heat stress (heat stroke, heat prostration)


Heat stress occurs most often in cats who have been confined to a car (or other enclosure) with inadequate ventilation on a warm day.

Temperatures inside a parked, poorly ventilated car can rapidly reach over 100°F (37.8°C) on a relatively mild 75 to 80°F (23.9 to 26.7°C) day even in the shade. Heat stress can also occur in cats suddenly transported to a hot climate to which they have not previously been acclimatized. Kittens, short- faced cats such as Persians, fat cats, and older cats are more subject to heat stress than others are.


Signs of heat stress are panting, increased pulse rate, congested mucous membranes (reddened gums), and an anxious or staring expression. Vomiting may occur. Stupor and unconsciousness may follow if the stress is allowed to continue long enough. Rectal temperatures are elevated (106 to 109°F, 41.1 to 42.8°C). Immediate treatment by immersion (up to the cat’s neck) in cool water is necessary. If you cannot immerse the cat, spray him or her with cool water. 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. Then get your cat to a veterinary hospital where treatment can be continued.

Cats sustaining heat stress should always be examined by a veterinarian, but if this is impossible, the cat’s temperature should be taken frequently over a twenty-four-hour period because elevation of the rectal temperature often recurs after the initial drop and first signs of improvement. It has been suggested that if the rectal temperature has not reached 103° F in ten to fifteen minutes after starting treatment, a cold water enema should be given. Following this treatment, however, the rectal temperature is no longer accurate.


Prevent heat stroke by carrying water with you when you travel on hot days and by frequently offering 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. Open the car windows when a cat is left inside, or better yet, don’t leave the animal in the car.

Although clipping a long-haired cat’s fur may provide a little more comfort in hot weather, it is not an effective way to prevent heat prostration.