Preventing Heatstroke in Cats in Queensland

As temperatures are remaining high this year with little relief, we thought it would be helpful to provide some refresher information about Heatstroke.  What to look for, emergency first aid and who’s at more risk and why.

This year we have seen on the news a human death due to not recognizing the symptoms of overheating (HYPER-thermia) before it was too late, and it begs the question – if we aren’t recognizing symptoms well enough for ourselves, are we Heat-AWARE enough for our silent feline companions?

While cats are the best ‘cool spot’ seekers and will find open cupboards, under beds etc to keep cool, as the ambient temperatures steadily climb, heat-stress and heatstroke can come on in quite subtle ways. Trapped in your home, backyard, or garage can sometimes compromise even the best comfort seeker’s ability to find relief.

Here’s how you can recognize if your cat is starting to suffer Heat-stress.  

1. First signs of Heat-stress in your cats is panting and agitation, such as pacing or staggering. It is unnatural for a cat to pant. If there are no other medical reasons for your cat to pant, such as illness, then a panting cat is a HOT cat.  

Unlike humans, cats have only limited sweat glands which are ineffective to providing any cooling functions when our temperatures have been in the mid to high 30’s. To provide some evaporative cooling, the cat will open its mouth and pant. However, if there is no cool breeze or the air temperature is now exceeding the cat’s own body temperature (37.7 – 39.1 degrees Celcius), this will provide no relief. Even lower temperatures can ‘cook’ your cat when humidity levels are high, as the evaporative cooling effects provided by dry air is compromised by the already wet, humid air we have here in South East Queensland.

In a very short space of time, the cat’s core temperature can escalate to a temperature higher than a fever, which can then cause major body organs to begin to fail.

2. Vomiting, drooling & salivating can often be another sign your cat is overheating. Although depending on how rapidly temperatures are rising and how quickly your cat is being affected, your cat may go straight to number three.

3.  Collapse. You may notice your cat is lying on its side or stomach and may even have its eyes open, but may not be responsive. Panting may have stopped at this stage and your cat is now in a severe stage of distress. 

4. Coma and Death. And it can be as brutal as that. 

Emergency First Aid

If you find your cat in a hot environment and is showing signs of any of the above, your emergency first aid is to.

  1. Remove the cat from the hot environment
  2. Get cool air from a fan or air-conditioning circulating around your cat if possible
  3. Wet/ dampen their fur with room temperature water(cold or ice water can ‘shock’ your cat at this point so the objective is to slowly cool their temperature back down, rapidly reduce their temperature)
  4. Get them to your nearest Vet or Animal Emergency centre for treatment. Be mindful of transporting them in hot cars and ensure they are well ventilated or in front of MILD air conditioning (not blowing on them at full blast which can send them into further distress).

What will the Vet do?

One of the first treatments for your cat is to stabilize any breathing difficulties, which may mean supplementary oxygen to help them breathe.   Intravenous Fluids to re-hydrate but also help to get their temperature down. Cooling treatments to support their care while they take blood samples to test for body function damage. Medications are often needed depending on what other symptoms your cat is showing as well as to support their organs and nervous system. 

From there, supportive care is given until the cat is in recovery or in some cases, euthanasia can be sought or offered when they are too far affected to recover, or treatment would prolong their imminent death.

How can I prevent my cat from getting Heatstroke (Hyperthermia)?

1. Provide a cool, well ventilated area for your cat during the day and even evenings. If you are not opposed to running your air conditioning, then leave it on during extremely hot days if you are not going to be home to monitor your cat.You can set timers to enable your air conditioner to run for 4-6 hours to keep the house cool at set times, however be aware of how quickly heat builds again if they cycle off when they are really still needed. If you don’t have air conditioning or it’s not practical, ensure you have alternate areas with a fan. Cooling mats can also be purchased to help keep your cat cool.

2. If your cat is outdoors, this doesn’t mean they are better off. Unless they can get out of the heat, into a shaded well ventilated area, they are as just as much risk. Make sure your cat has adequate shade and breeze to remain cool. Sand, concreted areas, paved areas or bitumen heat up and remain hot, radiating excess heat for a long time. This increases heat to direct areas around them. Courtyards, confined backyards with high solid panel fences, patios etc can become hotter than you think and has caught out many owners.

3. WATER! Cold water. Water bowls in the sun or heat of the house provide little attraction to your heat affected pet.Bowls can be placed on cooling mats to assist keeping water temperatures down and aid your pet to drink. They will drink sometimes 2 or even 3 times more in hot weather than what may be normal for your cat, so always ensure there is enough for the time you are away from them without the bowl running dry.

4. Take note of your cat’s breed and general health. Brachycephalic anatomy (flat-faced breeds) such as Persians, Long haired cats such as Himalayans are at a much higher risk than other breeds for heatstroke. If your cat is a tubster and carries extra weight, this can also render them compromised to deal with a hot climate. Other chronic illnesses can also compromise your cat’s general ability to cope will in the heat.

5. THE CAR!! While most of us know not to leave our cat (or any pet, or child) in a hot car, it is not unusual for people to inadvertently transport their cat in a cat carrier, in the rear of the car away from good ventilation and air circulation. Often going on holidays, we pack the car to the roof with holiday suitcases, bags and gear, and then pop the cat in the carrier in to the last remaining space to drive it to its holiday accommodation or even to the vet.With sun heating this area, no ventilation, this can see you arrive with a very distressed, panting cat, or worse.

5. Stay Heat-AWARE! Check weather forecasts and temperatures to ensure you have taken preventative measures to keep your feline friend safe and cool. Remember if you’re uncomfortable, then imagine putting on a fur coat. If you’re sweating up a storm, remember that they can’t really sweat at all. Taking just a few moments to walk in your Kitty’s paws, will see a happier cat this heat-wave season. 

While this hasn’t been a particularly fluffy, feel good article, sometimes you’ve just got to tell it as it is. The risk of heatstroke and fatality as a result, is a very REAL occurrence and a very COMMON occurrence in Queensland, where even the best and most loving Cat owners can be caught out. 

One of the most important features of Cat’s Meow Cat Boarding at this time of year is our air-conditioning. It’s something that makes a massive difference to the cat’s level of comfort over the hottest season of the year, as it’s also the time we are at our busiest with many people choosing to holiday at this time of the year. We ensure they all have plenty of cool water, which is changed twice a day. We also take care to note our guests aren’t outside in the heat when they should be inside in the cool and will take measures to ensure they are well managed throughout their stay. 

Remember if you suspect your cat is heat-stressed, please see your Vet.

We hope this has been helpful and if you know someone who could benefit from reading this article please feel free to share it.