Human and feline physiologies are quite similar, meaning, like us, our cats can get too cold in winter. And with cooler temperatures fast approaching, it’s natural to want to prepare. But without previous veterinary training, it can be difficult to discern when our cats are in trouble and when they’re just a tad uncomfortable.
The temperature that cats get cold is at 45°F (7.2°C), but they may need a blanket or sweater to stay comfortable at that temp. However, old or young age, certain diseases, and other characteristics like short, light-colored fur can make cats more susceptible to hypothermia.
As pet parents, it’s up to us to notice physical indications of discomfort or cold-induced disease like hypothermia since our cats can’t voice that to us. Let’s get started so that you can provide your feline buddy the best care possible.
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The Temperature That Cats Are Comfortable At
Although 63°F (16°C) might be uncomfortable and warrant snuggling up in a blanket, it’s well within the tolerable range for a cat’s body, which is 50–80 °F (10–27°C) for a healthy feline. Exposure to temperatures below 50°F (10°C), however, can be dangerous.
For example, cats exposed to temperatures around 45°F (7.2°C) will feel cold, hence needing a blanket or sweater to stay comfortable. Freezing temperatures below 32°F (0°C) are way too cold for them. Hypothermia can set in, and their bodies begin to shut down.
Let’s now talk more about this condition.
Hypothermia in Cats
“Hypothermia” is the term for dangerously low body temperature. In cats, any body temperature below 100°F (37.8°C) indicates hypothermia. This condition causes blood vessels to constrict so severely that blood and oxygen can’t reach all body parts. Sometimes tissues can die due to lack of blood flow, which is called frostbite.
It also slows down the central nervous system to the point where the body can’t perform basic functions like breathing.
Symptoms of Hypothermia in Cats
A hypothermic cat may experience the following symptoms:
- Lethargy or low energy: This can include sluggish movement, slow response time, slow reflexes such as pupils that remain dilated, and confusion or cognitive deficits.
- Slow, shallow breathing: Because hypothermia slows down the central nervous system, it reduces breathing rate and depth, which is one of the responsibilities of that system.
- Reduced heart rate. When this happens, your cat may find difficulty in breathing and feel tired all the time.
- Shivering: Similar to humans, involuntary muscle movements are the body’s attempt to keep warm.
- Stiffness: The cold makes it difficult for muscles to “warm-up” and experience their full range of motion.
- Cold to the touch: Cats’ ears, tails, and paws are especially vulnerable to the effects of reduced blood flow since the body will prioritize vital organs in the torso.
Hypothermia Risk Factors
Not every cat is at the same risk of hypothermia, as some felines have characteristics or diseases that put them at a higher risk for hypothermia than others. To be sure how tolerant your cat is to the cold, speak to your vet to get professional advice regarding the matter.
Let’s now talk about these risk factors.
Young or Old Cats Are More Vulnerable to the Cold
Kittens and older cats are more susceptible to temperature variations. Young cats haven’t yet developed enough to regulate their body temperature. In contrast, senior cats have lost some of their previous ability to do so and are more likely to have developed chronic conditions.
Cats With Health Conditions Are More Vulnerable to Hypothermia
Diseases or other conditions can make a cat’s body unable to regulate its own temperature. Conditions that place a cat at higher risk of hypothermia include:
- Heart disease
- Kidney disease
- Thyroid disease
- Diabetes or other endocrine disorders
Cats With Short, Thin, and Light Fur Don’t Do Well in the Cold
Cats originating from warmer climates typically have shorter, thinner, and lighter fur that doesn’t absorb or retain as much heat as longer, thicker, and darker fur does. It’s much like how a thinner, lighter shirt won’t keep us as warm as a thicker, darker sweater.
Cat breeds at a higher risk of hypothermia include:
- American Shorthair
- Russian Blue
- Shorthair Scottish Fold
However, cat breeds such as the Himalayan, Maine Coon, Norwegian Forest, and Ragamuffin breeds are at a lower risk of hypothermia due to their thick, long coats.
Outdoor Cats Are Usually More Tolerant to the Cold but Are Still at Risk
Cats that spend more time outside are more accustomed to the outdoors and have better intuition about how cold is too cold for them. Those typically staying indoors lack this intuition and familiarity with the environment, making them more vulnerable.
However, if it gets below 45°F (7.2°C), even outdoor cats can become at risk in the cold. You may want to provide a cat shelter during the colder months.
How To Check Feline Vital Signs
As crucial as it is to understand your cat’s vital signs, that information is useless if you don’t know how to check them. If any of these vital signs are off, call your veterinarian for further advice.
Check Your Cat’s Body Temperature
To check your cat’s body temperature, you’ll need to use a rectal thermometer. If your cat has a temperature between 90 and 100°F (32 to 37.8°C), warm them up with blankets. Anything lower than 90°F (32°C) requires emergency treatment.
Check Your Cat’s Heart Rate
Apply gentle pressure with your hands on the part of the rib cage just behind your cat’s elbows. There, you should feel your cat’s pulse. Count each beat over 15 seconds and multiply by 4 to calculate the beats per minute.
You can also feel the pulse in the notch between the back leg and the groin. A healthy heart beats between 140 and 220 times per minute.
Monitor Your Cat’s Breathing Rate
How To Keep Kittens Warm
During the winter, cats seek out warmth and safety, whether in a small outdoor shelter or inside the small nooks of your own home. Several ways you can help your cat stay comfortable when the temperature drops include:
- Give your cat a sweater. Make sure it fits snug but not tight, and keep an eye on your cat in case the sweater gets stuck on anything.
- Feed your cat a little extra food. More calories are required to keep the body warm in low temperatures, so compensate with just a little extra food.
- Provide your cat with a warm sleeping area. This can be a heated bed indoors or a small, insulated shelter outdoors. If it’s an outdoor shelter, ensure it’s protected from the wind.
- Turn up the thermostat. If it’s economically viable and a sweater or blanket isn’t enough to make your cat comfortable, try increasing the home temperature.
- If you have a young outdoor cat, you can try to make them an indoor cat. After about a year of age, however, it’s best simply to adapt to your cat’s outdoor disposition.
Feel free to refer to this YouTube video by AnimalWised for more information about keeping your cat warm.
Other Winter Safety Tips
When using antifreeze, clean up any spills, as cats are attracted to antifreeze, which is toxic.
Cats are pretty tough, but even they can get sick from the cold.
Knowing how to keep your cat warm, the symptoms of feline hypothermia, when to treat your cat at home, and when to take them to the vet can make all the difference in ensuring your pet not only survives but thrives through the winter.
Talk to your veterinarian if you’re ever unsure about what temperature your cat can tolerate or which symptoms are worth an emergency visit. Your vet will be most familiar with what is and isn’t healthy for your pet.
- American Veterinary Medical Association: Companion animal care guidelines
- Care Animal Hospital: What Temperature Is Too Cold For Cats?
- Daily Paws: Do Cats Get Cold? How to Keep Your Cat Warm This Winter
- Gallant: How Cold is Too Cold for Your Cat to Stay Outside?
- Texas A&M University, Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences: How Cold is Too Cold
- TheRescueVets: How Cold is Too Cold for Cats?
- CatHealth: Baseline Vitals in Cats and How to Measure Them
- Johns Hopkins Medicine: Vital Signs (Body Temperature, Pulse Rate, Respiration Rate, Blood Pressure)
- Healthline: What You Should Know About Shivering
- PetMD: Low Body Temperature in Cats
- Purina: Shorthaired Cat Breeds
- Purina: Longhaired Cat Breeds
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.