this article