Heat stress occurs most often in cats that have been confined to a car (or other enclosure) with inadequate ventilation on a warm day. Temperatures inside a parked, poorly ventilated car can reach over 100 degrees on a relatively mild 75 to 80 degrees day even in the shade. Heat stroke can also occur in cats suddenly transported to a hot climate to which they have not previously been acclimatized.
Cats are intolerant of high environmental temperatures that their owners easily withstand. A cat’s only defenses against high temperatures are rapid breathing and licking its fur. If a cat is exposed to a situation where the air is warmer than its internal temperature (anything over 102.2 degrees), heat stroke is inevitable.
Kittens, short-faced cats such as Persians, over-weight cats, asthmatic cats, and older cats are more subject to heat stroke than others are.
Signs of heat stroke are panting, increased pulse rate, reddened gums, salivating, an anxious or staring expression, or vomiting. Rectal temperatures are elevated (106 to 109 degrees).
Immediate treatment by immersion (up to the cat’s neck) in cool water is necessary. If you cannot immerse the cat, wrap him or her in cool, wet towels, or spray with cool water to reduce its body temperature.
Cold packs applied to the neck and abdominal area can help.
Fanning will speed cooling by evaporation.
Massage the skin and flex and extend the legs to return blood from the peripheral circulation.
Take the cat to a veterinarian for additional treatment, but if this is impossible, the cat’s temperature should be taken over a twenty-four hour period because rectal temperature often recurs after the initial drop and first signs of improvement.
To prevent heatstroke always provide adequate ventilation for a cat when traveling in a car.
Carry water with you when you travel and frequently offer your cat small amounts to drink.
Wet towels placed directly over your cat or over the carrier will provide cooling by evaporation, as will wetting your cat’s fur with water.