Cool Cats and Hot Behavior: Protecting Felines From Heat Stroke

As we approach the final dog days of summer, it can be tough for a kitty to keep its cool. I’m sweltering, and I don’t even wear a fur coat.

Recently, I’ve received more than my fair share of questions from pet owners having to do with clipping down the fuzz to relieve feline discomfort. I urge you to think twice about shaving your furry wonder.

Bare skin increases a cat’s risk of sunburn, which in turn may predispose to skin cancer. Yikes! But even more deadly, heat stroke can kill your cat in less than 15 minutes unless you take adequate precautions, and recognize the signs.

How Cats Stay Cool

Cats don’t sweat like people do. Their sweat glands are found in the paw pads, which is why you’ll see damp kitty prints when your feline feels frazzled.

But sweaty paws won’t cool the whole cat. When they’re looking to chill out, cats groom themselves. As the wet saliva evaporates, it helps keep the body cool. The fluffed fur that comes from grooming allows cooler breeze to reach their skin, making it very important to keep coats mat free.

When grooming and the breeze don’t keep the body cool enough, cats begin to pant. However, panting in cats is not normal and is a major warning sign of feline distress. Cats with pushed-in faces—like Persian beauties—need extra help staying cool, because the shape of the face makes panting less efficient, causing them to overheat rapidly.

Hot Locations, High Risks

Once the outside air reaches the equivalent of cats’ normal body temperatures, evaporative cooling won’t work. When the weather reaches triple digits, cats can’t cool off no matter how much they lick or pant, and if a solution isn’t offered, they’ll die.

Leaving any pet in a car is a risk, even on comfortable days. Cars turn into ovens as the warmth becomes magnified inside the car. On a 78-degree day the car can still reach temperatures of 90 degrees just sitting under a shady tree, but if it’s left exposed to sunlight that same car can cook kitties as the inside temps reach 168 degrees! Rolling down windows and leaving the AC on don’t help if the car overheats or stalls, and you can’t rely on an outside breeze to keep cats cool.

Like cars, rooms with large windows can also turn up the heat. Beware of switching off the air conditioner while at work, especially if windows aren’t shaded.

It’s important to recognize signs of impending heat stroke in your feline friends, and know the steps to take if your little fur ball is showing any of them.

Signs of Heat Stroke

  • Rapid panting
  • Bright red tongue and gums
  • Sticky saliva
  • Body temperatures of 104-106 degrees.
  • Severe heatstroke is body temperatures of 110 degrees or higher, although most rectal thermometers only register up to 108 degrees.
  • First Aid for Kitty Heat Stroke

Unless you live five minutes from the emergency room, pets suffering from heatstroke need first aid—you won’t have time to drive to the veterinarian. Reduce the body temperature to 104 degrees or less before seeking follow-up medical care.

Reducing Heat Stroke Symptoms

  • Offer a cool drink. Ice water or ice can cause cramps and isn’t necessary.
  • Wrap him in cold wet towels.
  • Crank the AC and turn on the fan. Just breathing air cooler than their 100-102.5-degree body temperature allows feline panting to naturally turn down the body’s thermostat.
  • If the cat’s temperature exceeds 106 degrees, dunk the cat in cool water or rinse off with the hose.
  • Apply ice—if you don’t have commercial packs, frozen veggies like peas or corn work great. Place in the fold of the cat’s “armpits” or groin (near major blood vessels) to help chill the blood so it cools the pet during circulation.
  • You can easily prevent the problem with simple precautions. Even better, keep cats inside with the air conditioning and fans running when the temperatures reach danger zones.

Hey, keep cats cool during harsh summer months. If you don’t look out for them, who’ll be there to pounce on stray shoe strings and keep you safe the rest of the year?