Just because a cat has a thick coat to protect them doesn’t mean they’re invulnerable to the cold. While some cats are more suited to the cold weather than others (e.g., long-haired breeds like the Maine Coon, the Norwegian Forest Cat, and the Siberian), any cat can develop frostbite or hypothermia if they’re exposed to frigid temperatures. If you’ve ever wondered if a cat can freeze to death or wanted to learn more about what you can do to keep your cat safe through winter, here’s what you need to know.
How Cold is Too Cold?
As playfulkitty.net writes, there isn’t really a set temperature at which it becomes too cold for a cat. Tests have shown that cats will freeze to death if their body temperature falls below 16°C (60°F), but all cats are different. As a general rule of thumb, you can judge whether it’s too cold for your cat by your own standards – if the temperature dips low enough to make you shiver, it’s probably too cold for your cat too. Other things to consider include:
- Their age- Young, healthy cats with no diseases will usually tolerate the cold weather better than their older, arthritic counterparts.
- Their diet – A skinny cat with no fat reserves, precious little muscle, and a diet that’s lacking in essential nutrients and calories is more likely to suffer a serious reaction to frigid temperatures than one who’s well-food.
- Their shelter – If an outdoor cat has somewhere dry and wind-protected to hide, their chances of surviving harsh conditions will be dramatically higher than one without access to proper shelter.
What are the risks of cold weather for cats?
The biggest risk a cat faces in cold temperatures is hypothermia. Hypothermia is a potentially fatal condition that happens when body temperature becomes extremely low. As cattime.com writes, hypothermia will usually occur if a cat is exposed to freezing temperatures or if their fur becomes wet in a cold environment. Once body temperature falls below a certain point, the heart rate and breathing slow down, leading to increased risk of coma, kidney failure, cardio incidents, and even death.
How to spot hypothermia in cats
- Fortunately, hypothermia in cats is relatively rare. However, if your cat has been exposed to very low temperatures, be mindful of the risk and watch out for any of the following signs:
- Intermittent bouts of shivering and trembling
- Lowered heart rate
- Weakness and lethargy
- Difficulty in standing or walking
- Breathing difficulties
- Pale or blue gums
- Dilated pupils
- Cold to the touch
- A body temperature of 95°F or lower
What to do if your cat develops hypothermia
If your cat shows signs of hypothermia, don’t waste time. Left untreated, hypothermia can be deadly. As animeddirect.co.uk recommends, contact your vet as soon as possible. In the meantime, take the necessary steps to warm your cat up. If they’re wet, towel dry them gently and wrap them in warm blankets or towels. You could also use a hairdryer to dry them, but be sure to keep the nozzle moving and hold the dryer around 12 inches away to avoid burning. Hot water bottles can be useful but be careful that they’re not too hot and are kept wrapped in a towel. Once you’re at the clinic, your vet will complete an examination to confirm the diagnosis of hypothermia. Mild cases are usually treated by raising the body temperature through external methods: more serious cases may also require warmed IV fluids or warm water enemas. Once a normal body temperature is restored, your cat will usually make a quick recovery. Be mindful to monitor their progress over the following few days and report any concerns to your vet.
As cathealth.com notes, hypothermia isn’t the only condition that can arise from exposure to the cold. Just like humans, cats can suffer frostbite in frigid conditions. Typically, it will occur on their extremities, including the toes, ears, and tail. If your cat has been exposed to very cold temperatures, examine their skin thoroughly: if you notice any areas that look paler than usual, contact your vet as soon as possible.
How to Prevent Problems
While keeping indoor cats warm and toasty through winter isn’t too difficult, doing the same with an outdoor cat is more challenging. Fortunately, there are numerous ways you can keep your outdoor cat comfortable during cold weather and reduce the chance of any problems developing. Tips to try include:
- Provide appropriate shelter – If a cat lives outdoors, it’s vital they have access to appropriate shelter during winter. The shelter should be well insulated and protected from wind – strong winds can often make the temperature feel lower than it is. The shelter doesn’t need to be huge, but it should be large enough for them to stand up, turn, and stretch in.
- Increase their calories – An outdoor cat will typically need more calories during winter to help maintain their body temperature and conditioning. The lower the temperatures, the higher their energy needs. A large, calorie-packed meal will help ramp up their metabolism and stave off the cold.
- Make sure they have access to water – Along with food, water is crucial to a cat’s survival. As water can quickly freeze in the wintery conditions, be sure to check their bowls regularly. If you live in a particularly cold climate, you might want to consider investing in an electric bowl to prevent the water turning to ice.
- Check under your bonnet – Cats are resourceful creatures: if they get cold and spot a warm spot, it won’t take them long to snuggle up in it. Unfortunately, the habit can sometimes lead to tragedy when they decide a vehicle engine is a good place to nap. Before starting up your car, always check under the hood to make sure it’s not hiding a secret passenger.
- Make maintenance checks – Even if your cat is a strong, independent outdoor kitty, take the time to check in with them regularly over winter. If they develop any form of illness, no matter how slight, it makes them more vulnerable to the risks of the cold than they’d be otherwise. If something seems up, it might be best to see if you can coax them indoors, if only until they’re 100% recovered.