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How Cold Is Too Cold For Cats?

Do you sometimes catch yourself staring at your cat, prostrate in front of the fire, the heater, on the radiator, and wish you could do the same? When it starts to get colder and we need to reach for sweaters and blankets, do you envy your cat its glorious coat? 

While cats are certainly better equipped to handle the cold, there is a point where they get too cold too. How cold is too cold for cats though, and what can you do to help both your indoor and your local outdoor cats have a more pleasant winter?

How Cold Is Too Cold For Cats?

Anything below 7 degrees Celsius (that is 45 degrees Fahrenheit) is considered too cold for outdoor cats. Indoor cats will be okay at temperatures of around 10 degrees Celsius (50 degrees Fahrenheit), but they will likely seek out additional warmth. 

When temperatures drop to below freezing, cats are at a high risk for hypothermia and frostbite. Don’t let your indoor cat out, and try to help outdoor cats as much as you can, by providing shelter. 

Indoor cats tend to shed differently than outdoor felines. The latter will grow their thickest coats in the autumn and winter, while indoor cats can start shedding during the winter, if the temperatures in their home are high and they don’t need the extra fur. 

Don’t let your indoor cat outside when it’s below 7 degrees Celsius outside, especially if they are used to temperatures in the twenties indoors. 

Hairless and skinnier cats will not tolerate the cold well. Cats with longer, thicker hair and those that are overweight can handle lower temperatures better, but they may face other issues, like slower movement, and thus be exposed to other dangers. 

Cats that suffer from endocrine, heart and renal diseases as well as cancer should never be allowed outside, no matter how warm or cold it is, as they are more susceptible to the cold and can develop hypothermia more quickly. 

How Cold Is Too Cold For Indoor Cats? 

Indoor cats will be okay at temperatures around 10 degrees Celsius, but they will likely actively seek out some warmth. They will prefer it at around 20 degrees. 

Cats naturally adapt to the changes in season, and they exchange their lighter, summer coats for thicker, winter ones. However, the longer they live indoors, the more they will adapt to the temperatures in your home, so they may start to shed at opposite times of the year than outdoor cats. 

Our local cats for example look like little bears in the winter, while our indoor cats have much slimmer coats. 

How Cold Is Too Cold For Outdoor Cats?

Temperatures lower than 7 degrees Celsius are considered too low for outdoor cats. While cats can certainly survive in this weather, they will actively seek out warmer shelters. If the temperatures fall below freezing, they can suffer from hypothermia.

When winter arrives, most outdoor cats start spending a lot more time in any shelter they can find. Basements, hallways, the front room of a kind stranger are all remembered by outdoor cats, and they will retreat to any heatsource they can locate. 

Can Cats Stay Out All Night in the Cold?

If temperatures are below freezing, your cat shouldn’t be allowed to stay out all night. Aim to have them spend the night indoors as soon as temperatures drop below 7 degrees Celsius. 

Chances are your cat won’t actually spend the entire night out in the cold. They will likely find some sort of shelter for themselves, if they can. However, if you let your cat out to explore the neighborhood, aim to restrict their movements in the winter, and only let them out when it’s sunny and relatively warm. 

Help your local cats by making shelters for them and letting them into your garage or basement, and setting blankets or straw up for them in there. 

Do Cats Get Cold Easily?

Cats can adapt to cold weather very well, especially if they spend a lot of time outdoors. However, you should still do your best to provide as much warmth for all the cats in your life as you can. 

Just because cats can survive outside in the relative cold, when temperatures are above freezing, does not mean they should be left to their own devices. Do what you can for them and prevent potentially life-threatening illness. 

Factors Affecting a Cat’s Tolerance to the Cold 

There are certain factors that will influence how well a cat can tolerate the cold. They include:

  • Weight and size: smaller bodies have less fat, which is a natural insulator. Smaller, lighter cats will thus be more cold than larger, heavier ones. The same principle applies to humans too. 
  • Coat: cats with thick fur and proper undercoats will tolerate the cold better. 
  • Breed: breeds that come from cold climates (like the Norwegian Forest cat, for example) are better adapted to colder temperatures. 
  • Color: darker coats can absorb more heat from the sun, and thus keep a cat warmer.
  • Age: older cats and kittens won’t regulate their body temperature as well as adult cats, so they will feel the cold more.
  • Health: cats suffering from an illness will often be more susceptible to the cold. 
  • Environment: cats who spend most of their time outside will be better adapted to temperature changes. Indoor cats who have never spent a winter outside will not cope well, as they have not learned how to shelter properly. 

What Are the Signs That My Cat is Too Cold?

The first sign your cat is cold is that they are seeking warmth: cuddling up to you, a source of heat, under the blanket. They will also curl up in tighter sleeping positions and try to preserve as much body temperature as possible. 

The signs that your cat is too cold and is at risk for hypothermia induce:

  • Feeling cold to the touch, particularly around the ears, tail and beans
  • Shivering 
  • Low heart rate
  • Shallow breathing
  • Slow, sluggish movements

If you notice any of these warning signs, try to warm them up by wrapping them in a towel or blanket. Don’t apply a heat source directly to them, as you need to bring their body temperature back up slowly. Call your vet and see if you need to bring your cat in. 

What Can Happen to Cats When It’s Too Cold 

The two main risks cold weather poses to cats are hypothermia and frostbite. 

Hypothermia in Cats

Hypothermia occurs when a cat’s body temperature drops below 37.7 degrees Celsius (or 100 Fahrenheit). Older cats, kittens and sick cats can die from hypothermia even at temperatures above freezing. 

Hypothermia prevents the heart from pumping blood properly through the body, so a cat’s organs start to suffer and eventually shut down. 

The symptoms of hypothermia include:

  • Skin cold to the touch
  • Slow heart rate
  • Shallow and slow breathing
  • Shivering
  • Sluggishness and lethargy

If you believe your cat is suffering from hypothermia, try to warm them up slowly. Wrap them up and call your vet to make sure they don’t need additional treatment. 

Frostbite in Cats

When temperatures drop below freezing, cats can develop frostbite, as their blood vessels close to the skin become more narrow. Frostbite in cats most often occurs around the ears, paws and tail. 

Symptoms of frostbite include:

  • Skin discoloration: it may become gray, blue or pale 
  • Blackened skin
  • Swelling or blisters in the affected area

If you notice any of these symptoms, take your cat to the vet as soon as possible, as they will require treatment. 

Ideas to Protect Outdoor Cats in the Winter

If you have local outdoor cats, try to help them weather the winter weather. 

  • Let the cats into your home: it can be a garage or a basement, but you can also let them spend their nights in an actual room. 
  • Build a cat house: you can build or buy a cat house you will place on your property. Make sure there’s a blanket or some straw in there and that you also provide some nourishment. 
  • Place straw under your porch: if you can, place straw under your porch. It’s a great insulator and will keep cats warm. 
  • Find them a home: if the temperatures get extreme, you can also try to find a permanent home for your local strays. Note that some of them will not at all take kindly to this idea, so you may not be able to help every cat. 

How to Keep Indoor Cats Warm in the Winter

Indoor cats love their warmth, and you should do your best to provide the right temperatures for them: 

  • Aim to keep temperatures in your home at around 20 degrees Celsius. If your cat has a thick coat, you may need them a bit lower. 
  • Provide a cat bed, a blanket or other source of warmth for your cat, preferably where they usually like to sleep. 
  • Dress your hairless cat in warmer clothes. 
  • Let your cat sleep near a heat source, as long as they can’t get burned or injured. 
  • Let your cat snuggle up to you as often as they prefer. 

As long as it’s not too cold in your home, your indoor cat will be just fine. They will look for heat sources and ways to stay warm, so if you notice they are trying to burrow under the covers, let them. You may also notice your cat sitting in the window when the sun is out, absorbing the warmth. 

Wrapping It Up 

Do what you can for your neighborhood outdoor cats when the weather gets cold, and provide your indoor cat with plenty of cuddles and warm spots to ensure they stay healthy during the winter. 

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