Even though they may sport a thick fur coat, cats aren’t immune to cold weather. But how cold is too cold for your feline friend depends on several factors. Since there’s no defined number that should set off the chilly alarm, let’s look at how you can tell if the weather is subpar for both indoor and outdoor cats’ needs and what you can do to fix it.
The normal body temperature of a cat is around 100 degrees F (37.8 C). While this may be similar to our body temperature, it doesn’t mean that cats are as adapted as us to handle colder temperatures. That’s because we can add or shed layers of clothing as need be to make ourselves comfortable. Your cat relies solely on their haircoat, whatever thickness and weight it may be. So, what feels warm and comfortable to you in your wool sweater might be a tad on the chilly side to your kitty.
Factors that Affect Your Cats Cold Tolerance
There’s no set temperature for when a cat gets too cold because it depends on many individualized factors. Some of those include:
1. Age and Health of Your Cat
Older kitties or those with health conditions, such as diabetes, hyperthyroidism, or even a common cold, are more likely to feel the cold than young and healthy cats.
2. Access to Food and Water
Being adequately hydrated and having enough calories goes a long way in keeping a cat warm. If your cat isn’t given enough high-quality food to eat or enough warm water, they are more likely to get cold.
3. Access to Warm Shelter
Wind and wetness can make your kitty cold quicker, even when the temperatures are only slightly chilly. They need access to shelter from the wind, rain, or snow to stay warm.
How Can I Tell If My Cat is Cold?
Since you may not be feeling the chill that your cat is, it’s essential to recognize signs that they’re cold. First off, pay attention to how they are sleeping. Cold kitties will sleep in a tight ball, usually next to a source of heat, which may be the radiator, a sunbeam, their other cat buddies, or under a blanket.
Or they may not be comfortable enough to sleep and instead may be restless, looking for that warmth. They may also follow you around, seemingly trying to smother you anytime they get the chance. They’re trying to absorb some of the warm vibes that you may be giving off.
Other signs are shivering or feeling cold to the touch. Shivering is a body’s natural way of trying to produce heat from muscle movement. You may notice slight tremors in their black, side, head, or leg muscles. The ears, footpads, and end of the tail may feel cold or cool to the touch as well.
If your cat gets really cold and hypothermia sets in, they may be weak and lethargic, cold to the touch all over, feel stiff, or have shallow breathing. This is an emergency, and you need to get your cat to a vet immediately.
How Cold is Too Cold For Indoor Cats?
Even with the protection and comforts that the indoors allow, keeping a cat warm can still be a problem. Most kitties appreciate an ambient temperature between 75 – 90° F (24 – 32° C), especially if they have a sunbeam to bask in. You may notice that temperatures below 75° F will make your cat eager to run under your blankets.
Getting down into the 50-degree F mark without acclimation can be getting too cold. Most of the time, our homes don’t get down to 50 degrees unless the power goes out, heaters break, etc., so it’s usually not a problem.
But it’s still important to watch your cat for the signs above and provide them with a cozy bed and safe heat source if they’re starting to act cold when indoors.
How Cold is Too Cold For Outdoor Cats?
Outdoor kitties are a bit more of a question mark when it comes to being cold. They are usually a little better acclimated to handle lower temperature fluctuations, but that doesn’t mean they’re completely out of the woods.
As a general rule, when temperatures consistently stay below 45° F, it’s time for some intervention. They may need protection when nighttime temperatures dip into the 30s, but daytime highs are still at 60 as well.
Give outdoor kitties a comfortable bed free from draughts and sheltered from rain or snow. Ensure the bottom and sides are thick to provide insulation and consider adding a safe heat source, like a heating pad or heat lamp, if you’re in a part of the country when winters get and stay cold.
What Happens if a Cat Gets Too Cold?
Being chilly is usually just a minor inconvenience, but getting too cold can reach dangerous levels, sometimes very quickly.
Hypothermia is a life-threatening condition that occurs when a cat’s body temperature gets below 90 degrees. At this temperature, organ function can start to decline or even shut down. A kitty may go into shock or die if body temperatures aren’t brought back up.
Another risk of colder weather is frostbite. This happens when freezing weather damages a cat’s extremities, sometimes to the point that they need to be removed. Ears, tails, feet, and noses are the most at risk.
A risk that some of us might not think about is freezing water dishes. Cats need water for all bodily functions to occur. While they will be able to get some water from eating snow or licking ice, this can also contribute to hypothermia. Keeping liquid water for your kitty is of utmost importance during cold temperatures.
Even though our feline friends might act tough, they usually need a little help when it comes to handling cold weather. Remember that every cat is different in how they will handle cold temperatures. It’s important to recognize when your cat is cold and having a plan to warm them up.
Dr. Chyrle Bonk has been practicing veterinary medicine since 2010. She lives in Idaho with her husband and two sons, where they spend their free time exploring the great outdoors that is right in their backyard.