Cats tend to seek out sources of warmth-consider their quest for the perfect sunbeam, cozy blanket, or cat pile. However, that doesn’t mean they won’t reach a melting point. Not every kitty has the same level of heat tolerance. What each cat considers too hot will depend on several factors.
With an average body temperature that is slightly higher than our own, around 100 – 101° F (37.8 – 38.8° C), they can tolerate a bit more heat than we can. But as temperatures rise, cats are very limited in the layers that they can shed and their mechanisms for cooling their body. So, it’s essential that as cat parents, we pay special attention to our cat’s comfort to prevent potentially serious problems.
How Can I Tell If My Cat is Too Hot?
Most commonly, cats that are feeling warm will act uncomfortable. They may be restless and move around from place to place, seeking cooler temperatures. They may not eat as much and drink more. You may see them pant, especially after exercise. Or you may notice them grooming more often to increase the cooling effects of evaporation.
When cats start to get dangerously hot, they can experience heatstroke when the body temperature gets to 104° F (40° C) or above. At these high temperatures, organs and systems can start to fail and shutdown. Cats with heatstroke may pant excessively, drool, sweat from their footpads, appear disoriented, vomit, stagger, and have bright red gums. Heatstroke is a medical emergency and should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
How Hot is Too Hot For Indoor Cats?
Most of the time, indoor cats are at little risk of getting too hot. Humans will be uncomfortable well before they are. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.
Situations like power outages when the A/C doesn’t work, or if a cat is in a confined space can lead to overheating. As a general rule, anytime temperatures exceed 90° F (32.2° C), your cat needs to be provided with a cool space, fan, or another cooling source, and plenty of water to feel comfortable.
How Hot is Too Hot For Outdoor Cats?
Outdoor cats may be a bit more acclimated to hot temperatures, especially if they have access to cool, shady spots. However, to be safe, stick to the rule of 90 degrees to ensure their safety. Since outside temperatures in some areas routinely exceed 90° F, consider letting your cat indoors during extreme heatwaves.
How To Cool Down a Hot Cat
Cats are usually more likely to seek cool spots and suspend activity than their canine companions, making heatstroke less common in cats. However, it’s still nothing to mess around with. When body temperatures reach 104° F or above for extended periods, your cat’s life could be in danger.
If you suspect your cat has heatstroke, cooling them is the priority. If you have a rectal thermometer, use it. It may be important to know their body temperature as a reference point to see how quickly they can be cooled down.
Cooling them down should be started before you head to the veterinarian. Start by moving your cat to a cool spot, either in the shade or in front of the air conditioner or fan. Place them on a cool, wet towel.
You can then spray or wipe cool, not cold, water on their fur, and use a fan to increase evaporation. If your cat is alert, offer them cool water. You can add tuna oil or low sodium chicken broth to entice drinking. Once you’ve knocked their temperature down a notch or two, get them to the vet for further treatment.
How to Prevent Your Cat From Getting Too Hot
Always provide your kitty with a safe, cool spot. This may be as simple as a cardboard box that offers some shade. Bathrooms or laundry rooms with tile or vinyl floors are also preferred. Keep the temperatures in your home low and comfortable and invite outdoor kitties in when it’s too hot outside.
Frequent grooming to remove excess hair and providing clean, fresh, water is also a must. Never confine your cat in a hot car or poorly ventilated room. A cooling mat may also offer some comfort for indoor or outdoor kitties.
Factors That Affect a Cat’s Heat Tolerance
We all experience heat in various ways. The same temperature on the thermometer can feel different depending on humidity, wind conditions, shade, if you’re moving, or if you have a cold drink. Cats are no different.
Stagnant air turns the temperature from warm to hot, really quick. A fan or breeze can help to move that warm air providing a cooling effect on your cat.
Muscle movement creates heat, which is exemplified by the heat in the environment. Cats that are moving or playing are more apt to get hotter than those who choose to lounge when the temperatures rise.
3. A Cool Space
You may notice that cats tend to “disappear” during the hot summer months. This is because they are hiding out in a cool, dark spot to keep their body temperature down. Without access to these cool hideouts, heat becomes more of a problem.
4. Age and Health
Older and younger kitties can’t regulate their body temperature as effectively as healthy adults. Similarly, those with chronic health conditions, such as kidney disease, may have trouble as well.
Excess fat provides insulation, which is great in the winter months but not so much as it gets warmer. Overweight kitties will have a harder time staying cool.
Before giving your cat a summer haircut, it’s important to realize that that haircoat provides some insulation against the heat. However, in long-haired or thick-coated cats, the protection against heat is overcome by the hair’s heat absorption. Frequent brushing to remove dead hair can help.
Grooming also helps to cool cats down. Wetting the haircoat with their tongue is sort of a cat’s way of sweating as the evaporation of that water helps to cool them off.
Cats cool themselves by panting, similar to dogs. Panting moves hot hair from inside the body through the mouth and nasal cavity, where it utilizes evaporation to cool down. Cats with “smushed” faces, such as Persians, Himalayans, and Scottish Folds, have a shorter nose and, therefore, less area to provide that cooling effect.
8. Access to Water
Hydration is a major factor in a cat’s cooling process. Having a moist nasal and oral cavity is a must to allow for evaporation during panting. It is also essential to keep systems functioning at higher temperatures.
Even though we often think of cats as heat seekers, they can get too hot. Providing them with ways to cool off is key in preventing discomfort and heat stroke.
Dr. Chyrle Bonk has been practicing veterinary medicine since 2010. She lives in Idaho with her husband and two sons, where they spend their free time exploring the great outdoors that is right in their backyard.