Winter is coming! Cats are descended from their wildcat ancestors who lived in hot, dry, near-desert conditions, so are well adapted to cope in the heat. But how about the colder seasons? Most domestic cats will be absolutely fine in the winter, as long as they have access to shelter from more inclement weather. However, some older cats, hairless breeds and those with health conditions may feel the chill more.
Read on for more about how cats keep themselves warm, what temperatures they can cope with and how to help if your cat feels cold.
How do cats keep warm?
The normal body temperature for a cat is around 38-39oC. This is a little higher than us, as most people have a core temperature of around 37oC. Cats usually achieve this bodily warmth through their fur coat, a love of sunbathing and an uncanny ability to seek out the warmest spot in the house!
Most cats have a dense hair coat, which traps air and acts as very effective insulation. It is possible – in fact, normal, on a cold day – for your cat to feel cold when you stroke their fur, due to the cold layer of air on top, but actually be quite toasty underneath. Cats have the ability to puff out their hair, usually as a sign of aggression; but also useful when chilly to trap more warm air! Hairless breeds such as the Sphynx are much more susceptible to colder weather due to their lack of this useful physiological feature.
When the seasons change and your cat’s environment gets colder, they will naturally seek out warmer places. If they have access to shelter, a cosy bed and enough food, an adult, healthy cat should be able to keep themselves warm enough. If temperatures drop very low (under 5oC), they may need some additional support; as will hairless cats, old or very young cats and those with health conditions.
How do I know if my cat is too cold?
It’s very natural to worry about our pets. If you’re concerned about your cat being cold, here are some signs of hypothermia to watch for.
- Cold extremities (paws, ears, nose)
- Huddled up and puffed out fur
- Seeking out warm places to sleep
- Lethargic, sleeping more (but remember, it is normal for cats to sleep for up to 20 hours a day!)
If your cat becomes more severely hypothermic, with their body temperature dipping below a level that they can compensate for, symptoms may progress. You may see pale or blue-tinged gums, a slow heartbeat, shallow breathing and eventually collapse or coma.
Why is my cat cold?
The vast majority of cats will manage to keep themselves warm through the winter without problem. If your cat seems to be struggling to maintain a comfortable body temperature, there may be a physiological or medical concern.
Cats can get hypothermic purely if the ambient temperature is too low. There is no set level where the temperature becomes a problem, as this depends on many factors such as the age and health of the cat, availability of food and shelter and additional weather conditions such as heavy rain, wind or snow.
Generally, cats will be fine if they are indoors, with usual temperatures of 15-20oC. However, cats who live outdoors may find it more difficult to stay warm when temperatures drop below around 5-8oC. Cats with a thin or absent hair coat are most susceptible, with those hairless breeds needing additional support even indoors in colder times. Young kittens and elderly cats will also find it more difficult to keep themselves warm; especially stray cats who are not well fed.
There are certain medical conditions that make cats more prone to hypothermia. An overactive thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism), heart conditions and kidney failure can all alter the body’s blood circulation, affecting body temperature. Kitties with these health problems may need extra support in colder temperatures.
Shock is a medical condition where the circulating blood flow through the body suddenly drops. This can occur due to various causes, including accidents and trauma, blood loss, allergic reactions, burns, severe infections and some poisons. If your cat is unwell, they should be seen by a veterinary surgeon, who will be able to diagnose and treat shock. In cases where your cat is unwell but being treated at home under the care of a vet, bear in mind that they may well be more likely to get cold until fully recovered.
What to do if your cat is cold
If you are concerned about your cat, it is always best to seek advice from a vet. Cats can just get cold, but there are also various medical problems that can predispose to hypothermia. If the weather is mild, and your cat has access to indoor shelter, it would be unusual to see hypothermia in a healthy cat.
In colder temperatures, and if your cat is chilly but appears well, active and bright, then there are some steps you can take to make sure your kitty stays cosy and comfortable.
1) Cosy beds
Make sure your cat has plenty of warm places easily accessible. Place beds away from draughts and provide extra bedding such as blankets. If possible, allow your cat to sleep somewhere elevated – this is not only warmer but also preferable for many cats who like to relax in a safe vantage spot. There are heated beds available, but make sure anything you buy is completely pet safe. Human warming aids such as wheaties and hot water bottles can cause burns.
2) Sunny spots
Cats love to sunbathe, and for good reason – it helps keep them warm! Keeping a sunny windowsill free for your cat to lounge on will earn you top points from your feline friend, and also help them to keep warm.
3) Outside cats
If your cat is an outside adventurer, it is vital in the winter months to make sure they have shelter and warmth. If they cannot access the indoors, consider a shed or other enclosed area which can be provided with a safe heat source, plenty of bedding and blankets and adequate food.
4) Hairless breeds
Breeds such as the Sphynx cat will be much more prone to underheating. Keep them indoors in any inclement weather and provide plenty of cosy bedding and sleeping spaces. Some cats will even tolerate a cat jumper, if you’re feeling brave.
Does your cat seem a bit chilly and lethargic? Try upping their play time to get their blood pumping and muscles working. It’s an excellent bonding experience too!
Maintaining core body temperature takes energy, which comes from calories. Obesity is a very real and growing problem in the feline world, and most cats will not need extra food in the colder weather, but outdoor cats such as strays may need some extra assistance.
Cats love to be warm, often found stretched out in a patch of sun or curled up on a convenient lap. Healthy, adult cats will mostly tolerate and adapt to colder temperatures, but hairless breeds, young and old cats and those with health conditions may struggle. If your cat feels cold but is otherwise well, make sure they have adequate warm places to sleep in, the correct amount of food and some active play.