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Can cats live outside all year?

Cats outside in winter

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When winter is approaching and the temperatures drop, we humans spend more and more time at home. In winter, our fur noses are also magically drawn to the warm living room and they become cozy room tigers. House cats look for warmth increasingly and even hard-nosed outdoor cats spend much time in the house in the winter months. But when is it really too cold and dangerous for cats to go outside? When should you stop letting your cat go outside and how can you tell if your cat is freezing?

Are cats outside in winter allowed?

In principle, yes! Adult healthy cats can usually withstand temperatures up to minus 20 degrees celsius without any problems. If your pet wants to go outside in winter despite the cold, you should give him this possibility, otherwise you would probably meet with protest anyway. But only if he is used to being outside all year round. If your darling lives indoors, you should not put him outside in winter, because his fur is not adapted to the sudden cold temperature.
Cat flaps, for example, allow your four-legged friend to enter the house or go outside the door at any time. Cats are individuals. The cold sensation of our beloved velvet paws is not only influenced by age, breed and state of health, but also a question of character. If your darling wants to stay inside, you should certainly not force him to go outside.

How well do cats tolerate the cold?

In general, cats are naturally very well equipped against the cold season: Of course there are a few exceptions, which are mainly related to the cat breed. The decisive factor here is whether the cat is used to being outside all year round or not.
Household cats do not develop such a dense fur, like outdoor cats. If the cat is accustomed to roaming outside, it gets a considerably denser winter-fur and a protecting warm undercoat in time. However, if the cat’s fur and undercoat become too wet, their insulating effect is lost and the cat will quickly start to freeze.
If your pet gets a cold , please visit a vet and let your cat get well in the warm living room.

When do cats start to freeze?

If your cat is too cold, you can tell from her body language and behaviour. Observe your pet and pay attention to his posture. If your darling squeezes the eyes tightly, puffs up his fur, makes himself very small, trembles, or shows signs of discomfort, he is obviously too cold. Cold-sensitive mostly are…

  • Young kittens – The fur must first have grown properly before going outside for winter fun.
  • Older house tigers – Elder cats prefer to enjoy themselves in a warm home anyway.
  • Sick cats freeze faster – Cats with weakened immune systems always need a cozy place that is protected from draughts to lie down and plenty of warmth.
  • Habitual house cats – If you are not used to go outside, don’t start this winter.
  • Wet cats – If cats get wet, they should definitely come into the house, otherwise they are threatened by hypothermia. Dry your darling thoroughly when they come into the house and make sure the paws are dry too.
  • Cats with little or no fur. Some breeds of cats have no warming undercoat and others have no coat at all. These animals freeze very quickly and should not be taken outside in winter.

Green Rubin — Katzenangel

Die nachhaltige und langlebige Katzenangel aus Sisal und Holz.

Hot tips for cold days:

Winter Katze draußen

  • Warm paws: If the floor is particularly cold (stone, tile) without underfloor heating, it is worth laying out carpets or tiles of heat-insulating material, at least in wintertime.
  • Beware of overheating: Warmth is good, but dry heating air can lead to an unhealthy room climate and annoying side effects (e.g.: dry skin, dry eyes, strain on the respiratory tract) in the long run. Humidifiers improve the air in the heating season for your sweet cat as well. Alternatively, you can hang a wet towel over the heater or place a bowl of water on top.
  • Cuddling class: The favorite places and hiding places of your cat should be particularly cuddly in wintertime. Above all young kittens need to be cuddly and warm at home in the first time and should not go outside. During the winter months, it is best to support small and old house tigers with many warm places to retreat and a lot of affection.
  • Cat shelters: You can buy shelters for the outside area in stores but you can also make them yourself. It is important that the hut is waterproof, windproof, insulated with heat-insulating material (for example, with cork boards or other natural materials) and softly lined (with straw, blankets, padding).
  • Avoid draught: Especially if your darling likes to sit at the window sill to enjoy the beautiful view, you should not only make this area safely accessible, but also cuddly and warm. – Provide distraction: Especially outdoor cats are bored in winter when they cannot go outside. That’s why you should plan many fun hours of play with your darling to sweeten his stay at home.
  • If your cat goes outside in winter, make sure to keep the litter box clean and provide enough fresh water and food during the cold season. Because in the high snow some cats find it difficult to do their business and the food supply (catching mice, etc.) decreases.


Basically cats decide for themselves whether they want to go outside in winter or not. If your sweetheart wants to get outdoors or onto the balcony at all costs, you can provide small, cosy shelters against the cold for him. In wet weather or stormy weather, however, it’s better to keep even stubborn open air fanatics inside and entertain them with varied play ideas. If the weather is particularly bad, visibility on the road becomes an additional risk factor that you should take into account. It is important to provide your treasure with a warm and comfortable home at all times, where it can protect itself from the cold and store heat. During the cold season it is especially important to indulge your furry nose with lots of exciting games and cuddly oases of rest. This way you will get closer and surely spend a nice cozy winter together.

How Cold is Too Cold for Cats?

Jamie Whittenburg, DVM

Dr. Jamie Whittenburg is a medical writer and veterinarian for The Spruce Pets. With over 16 years of experience working with both large and small animals, Dr. Whittenburg now writes on pet health topics to bring helpful knowledge to pet parents all over the world.

Published on 10/11/22
Reviewed by

Monica Tarantino, DVM

Dr. Monica Tarantino, DVM, is a small animal veterinarian and writer with five years of general practice, emergency medicine, and geriatric pet health experience. She is certified as a Fear Free doctor. Dr. Tarantino is part of The Spruce Pets’ Veterinary Review Board.

snuggly warm cat

Because cats are notoriously independent and also covered in thick fur, many people mistakenly believe that they are fine to be outdoors in cold weather. It is true that many cats, such as feral and stray cats, live their entire lives outside, though statistics show that these cats will live shorter and harsher lives than your typical house cat. Your indoor/outdoor cat will be relying on you to let them in when they get cold, as they may not have another location to stay warm. Cold weather can be extremely dangerous for our feline friends. So how cold is too cold for cats?

What Temperature Is Too Cold for Cats?

Unfortunately, there is no one perfect answer to this question that will cover all cats and all situations. The lowest safe temperature for a cat will depend on factors such as breed, coat, age, health, and weather factors.

A general rule of thumb is that if it is too cold for you outside, it is too cold for your cat. Cats may experience adverse effects when the temperature outside dips below 45 degrees Fahrenheit for any extended period of time. Even if the temperature is above 45, if there is rain or other inclement weather and the pet is outside for multiple hours, then hypothermia can result. If the temperature goes near or below freezing, 32 degrees Fahrenheit, the cat may suffer from severe hypothermia and even frostbite.

Considerations for Cats and the Cold

Many factors will affect the safety of a cat in the cold. Cats that are old or young will be the most at risk in terms of age. Young cats have less body fat and are less effectively insulated against the cold. Older cats may also suffer from lower percentages of body fat and other health issues affecting their cold tolerance.

The amount of hair or fur that a cat has will also affect its ability to stay warm in cold temperatures. The thicker and denser a cat’s coat is, the more comfortable it will be in the cold.

Living outside is a significant risk factor for everything from injury to illness to parasites. Cats that spend more time outdoors will often have developed locations to hide or nest in when it gets cold, but even then they are still at risk for hypothermia and frostbite. It is not uncommon for veterinarians to see outdoor cats with signs of frostbite on their ears after an overnight freeze. It is highly recommended that all pet cats be kept indoors as it dramatically increases their life expectancy. The average lifespan of an indoor cat ranges from 10 to 20 years, whereas cats who go outdoors typically live only 2 to 5 years.

Humidity, precipitation, wind, and the availability of adequate shelter also play a role in determining the temperature at which an outdoor cat is in danger. More humidity, high wind chill, and snow or ice will all cause more temperature-related issues for these cats. Adequate shelter is imperative and should aid the cat in conserving heat as well as protecting them from the elements. Certainly, it is not recommended to allow any cat out at night due to predators but if this is done, nighttime temperatures should be checked as they are often far colder than daytime temperatures.

Signs Your Cat is Too Cold

Cats are notorious for hiding their illnesses and distress. Frostbite and hypothermia are both risks for outdoor cats that get too cold. It can be challenging to know if your cat is too cold because they cannot tell you.

If your cat is too cold, you may notice the following signs:

  • Lethargy
  • Dilated pupils
  • Slow heartbeat
  • Shivering
  • Skin feels cold to the touch
  • Slow or labored breathing
  • Weakness
  • Unwillingness to eat or drink
  • Hiding
  • Dark coloration of the ears or other extremities, indicating frostbite

If any of the above signs are seen in a cat that has been exposed to cold temperatures, it should be brought inside, wrapped in a towel, and taken to a veterinarian immediately. Aggressive or rapid warming can sometimes worsen the situation.

How to Keep Cats Warm in Cold Temperatures

The best way to keep a cat safe from cold temperatures is always to keep them inside your house. If you have a hairless breed, such as a sphynx, warm sweaters, and lots of fluffy blankets will help to keep them warm. Many cats will enjoy lying in front of a sunny window or curling up in a fleecy cat bed to stay warm.

If you are caring for stray or feral cats, you can help them in the cold weather by providing plenty of high-quality, high-calorie food. Staying warm in cold temperatures requires the cat to burn a lot of extra calories. Having a good food source that is readily available and does not require the expenditure of many calories, as hunting would, is very important.

Adequate shelter is a must, and there are many cheap and easy ideas, from dog houses to plastic bin containers, that can be retrofitted for this purpose. The shelter must be placed in an area that is safe from predators and where the cat feels comfortable sleeping inside. Make sure to include some type of warm bedding that will enable the cat to conserve heat.

If you suspect your pet is sick, call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know the pet’s health history, and can make the best recommendations for your pet.

Article Sources

The Spruce Pets uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

  1. Thinking Outside the Cage. «Cats Live Longer, Healthier Lives Indoors.»,that%20freedom%20with%20their%20lives.
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