Do Cats Get Hot & How Hot Is Too Hot?
Cats are naturally drawn to heat — you’ve probably seen your kitty seek out that patch of sunshine for a nap. But can cats get too hot? Just because they like the heat doesn't mean they can handle soaring temperatures in the summer months.
Without adequate ways to cool down, cats can get too hot, and can suffer from heat exhaustion or even heatstroke (which can be fatal) during hot weather. Here are some things to know about keeping your cat from getting too hot and ensuring they're safe and comfortable all summer long…
How Hot is Too Hot for Cats?
A good rule of thumb is that if you feel hot, your cat probably feels hot, too.
This is compounded by the fact that cats are much less efficient than humans at cooling their body temperature. They don’t sweat, other than a small amount from their paw pads, which isn’t enough to cool their whole body in hot weather. In the summer, cats may also groom themselves more. The evaporation of their saliva mimics sweating—but again, it’s not as efficient.
Because of this, cats usually self-regulate their activities. They slow down when it’s warm outside, to avoid overheating. If needed they will also seek out shade, cooler and breezy areas, and cooler surfaces (grass outdoors or tile flooring indoors). And they’ll drink plenty of water to stay cool and hydrated.
If you keep your cat indoors in an air conditioned home, there’s usually not much reason to worry.
One exception would be, of course, during a power outage. But in general, comfortable home temperatures for humans (60s and 70s F) are also ideal temperatures for cats.
Can Cats Get Heatstroke?
It is definitely possible for cats to overheat!
The exact temperature tolerance may vary from cat to cat, depending on their lifestyle and other factors. Humidity may also contribute to overheating.
Older, overweight, or short-nosed (Persians, for example) kitties are much less heat tolerant than other cats, and therefore can overheat more quickly. The same is true for cats with certain medical conditions.
When they start to get too warm, pets may first experience heat exhaustion, which is when they slow down or become lethargic in an attempt to reduce their body temperature.
These symptoms might also be the early stages of heatstroke — a serious condition that can cause organ damage or death. Symptoms of heatstroke can include glazed eyes, lethargy, difficulty breathing, a rapid heart rate, wobbly walking, loss of balance, vomiting, seizures, red gums or tongue, and collapse.
Unlike dogs, in cats, panting is not considered normal. This can also be a sign of overheating — your cat is too hot.
You may also check your cat’s temperature. An ear thermometer for pets is usually the easiest way to do this. A cat’s normal body temperature ranges from about 99.5-102.5. Anything over 104 could potentially be dangerous in terms of overheating in warm weather.
What Should I Do if I Suspect My Cat Has Heatstroke?
If your kitty experiences any signs of heatstroke, an immediate vet visit is needed. Death or internal damage can occur rapidly — so it’s better to err on the side of caution and seek care right away.
It’s also helpful to move your cat to a cooler (ideally air conditioned) place right away, if possible. You can also begin to cool them by placing cool packs or cool, wet towels on their neck, chest, and groin, or by running cool water over them. Note that all of these things should be cool, not ice cold, as contact with something very cold can actually delay a cat’s cooling down by restricting their circulation. Offer small amounts of cool water to drink if they’re interested.
All of this can be done on the way to the vet’s office.
How Can I Prevent My Cat From Getting Too Hot?
Fortunately, heatstroke is reported much less commonly in cats than in dogs. This may be partially due to their own behavior (limiting their play and activities in warmer times of the day) and their lifestyle (less likely to go outside or in the car with their owners). However, heatstroke is possible, so it’s still important to keep your kitty’s safety in mind when the weather is hot.
Here are some ways to help keep your furry friend cool all summer long...
- Keep your kitty indoors. Vets commonly recommend an indoor lifestyle for many good reasons. In addition to avoiding temperature extremes, staying indoors virtually eliminates the risk of being hit by a car, getting lost, getting into fights with other cats or wildlife, and exposure to certain infectious diseases like FIV.
- Keep the temperature comfortable indoors. Use air conditioning if at all possible, or at least provide a fan and access to cooler surfaces like tile or concrete. You may find your furkid stretched out for a nap on these surfaces, to help beat the heat. If the windows are open for a breeze, make sure there is a secure screen in place, so kitty can’t fall out of the window while exploring.
- If your kitty must go outside, take precautions. Make sure they have access to shade (somewhere with airflow, since enclosed structures can get extremely hot). Provide a grassy area, if possible, since hot pavement can burn paw pads. Keep fresh, cool drinking water available at all times. Avoid letting your cat out during the hottest hours of the day. And double check places like sheds before you close the door, to ensure your cat doesn’t get locked inside. To let your cat enjoy the outdoors without roaming too far, consider building a catio, an enclosed playpen attached to the home so your cat can come back inside at will.
- Avoid dehydration. Cats drink water to help cool themselves, so fresh water should be available all the time. Even indoor kitties may drink more in the summertime. Consider adding a cat water fountain to entice your cat to drink more, and watch for signs of dehydration (lethargy, dry or pale gums, and the skin between the shoulders being slow to sink back into place if you pull up on it).
- Never leave your cat in the car on a warm day, not even for a few minutes. Temperatures inside a car can rise rapidly, even if the windows are cracked. For example, on an 85-degree day, the indoor car temperature can reach 102 degrees in 10 minutes, and 120 degrees in 30 minutes.
- Brush your cat more often in the summer to remove their undercoat. A full shaving isn’t necessary, unless that’s their usual hairstyle, since cutting the hair too short may remove some of their natural sun protection.
- Have a backup plan. Sometimes, power outages happen in the summertime, especially if you live in an area that also experiences summer storms. During these times, the air conditioning won’t work, and the temperature inside the home can rise rapidly. Consider having frozen water bottles on hand (put a towel over them and see if your kitty wants to snuggle up next to them) or use a cool, wet towel on your cat’s fur and offer them a fan. A cooling mat for pets can also be a good option. Sometimes, this still isn’t enough, so plan ahead for where you could take your cat if the power is out for an extended time.
While all of this may sound scary, the good news is, a little planning goes a long way. Implement as many of the safety tips as you can, and you will likely find that summer is an enjoyable time for you and your kitty alike.