Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in the July/August 2015 issue of Catster print magazine. Click here to subscribe to Catster magazine.
I jokingly refer to my two cats as heat-seeking missiles. Jack and Phillip have an uncanny ability to find the warmest spot in the house, whether perched precisely on the kitchen counter at the exact angle of the heater vent or sandwiched around me on the bed at night. And when the sun comes out for many hours during the day, I am sure to find them stretched out near the sunniest window, soaking up the rays.
When they lie there basking in the sun, I sometimes wonder if they’re getting too hot. I asked Dr. Jane Brunt, a veterinarian at the Cat Hospital at Towson in Baltimore, what signs my cats might show if they were overheated.
“The signs are variable and can include open-mouth breathing and panting, vocalizing, salivating, vomiting or diarrhea, or red gums,” she said. Other neurologic signs include trembling, seizures, and ataxia, which Brunt described as “wobbly when walking.”
Brunt also explained that a cat’s normal body temperature is around 101 degrees Fahrenheit.
“Once over 102.5 [degrees], our patients are considered to have hyperthermia,” she added. “Once a body temperature reaches 105, then heatstroke [is a] concern.”
For that reason, contact your vet immediately if your cat shows signs of overheating.
“Tell [your vet] what you see and that you’re on your way,” Brunt said. “Immediate care is important to reverse the life-threatening and/or long-term effects of heatstroke.”
Luckily, cats are considered “desert animals,” Brunt said, noting that heatstroke is relatively rare in cats. Still, to help prevent your cat from getting too hot, try some of these tips:
Kittens, especially very young kittens, may be more susceptible to hot weather than adolescent and adult cats. If you have a new litter of kittens, keep mom and her babies away from direct sun or other hot areas of your home. In the same manner, don’t move them to an area that is too cold, either. Extremes in temperature can negatively impact the kittens’ health.
Don’t worry: Young kittens may feel warm to the touch, but this is normal.
Be concerned: If you see any of the signs mentioned above, or if the kittens seem particularly hot and unresponsive, call your veterinarian immediately.
Adolescent and adult cats deal better with warmer temperatures — but those with all-white coats or coats with white patches may face another sun-related issue.
My sweet Cornish Rex, Jordan, had a red tabby-and-white coat, distinguished by a mostly white face and white ears. He loved to stretch out in the sunniest spots in my home.
On a routine visit at the vet’s office, the doctor noticed that Jordan’s large, white ears seemed a little pinker than normal. He explained that cats with white fur can become sunburned and that prolonged sunburns can lead to a type of skin cancer in cats. My vet advised me to apply a gentle sunscreen to Jordan’s ears and nose.
Don’t worry: If you’ve put a cat-safe sunscreen on your white cat’s ears and nose, he can enjoy his sunny naps.
Be concerned: Overly pink skin (which looks just like yours when you’ve had too much sun) or small sores along the edges of the ears are signs of sunburn. Take him to the vet as soon as you can for treatment advice.
Like young kittens, senior cats may be more sensitive to heat than adolescent and adult cats. Older cats also might be more likely to sleep in the sunny spots around the house, so keep a closer eye on your senior when temperatures climb.
Don’t worry: Your senior likely will know when he’s had enough time in the sun and might retreat to a shady spot in the house.
Be concerned: If your cat shows any of the signs of heatstroke Brunt described, take him to the vet right away.
About the author: A lifelong cat owner and award-winning writer, Stacy N. Hackett writes frequently about cats, cat breeds, and a range of pet-related topics. A big source of inspiration for her writing comes from her two cats: Jack, a 6-year-old red tabby domestic shorthair, and Phillip, a 2-year- old gray-and-white domestic shorthair. Both cats were adopted from local pet store adop- tion events, and both bring a lot of personality and love to a household that also contains two teenagers.