Like us, a cat’s body is designed to stay within a certain temperature range and if the air temperature rises too quickly or becomes too high, then it overwhelms the body's normal cooling mechanisms. Overheating is termed heatstroke and it's a medical emergency and requires urgent veterinary attention. If left, the organs can very quickly "cook"- once the tissues have been irreparably damaged and he organs have shut down this a fatal situation.
How do cats get heatstroke?
The most likely reason cats suffer from life-threatening over-heating are usually from becoming trapped in a confined space, in full sun or in warmer weather (eg becoming trapped in a car, cupboard, conservatory, shed etc)
What are the symptoms of heatstroke?
Initial signs include:
Later, more progessive signs:
- Restlessness, agitation, distress - seeking water or shade
- Dribbling more than usual
- Very dilated blood vessels on the haired side of their ear flaps
- Foaming at the mouth
- Vomiting or diarrhoea
- Unsteadiness, struggling to stand
Later, more progessive signs:
- Bright red gums and tongue
- Faster panting
- Mental confusion
- Reluctance to move
- Bleeding from the nose or mouth
- Convulsions (fitting)
How can I prevent heatstroke?
Understanding how cat's regulate their body temperature and thinking about your home layout and the expanding the options your cat has can be really helpful in preventing your cat overheating. I have a plenty of background information and tips on my page dedicated to helping you and your cat stay cool and cope with summer heat.
First aid for a cat with heatstroke
- Stay calm
- Don’t stress or increase your cat's activity levels
- Move you cat to somewhere cool out of full sun with good ventilation (ideally a breeze) or plug in a fan or put air conditioning on. Avoid carpets - aim for an area with ceramic tiles if possible
- Offer cool (but not ice cool) water but do not stress them by trying to force it on them
- Use a tepid, wet flannel to stroke their fur close to the skin - if they will allow it. Focus on areas where maximum heat loss occurs - the underarm and groin areas are where major blood vessels come close to the skin surface. By wetting these areas you can more effectively cool their internal blood as it passes through these areas en route back to the major organs. Avoid wetting their paws as many cats hate this. Some cats will allow you to stroke them with the flannel under the chin, temples (thinly-haired area in front of the ears) and the ear flaps themselves which can also help cool down their precious head area.
- You could drape a cool, damp towel over them or simply lie them on it, if your cat will not allow the flannel bathing . Be aware that the towel will heat up with their body warmth with time so swap it over every 5 minutes
- Make contact with your vet ASAP. It may be best to try and reduce your cat's initial temperature before exposing them to the added stress and heat that a car ride will bring to an already precarious situation. Discuss the best plan with your vet.