It may be doggedly hot outside, but the cats are trying to cool off too. While your dog is willing to jump into the pool or flop his tongue out for a panting marathon, your cat may be boiling in the heat. Danger of heatstroke is serious, so let’s explore how cats naturally lower their body temperature and some things we cat parents can do to help.
Do cats sweat like people or like dogs?
Well, technically, yes cats do sweat — but barely and only through key areas. (Learn about sweating and heatstroke in dogs.) Cat’s sweat glands are concentrated on their paw pads. On super-hot days, you may even see kitty’s little paw prints on your tile or wood floors. Unlike us, who sweat through almost all our surface area, the cat paw is, more or less, ineffective for fully cooling down your feline in extreme heat.
How can I tell if my cat is too hot?
The body temperature of a healthy cat is somewhere in the 100 degrees F to 102.5 degrees F range. Anything higher is considered overheating — with the potential of the cat suffering from heatstroke. Signs of heatstroke can include rapid breathing, drooling, strings of saliva or bright red tongue and gums. If you suspect your cat has an above normal temp and you are witnessing abnormal behaviors, definitely seek immediate veterinary care. Heatstroke can be life-threatening.
One key point: A cat that is panting due to heat stroke is in very dire straits and needs immediate emergency care. Unlike dogs, cats can’t cool themselves by panting, so the open-mouthed breathing you are seeing is actually a sign of respiratory distress. Do not make the mistake of chalking up open-mouthed breathing in your cat to a sign that he’s just a little warm. It’s always serious, and although it could be a sign of heatstroke, it’s more than likely due to something else, such as feline asthma or heart disease. Bottom line: Get a panting cat to the vet ASAP.
To learn more about heatstroke, ask your veterinarian, visit PetCoach and consider getting certified in pet first-aid. (I did a few years ago, and it’s already been lifesaving for one feline friend.)
What do cats do instead of sweat?
Most cat parents have probably noticed how much more their cat licks themselves during the warmer season. That’s because when the saliva evaporates from your cat’s fur, it causes a cooling effect. Think of it like this — when we’re covered in sweat and stand in front of the air conditioner, the sweat quickly evaporates and we’re instantly cool. That’s basically what happens for your cat too.
Cats will also naturally search out cool, dark places to sprawl out and chill. My own feline family members just love a cool tile floor in a shaded area on the hottest days — even with the AC on.
Last, cats who are near distress level or have an underlying medical condition may pant (like dogs do) to cool down. This is not a normal behavior for cats and a veterinarian should be consulted.
How can I help my cat cool down?
1. Fan: If you don’t have air conditioning or can’t turn it on, leave a small fan on for your cat. It will be much appreciated when they are cooped up inside.
2. Keep kitty inside: On deathly hot days, keep your cat inside. Aside from ambient temperatures, hot pavement can burn your cat’s paws.
3. Play later: Playtime will get your cat’s heart pumping and body temp up. If your cat is already hot, you don’t want to put the extra stress on his body — even if he really, really, really wants to play. (Chances are he’ll want to nap instead anyway.)
4. Always keep water available: Refresh your cat’s water frequently. Consider having multiple water sources throughout the house for kitty to choose from too. This can encourage drinking more and overall kidney health.
5. Cooling pad: Fairly inexpensive, many stores sell pet cooling pads these days that provide a cooler place for your pet to nap. A cooling pad may do the trick for your indoor cat.
6. Frozen towels or ice cubes to bat around: Not for every cat, some cats really love a cool, damp towel or ice cube in extreme heat. Wet some towels, wring them out, and place them in your freezer. You can then add the towels, when needed, to your cat’s rest spot for kitty to lay on when desired. (Never force your cat to lay there.)
7. Consider a catsicle: I created this quick treat recipe back in my Petfinder days, and my cats still love it on the worst summer days — or really any day.
8. Wipe your cat with cool (not cold!), damp towels: Concentrate on areas where kitty may be hottest or the skin is close to the surface of the fur to help aid natural cooling processes. Paw pads, the tips of ears and your cat’s belly (if he agrees) can be good places to start.
Cats are very intelligent and will often find ways to keep themselves cool. Just make sure you give them access to what they need — water and a dark, cool area to retreat to — and are watchful for signs of distress, which may just save kitty’s life.