When the outdoor temperatures soar past 80°F, a cat sweats through her paws, licks her fur, and even pants heavily to regulate her core body temperature. But cold weather is a different story, and a cat’s thick coat can only maintain a normal 100.5-102.5°F internal temperature to a certain point. Now you wonder: How cold is too cold for cats?
32°F is too cold for cats and comes with a greater risk of hypothermia and frostbite. Prolonged exposure to temperatures <45°F will make a cat feel cold and uncomfortable, so a warm bed and shelter are necessary. Set your thermostat to a warm 65-75°F to keep your cat comfortable inside.
Assuming you have a functional heating and cooling system in your home, you’ll likely never have to worry about your cat ever being “too hot” or “too cold.” However, it’s your duty as a pet owner to protect your cat from the elements if she ventures outside. To learn about what temperature is too cold for cats, read on!
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Cats & Temperature Regulation
An internal body temperature between 100.5°F and 102.5°F is generally “normal” among cats. And felines do a pretty good job of staying within that range. Thanks to their thick fur coats, head-to-toe body fat, and a high-calorie diet, cats can remain comfortably warm when the outdoor temperatures near 40-50°F.
But as great as a cat’s body is at staying insulated, even feral or community cats don’t stay warm entirely on their own. For example, outdoor-only cats may choose to sleep in garages, underneath decks, or in abandoned sheds to keep warm and dry — protected from the cold, wind, rain, and snow. Other times, volunteers build makeshift shelters stuffed with warm Mylar blankets for when temperatures approach freezing levels.
Although cats can survive in temperatures as low as 32°F for a short time, long-term exposure to temperatures about 45°F or under can be uncomfortable and dangerous to felines — mainly if your indoor/outdoor cat hasn’t yet acclimated to such low temperatures.
How Breed Impacts Temperature Regulation
Not all species thrive in colder climates, but certain breeds within a species may fare better. For example, Siberian Huskies and Alaskan Malamutes — the quintessential sled dogs — have double coats to regulate their body temperatures during hot and cold seasons.
There are also a few cat breeds with double-layered coats, long hair, and ancestral lines tracing back to colder areas, who are better able to stay warm when the temperatures drop, including:
- Manx (double-layered coats — one for insulation and one for protection)
- Ragdoll (fluffy coats enabling longer durations in cold climates)
- Persian (wooly fur underneath and long hair on top)
- Maine Coon (long hair that’s water-resistant and even thicker along the belly — water and snow are no match)
- Himalayan (double-layered coats and oil keeping cold snow and moisture from reaching the cat’s skin)
These cold-resistant cat breeds can survive better during the cold, wind, rain, and snow, but they can’t fend off the elements forever. Make sure you bring your cat inside when the temperatures outdoors consistently hit 45°F (or lower) and ensure your cat has access to a warm shelter and bed when it gets cold.
What Happens if a Cat Gets Too Cold?
The longer your cat spends outside — especially if it’s near-freezing, wet, and windy — the greater her chances of developing hypothermia or frostbite. Depending on how long your cat’s exposure to the elements lasted, either of these conditions can prove fatal or cause long-term health consequences (like amputation). Both diagnoses are even more likely when snow or water reaches your cat’s skin, with a brisk breeze amplifying the cold sensation.
Hypothermia occurs when a cat’s internal body temperature drops dangerously low — specifically lower than 100°F — after long-term exposure to near (or below) freezing outdoor temperatures. As a result, your cat’s blood flow becomes severely restricted, and her paws and ears are the first areas of her body to become unusually cold. The longer it takes to rewarm your cat, the greater the risk of organ failure, a dangerously low heart rate, and severe fatigue.
Frostbite is a cold-weather condition most likely to occur when outdoor temperatures drop below freezing (32°F), and restricted blood flow to the extremities (particularly the paws and ears) lasts longer than usual. This lack of healthy blood flow — on top of wet skin and fur — can cause freezing in the extremities’ tissues, sometimes causing it to die. Gentle rewarming without rubbing the skin can help avoid leg amputation, bacterial infections, and shock.
What to Do
Time is of the essence if a cat is showing signs of hypothermia or frostbite. However, that doesn’t mean fast treatment is always best — attempting to rewarm your cat too quickly can cause burns or even tissue damage.
Here’s what you should do if your cat has either condition:
- Remove your cat from the elements, wrap her in a towel or warm blanket, and make sure you dry her off completely.
- Check your cat’s temperature rectally — it should be 100.5-102.5°F.
- Avoid using electric blankets and hair dryers, and don’t rub your cat’s skin vigorously to warm her.
- Take your cat to the vet as soon as you can. Also, keep her wrapped in a blanket along with warm water bottles while en route to the vet.
The length and severity of your cat’s exposure will ultimately determine your cat’s prognosis. Immediate care is necessary to reduce the risk of long-term health issues, coma, or death.
Signs a Cat is Too Cold
A cat can feel cold and uncomfortable, even if she’s within her normal body temperature range and not at risk for hypothermia or frostbite. Your cat may merely have a low tolerance for brisk temperatures and find your thermostat setting to be lower than her liking.
Here are a few clear signs that your cat may feel cold:
- Ears and paws are cold to the touch (but not concerningly cold)
- Seeking warmth by curling into a ball or sleeping near the heater or furnace
- Shivering (your cat’s natural way of staying warm)
If you notice any of these in your cat, it may be time to keep her inside until it warms up outside again. And of course, think about cranking the thermostat up a few degrees to make your cat more comfortable.
How Cold is Too Cold for Cats Inside?
Unless you don’t use a heater and allow your thermostat setting to drop below 45°F in the winter, then there aren’t many concerns about your cat being “too cold” within the confines of your home. However, cats tend to enjoy warmer climates, so keep your thermostat well above 60°F year-round — if possible.
About 65°F to 75°F is best for cats, and you might even find your feline still enjoys laying in the hot sun despite the high indoor temperature.
It’s also essential to give your cat the resources she needs to stay warm at home, including:
- Access to a window (preferably one that lets the sun in occasionally)
- Bedding including heating pads, electric blankets, or warm water bottles
- Warm blankets and beds (especially if you have wood or tile flooring that gets cold)
- Vertical space, like a cat tower (as they say, “heat rises”)
It also helps if you fix drafty windows and doors, allow your cat to roam in rooms with carpeting, and let your cat cuddle up with you to share body heat.
Do you want to know more about keeping your cat warm during the cold winter months? The video below will give you five tips to help you do that.
A healthy diet, fresh water, and adequate exercise are all essential for keeping your cat healthy. But unfortunately, many cat owners overlook the importance of more mundane things, like the temperature. Cats are warm-blooded animals and need to keep their body temperatures within 100.5-102.5°F.
And with the heightened risks of hypothermia, frostbite, and pure discomfort, keep your cat indoors when outdoor temperatures drop below 45°F. Additionally, never let your cat outside when temperatures near freezing.
- American Chemical Society: Animal Survival in Extreme Temperatures
- VCA Hospitals: Taking Your Pet’s Temperature
- Alley Cat Allies: Feral and Stray Cats—An Important Difference
- PetMD: Hypothermia in Cats
- VCA Hospitals: Frostbite in Cats
Pam is a self-confessed cat lover and has experience of working with cats and owning cats for as long as she can remember. This website is where she gets to share her knowledge and interact with other cat lovers.