How do you know when your cat is cold?
How cold is too cold for cats, explained
If it’s too cold for us, it’s too cold for our cats. Learn about how cats react to cold temperatures and how to protect them from the elements.
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Updated April 5, 2023
- How to tell if a cat is cold
- Different types of cat coats
- How can I keep my cat warm in winter?
- Frequently asked questions
- Cats need extra care during the winter months — This can include providing blankets, heated cat beds, and extra food to protect them from the cold.
- Some cat breeds, like Maine coons and Norwegian forest cats, fair better in the cold — They still need looking after during the winter season, though.
- There are several warning signs to look out for in chilly kitties — These include cold ears and paws, shivering, and lethargy.
Many pet parents think cats can handle the cold better than humans. After all, they have fur all over their body, shouldn’t they be able to withstand a little cold weather? The truth is, cats get cold faster and more often than their owners. All cats have the same natural body temperature of 100 to 102°F. Your cat’s body temperature shouldn’t be allowed to get cooler than 99 to 100°F; otherwise, mild hypothermia symptoms can set in. So how cold is too cold for cats, and what can you do to protect your furbaby during the winter months? Read on to find out.
Indoor cats and the colder months
We all shiver a little inside our homes in the winter. This is true for your feline friend, too. While you may be tempted to save a little on energy and bundle up, it’s important to keep your pet in mind before cranking down the heat. The absolute lowest your home should be is 50°F. As long as the ambient temperature of your home is hovering somewhere between 60 and 70°F, your indoor kitty will be fine during the cold winter months. It’s also important not to overheat your home, either. Anything above 80°F is too warm for your kitty. Keep this in mind when you’re turning on the heat—and in the summertime, when you’re trying to save on energy bills.
How cold is too cold for outdoor cats
It’s fair to say that outdoor cats may be more acclimated to chilly weather and can therefore cope better in the cold if they have a safe, warm place where they can go. Even so, 32°F is too cold for a cat, even if they are mostly an outdoor or feral kitty. Outdoor, stray, and feral cats are all susceptible to the cold. Feral cats may be the most equipped to live outside in the cold winter months because they live in groups, but even they need some help. Feral and stray cats survive cold weather by looking for shelter in abandoned buildings, holes in the ground, or deserted cars. While these are okay spots for these kitties to go, they will still be in danger if the temperature drops below what cats can tolerate outside. No cat should be left outside without shelter once the temperature drops below freezing. Cats can only survive for 3 to 4 days in weather around or below 20°F.
Outdoor cats shouldn’t be out all day and night when temperatures are averaging 45°F (7°C) or colder.
How to tell if a cat is cold
A good rule of thumb is that if you feel cold, chances are your cat does, too. You can also read your cat’s body language. If you notice any of the following, try to warm up your house and provide some blankets and bedding for your cat to use:
- Cold ears, paws, and tail tip
- Curling up in a tight ball or ‘loafing’ with their paws and tail tucked beneath their body
- Avoiding cold tiles in favor of sofas, beds, and cozy corners
- Getting extra cuddly (this could mean they’re trying to steal your body heat!)
Signs of hypothermia
Make sure to be on the lookout for warning signs of hypothermia. Watch extra closely if your cat is sick or a senior. Signs of mild hypothermia include:
Signs of moderate to severe hypothermia include:
- Shallow breathing
- Fixed, dilated pupils
All of these symptoms require immediate veterinary attention.
Prolonged exposure to cold temperatures increases the risk of damage to all the body systems. This includes affecting the function of the heart and bloodflow. Brain function, muscle control, and breathing can be impacted as well with increased exposure.
Dr. Dwight Alleyne
Signs of frostbite
Frostbite is a serious concern for any cat that is outside for prolonged periods in temperatures below 32°F. It happens when blood vessels close to the skin start shrinking in size to try and keep the blood at the core of the body and maintain a stable core temperature. Signs of frostbite include:
- Discolored skin, often bluish, pale, or gray
- Area is brittle and/or cold when touched
- Pain when touched
- Swollen areas
- Skin ulcers or blisters
- Areas of dead or blackened skin
If you think that your cat may have frostbite, see your veterinarian immediately.
Cold weather and different types of cat coats
It’s no surprise that a cat’s coat plays a key role in how well they may be able to handle cold weather. No matter the coat type, the cold affects each breed differently. It’s important to remember that just because a cat has a long coat doesn’t mean it’s equipped to cope with winter weather. Let’s take a look at how different coats affect different cats.
- Long-haired cats. Although long-haired cats have evolved to deal with ice and snow, they may lose body heat rapidly and fall victim to hypothermia if their fur gets wet.
- Double-coated cats. Whether long or short-haired, these cats have coats that are double thick and well-suited for cold weather. Still, they shouldn’t be left out for long periods.
- Short-haired cats. These cats have short fur and no double coat, meaning they can cope with some cold but not much. They should absolutely be brought inside during winter.
- Hairless or ‘naked’ cats. These breeds will need more care during the winter as they have no fur to help retain body heat. A cat sweater and warmer indoor temperatures are a must.
How cold weather impacts cats of different sizes, ages, and health
Kittens, senior cats, and cats suffering from health conditions will need extra help during the winter months since these kitties are much more susceptible to the cold. This can look like extra food, extra blankets, cat sweaters, and heated cat beds. There are a few things to consider when it comes to these different types of cats.
- Kittens. Their small size means kittens chill quickly because it’s harder for them to retain body heat. Their coats usually aren’t thick enough to keep them warm, either.
- Skinnier cats. Cats that lack body fat will feel the cold faster, so take extra care to keep them warm.
- Older cats. Regardless of breed, weight, coat, or health, age is a major factor in how well a cat can handle cold. If your cat is a senior, it’s safe to assume they’re more sensitive to cold.
- Sick cats. A cat with any type of health condition is at a higher risk in winter weather. These conditions can include, but are not limited to, arthritis, diabetes, or a hormonal imbalance that makes it hard to regulate body temperature.
How can I keep my cat warm in winter?
When a cat’s temperature drops even a little, it can be a serious issue. Make sure to keep your home at a comfortable temperature for them even when you’re not there. Blankets and beds are another great way to help them stay warm. Here are a few more ways to consider keeping them warm in winter.
Keep your outdoor cats inside as much as possible
They might not like it at first, but keeping your outdoor cat inside over winter is one way to help them stay safe. Be extra vigilant when opening and closing doors, as they may try to make a run for it. If your cat happens to get out, make sure you dry them off thoroughly when they come back inside. Try to limit their time outside as much as possible. Installing a cat flap and providing them with a good shelter to curl up and stay warm while outside can also help.
Provide them with a warm bed
Make sure your cat has a warm place to curl up, preferably near heat or elevated up off the cold floor. You can even buy heating pads or hooded ‘cave’ beds if you live in an especially cold climate. Whichever style of bed you opt for, positioning them in corners away from drafty doors and windows is key. You could also just let your kitty snuggle into bed with you.
Don’t let your cat sleep directly on a heating mat, or use it without supervision, in order to avoid burns.
If they’ll tolerate it, tuck them in
Draping a blanket over your cat while they sleep can be a good way to help them stay warm, especially if you’ve noticed them balling up tightly to preserve warmth. Aim for a loose cat-wrap effect rather than a cat-burrito, though.
Play with them more
Like humans, cats warm up when they move around. To warm your cat up during the winter months, build in extra playtime and get their paws pounding. This has the added bonus of helping you bond, too.
Give them extra cat food
Make sure they have all the calories they need to keep warm. Giving an extra scoop of biscuits or incorporating wet food into their diet can help your cat keep warm and healthy in winter.
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Signs That Your Cat Has a Fever & What To Do
If your cat is running a fever it may indicate an underlying health problem that requires urgent treatment. Today, our Greensboro vets explain some of the causes and symptoms of fevers in cats and what to do if your cat has a fever.
How To Take Your Cat’s Temperature
Cats typically have a normal body temperature of 100.4º to 102.5º Fahrenheit. A fever is characterized by a temperature of more than 102.5º F in cats. If your kitty’s temperature goes beyond 106º F your pet is at serious risk of damage to their vital organs.
Taking your cat’s temperature fairly straight forward. Simply use a digital thermometer aimed at your cat’s ear, or use a pediatric rectal thermometer for a more accurate reading. Never use an older style mercury thermometer when taking your pet’s temperature! If the thermometer breaks it can be very harmful to your kitty’s health.
A pediatric rectal thermometer is the best way to accurately measure your pet’s temperature and determine whether your cat has a fever. Apply petroleum jelly to the thermometer to lubricate it, then gently insert it. It’s important not to go too far as it could damage your cat’s delicate rectal tissue. You may need someone to help you calmly restrain your cat while you insert the thermometer. Leave the thermometer in place for at least two minutes in order to get a correct reading.
If you think that your cat may have a fever but feel uncomfortable taking their temperature, contact your vet right away to book an appointment. Your veterinarian will be able to assess your kitty’s temperature and overall health quickly and accurately.
Causes of Fever in Cats
Fevers generally occur in cats when their immune system is activated by conditions such as:
- Bacterial, viral, or fungal infection
- Certain medications
- A tumor
- Diseases such as lupus
Outdoor cats are at the highest risk for exposure to diseases that may cause fever, such as:
- Cytauxzoonosis — A tick-borne condition also more commonly known as bobcat fever in cats.
- Haemobartonellosis — A parasitic bacterial blood infection seen in cats.
- Ehrlichiosis — Also a tick-borne condition that can affect cats.
- Bartonellosis — More commonly known as cat scratch fever.
- Toxoplasmosis — A parasitic condition known to cause fever in cats.
Signs That Your Cat May Have a Fever
Depending on the underlying cause, your cat may display one or more of the following symptoms if they are suffering from a fever:
- Lack of appetite
- Weakness or lethargy
- Rapid heart rate
- Decreased activity
- Decreased drinking
- Poor grooming
What To Do If Your Cat Has a Fever
Never give your cat human medications without the explicit advice of a veterinarian! Many human medications, such as acetaminophen, can be extremely toxic to cats.
Make sure your kitty stays hydrated by ensuring that they have easy access to fresh clean water and make sure they have a comfortable place to relax.
If your cat’s fever lasts longer than 24 hours or goes above 106º F contact your vet to book an urgent appointment or visit your local emergency animal hospital.
Your vet will do a full examination of your cat to determine the cause of your pet’s fever, and prescribe the best treatment to help restore your cat’s good health. In some cases, even after an extensive veterinary examination, the cause may not be evident and your cat could be diagnosed with a fever of unknown origin (FUO). If your cat has moderate or severe dehydration, intravenous fluids may be used to help your cat feel better and fight off illness.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding people or pets. Always follow your doctor’s advice regarding asthma or other allergy symptoms.