Cats may have originated in the desert, but today's domestic cats are not nearly as tolerant of hot summer weather as their ancestors. Have you noticed that your cat likes to curl up in front of the fan or in the shade on hot summer days? These are their methods of keeping cool. When cats are unable to keep their body temperature under control on hot days, they may develop a serious condition called heat stroke. As a cat owner, it's essential that you know how to prevent, detect, and treat this sometimes fatal condition.
Preventing Heat Stroke in Cats
Quite simply, preventing heat stroke in cats requires that you provide a cat with an environment that's a comfortable temperature. When you're home, this is not generally an issue, since you'd probably turn on the air conditioning or a fan when the temperature is too high because you're uncomfortable, too. Most cases of heat stroke happen when a pet's owner is away and forgets to take the pet's needs into account when setting the air conditioner. Make sure you turn the thermostat down to at least 78 – 80 degrees F when you're away, as this is the upper temperature at which most cats are comfortable.
If you do not have an air conditioner, consider leaving the basement door open so your cat can take refuge in the (hopefully) cooler basement. Leaving a fan on in one room is also an option. Your cat will lie in front of the fan if he or she becomes too hot, and the flowing air will cool your cat down.
Signs of Heat Stroke in Cats
Accidents happen. Even if you have the best of intentions, your air conditioner could break, your cat could accidentally lock itself in the warmest room in the house, or your cat could escape outside on the hottest day of the year. Thus, it's essential that you know the signs of heat stroke in cats, which include:
- Panting and elevated respiratory rate
- Staggering stumbling gait, as the cat wanders about looking for a cooler spot
- Lethargy; refusal to move or overly slow motions
- A bright red tongue or mouth
Treating Heat Stroke in Cats
If you have any suspicion whatsoever that your cat is suffering from heat stroke, the first thing you should do is pour cool water over the cat and get him or her into a cooler space. If you cannot get cool water onto your cat, place a bag of ice over the chest area. Also offer the cat some cool (not cold) water to drink while you call your veterinarian.
Your vet will likely ask you to bring your cat into the office immediately. Make sure you cool off your vehicle before transporting your cat to the vet. To prevent further damage, your vet will likely administer IV fluids to your cat. Other medications, such as fever-reducing agents, may be used in severe cases.
Left untreated, heat stroke can be deadly in just a number of hours. If you suspect your cat is suffering from heat stroke, acting promptly could save its life.