The classic, old-fashioned depiction of a cat lying in front of a fireplace is engraved deeply in our minds. After all, tons of commercials and cartoon have reinforced the presence of that image. However, unlike most popularly reinforced concepts, this one is actually real.
Cats genuinely enjoy warmth regardless of whether it comes from a heating tool, the sun or your lap. Cats even become more prone to cuddling when it is cold. And we should not be flattered they are just using our body warmth.
Knowing how much cats like warmth, as a responsible cat parent, it is only natural to be puzzled by the question – what temperature is too cold for indoor and outdoor cats? And what happens if a cat gets too cold? In this article we will explain everything you need to know about cats, cold temperatures and dealing with low weather extremes.
Generally speaking, an outdoor cat should not be left outside in temperatures lower than 50-60°F (10-15°C) unless there are ways of keeping warm. On the flip side, for indoor cats, the room temperature should not go below 45°F (7.2°C).
Temperatures that are too cold for us are too cold for our beloved felines as well.
Under normal circumstances, cats maintain a body temperature of 100.5-102.5°F (38.1-39.2°C). Since cats have a core temperature higher than ours, it means they are more likely to cope well with higher environmental temperatures than we are. However, it also means they are more prone to getting cold than we are. All in all, it safe to assume that cats prefer being hot rather than cold.
Luckily, cats have learned to adapt to a plethora of different weather conditions. Cats regulate their body temperatures through several bodily process ordained by the temperature regulation system located in the hypothalamus. They also regulate their body temperatures by using their natural intelligence and instincts – from curling up when it is cold to sprawling out when it is hot and from sleeping in warm natural shelters to snoozing in breezy shades.
When it comes to cats, being equipped with a seemingly warm fur is not enough. Cats like warmth and they like it even better when in excessive amounts. Therefore, cold weather is something cats do not cope really well with. It goes without saying that through the years of evolution cats developed certain coping mechanisms but when the temperatures drop below freezing, cats become susceptible to two main issues:
- Hypothermia – this medical term indicates that the body temperature is below the normal. It means the body’s heat loss rate is higher than the heat generation rate. Hypothermia occurs if the cat spends too much time in the cold or if it is shortly exposed to extremely cold conditions.
When dealing with hypothermia, shivering is a coping mechanism. Cats start to shiver as a way of generating heat. If the conditions are way too cold, this is not enough. In such cases, the body temperature continues to decrease and the breathing and heart rate also slow down. Ultimately, these responses can be life-threatening. Therefore, it is safe to assume that hypothermia is a medical emergency that warrants prompt and adequate veterinary attention.
- Frostbites – occur in terminal body parts (ear tips, tails, paws) as a result of close exposure to cold weather and surfaces. Tissues affected with frostbites usually die off. This explains why frostbites are initially painless. However, if the tissue is not completely dead and a cat with moderate frostbites is thawed out, the affected areas become extremely painful.
Depending on the damage severity, if the affected tissue cannot be salvaged, to avoid further complications and death tissue spread, amputation must be performed. This may seem like a radical approach, but it is the treatment of choice in severe frostbite cases.
Although there are many cold weather guidelines, nothing can substitute common sense. Namely, if the environment is too cold for you, it is probably too cold for your cat too. What is more, if you cat is shivering, has cold extremities and seems uncomfortable outside, it is definitely time to bring it indoors and warm it up.
32.2 – 37.2° C
|Mild Hypothermia|| – Weakness|
– Lack of mental alertness
| 82 – 90° F |
27.7 – 32.2° C
|Moderate Hypothermia|| – Muscle stiffness|
– Low blood pressure
– Slow, shallow breathing
| < 82° F |
< 27.7 °C
|Severe Hypothermia|| – Fixed, dilated pupils|
– Inaudible heartbeat
– Difficulty breathing
Generally speaking, temperatures below 45°F (7.2°C) and above 105°F (40.5°C) are dangerous for cats. It should be noted that theoretically speaking, the cat’s body temperature is at neutral mode when the ambient temperature 86-97°F (30-36°C). However, maintaining such temperatures, particularly in winter is unrealistic even for indoor cats.
Cats are quite efficient in maintaining normal body temperatures. However, during summer, hot ambient temperatures are likely to challenge the cat’s body temperature regulating mechanisms. Namely, when the temperature rises to 70-98°F (21-36.6°C) the cat starts feeling hot and its regulating mechanisms are triggered to take action. If the temperature reaches more than 100°F (37.7°C) the cat feels too hot and her body struggles to maintain a normal body temperature.
Particularly cold ambient temperatures during winter are also challenging and exert the body temperature regulation mechanisms. When the temperatures decline to 45-60°F (7.2-15.5°C) the cat’s body activates its self-warming mechanisms. If the temperatures fall below 32°F (0°C) maintaining the body temperature within the normal range requires extra effort.
The ideal temperature for cats is around 60-70°F (15.5-21°C). A temperature of as low as 50-60°F (10-15°C) is still considered acceptable as long as there are ways of keeping warm.
For indoor cats, it is advisable to make sure the room temperature does not go below 45°F (7.2°C). Room temperatures below 32°F (0C°) can have serious consequences for your cat.
For outdoor cats, it is advisable to offer warm and cozy shelter, especially if the temperatures decline to less than 45°F (7.2°C). If the ambient temperatures are below 32°F (0°C) consider taking your outdoor cat inside.
Temperature tolerance determines at what point cats get cold. The temperature tolerance for cats depends on several factors such age, body weight, hair coat, body conformation, concurrent health conditions and even breed.
For example, kittens and elderly cats are less capable of effectively regulating their body temperatures than adult cats. Kittens have underdeveloped thermal regulation systems while elderly cats have decreased temperature regulating powers.
Consequently, their cold tolerance is much lower. It is also safe to say that long haired cats are less likely to get cold than cats with short hairs.
The body weigh plays an important role too – thin cats get cold much faster than robust cats since their fat layers serve as excellent insulators. The conformation or simply put, the body type is also important. Namely, in cats with shorter legs, the abdomen is closer to the ground and consequently, the risk of getting cold is higher. On the flip side, cats with longer legs and abdomens more elevated from the ground are less likely to get cold.
Sick cats are also less capable of properly regulating their body temperatures. Decreased cold weather tolerance is particularly common among cats with anemia, hypothyroid disease and laryngeal paralysis.
Originating from harsher environments, certain cat breeds are more resistant to snowy grounds, cold extremes and frosty winds. Cat breeds capable of tolerating low temperatures include:
- The Maine Coon
- The Scottish Fold
- The Siberian Cat
- The Norwegian Forest Cat
- The Ragdoll
- The Russian Blue
- The Himalayan Cat
- The Persian Cat.
On the other hand, the Sphynx, the Devon Rex and the Peterbald Cat need cozy winter equipment to deal with cold temperatures.
It is in the cat’s nature to hide signs of discomfort. Therefore, to spot changes in the cat’s behavior indicative of feeling too cold, you will need to be extra careful and observant. These are the most obvious signs:
- Having cold extremities – this applies particularly to ear tips, tails and paws. If they are cold, your cat definitely feels cold too.
- Curling up in a ball – this is more than just a sleeping position. Curling up indicates your cat is feeling cold. When feeling chilly, in addition to curling up, cats usually tuck their paws and tails beneath their bodies.
- Seeking heat sources – if your cat is spending more time near the radiator or heating panel, chances are it is feeling cold and using direct heating sources to boost its body temperature.
- Being cuddlier than usual – chilly cats huddle together and are more likely to spend time in your lap or simply near you. So, if your cat is cuddlier than usual, it means it is using you as personal heater.
As already mentioned, having a water-resistant, cloak-like fur is not enough if the temperatures are extremely low. This particularly applies if the fur is soaked wet or matted. Even if the fur is well-groomed, additional gearing up is often necessary. Fortunately, there are some popular ways of keeping your cat warm like offering special cat diets formulated specifically for cold conditions, using fashionable and warming clothes and investing in heating systems or heating beds for cats. If parenting a strictly outdoor cat, provide a warm shelter. If your outdoor cat is allowed to stay indoors, make sure she stays inside during the coldest parts of the day.
Cats burn more calories when in cold environments. Therefore, it is necessary to provide your cat with more calorie-dense diets during winter times. Luckily, the modern market offers a plethora of commercially available cat food recipes formulated specifically for cold conditions.
Playing dress up with your cat may seem funny but it is quite efficient when it comes to combating cold temperatures. Waterproof coats that cover the body, from neck through abdomen to tail and a pair of comfy winter booties provide the additional warmth cats crave for. What is more, the booties provide protection against ice chunks and irritating ice melting salts and chemicals.
Heat pads or even electric blankets can be quite useful when helping your cat cope with low temperatures. However, they must be used with caution and under close supervision. Leaving your cat unsupervised while using a heating device may lead to unwanted burns and injuries.
Elevated cat beds and heating cat beds are ideal choices for keeping your indoor cat warm. In addition of providing additional warmth, these beds provide a safe place and a sense of security for cats. Both types of cat beds come in a variety of sizes, styles and colorful designs.
Outdoor cats can be kept warmth by providing them with a warm and cozy shelter. Ideally, you can take an outdoor cat inside during freezing temperatures. If this is not possible, you can adapt a small part of your basement or shed. Alternatively, you can build a cat-friendly shelter in your yard. Just make sure the shelter is well-insulated. You can find many instructional guides on how to build a cat shelter online.
As an unwritten rule, stray cats are more resistant than domestic cats, not just in terms of weather conditions, but in general. They are more adaptable and more resourceful. To survive cold weather, stray cats often seek shelter under car hoods, in the wheel wells and in the snow. Although these methods are efficient in warming cats up, they can also be deadly. Therefore, before starting your car up, knock on the hood or honk the siren. That way you will alert the cat and it will be able to safely leave its self-made car shelter. It is also advisable to check your driveway for cat shelters before using it.
As mentioned, cats can be resourceful, especially in finding relatively warm shelters during cold conditions. Plus, during winter times, cats use most of their energy to stay warm. Having thicker fat layers and thick coats are also quite helpful.
However, if extremely cold temperatures, cats can freeze to death. This happens when the cat’s body temperature goes below 16°C (60°F).
Although outdoor cats are capable of withstanding more pronounced temperature extremes that does not mean they do not need protection against the elements. Both outdoor and indoor cats can experience serious consequences if exposed to cold conditions, especially if the exposures are long or frequent.
If given the opportunity, cats would choose extreme hot over extreme cold, each and every time. Therefore, it is highly advisable to keep your cat warm and comfortable during the cold winter months, especially when the temperatures fall below the freezing point.
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Happy Cat Care!