As a devoted cat parent, you know how strongly cats are drawn to warmth. Cats enjoy the ray of sunshine penetrating through the window, the warmth out of the woodstove, and the heat our bodies generate and radiate. Cats even love snoozing on warm laundry piles that came straight from the drier.
The term warm-blooded is used to describe animal species capable of maintaining a fairly constant body temperature regardless of the environmental temperature. On the other hand, cold-blooded animals depend on the environmental temperature when it comes to regulating their own.
So, the terms warm and cold-blooded do not refer to the blood’s actual temperature instead they explain how the animal keeps itself warm. All mammals are warm blooded while fish and reptiles are cold-blooded.
Cats are mammals and like all mammals, they are warm-blooded creatures. To be more precise, cats are classified as homeotherms. This means cats are capable of maintaining a relatively constant body temperature of an average of 101.5°F (38.6°C). The cat’s temperature can normally range between 100.5°F (38.1°C) and 102.5°F (39.2°C).
Cats maintain a fairly constant body temperature by burning part of the caloric energy they get from the food. On a cellular level, the simple sugars from the food are broken down and energy is released. This energy is used to keep the internal organs warm. Without warmth, they cannot function properly. Then, if the cat’s inner organs are warm enough, the warmth spreads to the external parts of the body. That is why cats always have warm ears, warm paws, and warm bellies.
Under normal circumstances, the cat’s body temperature varies between 100.5°F (38.1°C) and 102.5°F (39.2°C). The body temperatures vary in the given range based on several factors, such as sex, breed, age, time of the day, and environmental temperature.
The cat’s body temperature is in neutral mode (energy-conserving mode) when the ambient temperature is 86-97°F (30-36.1°C). However, this statement is rather theoretical and influenced by many factors.
There are three main reasons why are cats so warm. Those reasons include:
- The cat’s average body temperature (101.5°F or 38.6°C) is higher than the human’s average body temperature (98.6°F or 37°C). A body that is basically warmer will radiate more warmth.
- Cats have lower heat sensitivity than humans. The human body can feel pain caused by temperatures higher than 112°F (44.4°C). For the cat’s body to start feeling heat-related pain, the temperature should be higher than 126°F (52.2°C). This means the cat can withstand staying in a hot place long enough for her body to become quite warm.
- Cats have fewer heat receptive points. Plus, most of their heat receptive points are concentrated on the face. This means the cat’s face is more sensitive to heat than her body. In simple words, cats are more heat-tolerant than humans. As such, they can absorb and then radiate more warmth.
The fur serves as a good insulator and protection against the elements. Its protectiveness is based on two features: the dense hairs and the insulating properties of the air trapped between the hairs.
However, there is one major drawback concerning the cat’s furry cloak. Combine the cat’s fondness of heat with its fur and you have a problem. Namely, the insulation provided by the fur also prevents the cat from realizing it is being too hot.
That is why lying on radiators, heated foot rests or heating pads can be dangerous. Usually by the time the cat realizes it is too hot she is already at risk of sustaining burns. Just because cats can withstand high temperatures it does not mean that they are burn-proof.
To minimize the risk of getting burned, put a blanket on top of the heating source. The blanket will be a safety barrier and decrease the risk of burns and heat-related injuries.
With normally high body temperatures,low heat sensitivities and a small number of heat receptive points it is only logical to assume that cats like hot weather. What is more, cats are very good at tolerating higher temperatures.
However, this does not mean that cats are heat-resistant. Even cats need protection against extreme heats. In particularly high temperatures cats can experience hyperthermia or even a heat stroke. A cat is considered to be overheated or in a state of hyperthermia if the body temperature is between 102.6°F (39.2°C) and 104°F or 40°C. Body temperatures higher than 104.1°F or 40°C are indicative of a stroke and can cause damage of the internal organs.
Generally speaking, outdoor cats are more acclimated to temperature extremes than indoor cats adapted to living in constantly temperature-regulated conditions.
The cat’s need of warmth as well as the cat’s resilience to temperature extremes varies based on several factors:
- Age – young kittens and old cats are more sensitive to temperature extremes. Their bodies are not really good at temperature regulation since they lack the capacities for generating and retaining body heat.
- Breed – different cat breeds have different facial anatomy. Namely, flat-faced or brachycephalic cat breeds (Persian, Himalayan Exotic Shorthair), due to their impaired breathing, are less efficient in keeping themselves cool and therefore, at higher risk of experiencing overheating or even stoke.
- Weight – fat layers serve as good insulators because fat absorbs heat. Therefore, obese cats with thicker fat layers are better at withstanding cooler temperatures but at higher risk of overheating during warmer conditions. On the other hand, emaciated cats are more likely to experience cold-triggered problems.
- Additional health issues – cats with heart conditions and respiratory issues are not good at coping with excessive heat. Contrary, cats with certain chronic conditions, such as hypothyroidism, are more likely to experience hypothermia when the ambient temperatures are lower.
- Coat – when it comes to the cat’s coat there are two important factors:
- Length – long-haired cats are better at withstanding lower temperatures while short-haired cats are more heat-resistant.
- Color –cats with dark coats colors are at higher risk of overheating because dark colors absorb more heat.
Last but not least, we should say a word or two about air humidity. Hotter environmental conditions are often associated with low moistures. While outdoor cats are more acclimated to different air humidity levels, indoor cats, especially the ones with Oriental origin, can be extremely sensitive to dry air. The lack of moisture dries the throat and cause scaling or flaking of the skin. To avoid such problems, make sure your cat always has a fresh source of water nearby and add some fish oil to its diet. Alternatively, consider investing in an air humidifier.
It is more than obvious that the answer is yes. Cats like heat. That is something all cat parents know really well. But, why do cats like warm spots? Why do cats like heating pads? Why cats like sleeping on warm surfaces, heating pads and near heat-radiating devices?
Well, the simple answer would be because cats are practical. Namely, although cats are capable of maintaining their body temperatures, having a heat source nearby will help them regulate body temperatures while conserving energy. Simply put, instead of using her own temperature regulation mechanisms (which require energy) the cat uses the external heat source (thus saving her own energy).
When a cat is spending less energy on staying warm it has more spare energy that can be used for recharging from the busy day of doing cat stuff, like hunting, territory defending and fighting.
There is a popular and scientifically supported theory that the cat’s ancestor originated in the Africa’s hot deserts. Consequently, it is safe to assume that the modern cat’s need of warmth is wired deep in her genetic code.
Cats are good at tolerating heat because of several mechanisms:
- Conserving energy – cats keep their temperatures down and prevent overheating by taking longer naps and being less active during hot conditions.
- Seeking out cool surfaces – kitchen tiles, basement cement floors, marble countertops – cooler surfaces are more likely to conduct the heat away from the body and keep it cooler.
- Frequent grooming – cats are tenacious groomers and this is not just because they are neat freaks. Namely, the grooming has a temperature-regulating feature too. When the cat licks herself she leaves saliva on the fur and when saliva evaporation has a cooling effect.
- Drinking water – in hot conditions, cats have higher water demands. That is why it is important to always provide your cat with a source of fresh, cool and clean water. Additionally, you can even add an ice cube or two to the water bowl.
- The fur is an insulator – the fur protects the cat from overheating. It is a popular misbelief that shaving cats during summer months will help them deal with the heat. Instead of shaving, it is advisable to regularly brush your cat’s fur and remove any loose hairs.
Although cats are very efficient at keeping themselves cool during hot temperatures, spending some quality time in an air conditioned environment is quite tempting.
Generally speaking, during winter months it is advisable to keep your cat in an air conditioned environment where the ambient temperature is 80-90°F (26.6-32.2°C). Although, the ambient temperature is controlled, it is advisable to have a comfortable cat bed at your cat’s disposal. On the flip side, during summer months, the ambient temperature should be 60-80°F (15.5-26.6°C) or ideally around 70°F (21.1°C). Keep in mind that constant water access is a must.
As a rule of a thumb, cat need air conditioning when the ambient temperatures are higher than 90°F (32.3°C) or lower than 45°F (7.2°C).
Cats are warm little fur balls in a constant pursue of sunshine and heat. They enjoy being near all kinds of heat sources – from natural sunshine through heat pads and radiators to our own body warmth.
From the above explained, it is safe to assume that cats are so warm because under normal circumstances, when compared to us, they have higher body temperatures. Plus, they are less sensitive to warmth which means they can stay near heat sources long enough to literally absorb the source’s warmth and then radiate that warmth into the environment. So, warm ears, warm paws and warm bellies in cats are not just normal – they are irresistibly cute.
However, just because cats have efficient cooling mechanisms and are good at maintaining constant body temperatures during hot times it does not mean that they are hot-proof. They are quite resilient but not proof.
Therefore, in times of weather extremes have your cat well provided with water and if possible, have her stay in an air conditioned and comfortable environment.
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