Brrrr! Winter’s low temperatures can definitely pack an icy punch. Human’s aren’t the only ones shiverring – cats are feeling the cold too. A nice thick coat of fur only goes so far to protect our four-legged family members. Hypothermia in cats can cause permanent physical damage or death and it happens more easily than you might think.

What is hypothermia?

All mammals are warm-blooded animals, meaning that their bodies must maintain a certain temperature for their bodies’ functions to work normally. In cats, a normal body temperature can range from 100.4 – 102.5ºF (38-39º C). No wonder they feel so nice and warm when they cuddle up to us humans!

Avoiding hypothermia in cats - Portrait of a cat.

Photo Credit: Zaytsev Artem via Flickr

If a cat’s body begins to drop below it’s normal temperature, it is called hypothermiaAccording to PetMD, “Hypothermia occurs when an animal’s body is no longer able to maintain normal temperature, causing a depression of the central nervous system.” Unlike frostbite, hypothermia affects the temperature of the cat’s whole body, not just one localized area. Breathing, blood flow, and heartbeat are affected as the body begins shutting down it’s least necessary functions to preserve energy for it’s most critical functions. There are 3 stages of hypothermia in cats:

  • Mild hypothermia, 90-99ºF (32-35ºC)
    Symptoms include shivering, weakness, lethargy, and mental confusion.
  • Moderate hypothermia, 82-90ºF (28-32ºC)
    Symptoms include all of the above, shallow/slow breathing, muscle stiffness, low blood pressure, and even further loss of mental alertness.
  • Severe hypothermia, anything less than 82ºF (28ºC)
    Symptoms include all of the above, dilated pupils, difficulty breathing, and coma.

If you are concerned that your cat might have hypothermia, call your veterinarian or emergency vet immediately.  Hypothermia in cats is treatable, but it can be fatal if it goes untreated too long.

Common Causes of Hypothermia in Cats

There are a number of conditions that can lead to hypothermia in cats. Newborn kittens (especially those with low blood sugar) are at risk for hypothermia even in a room temperature environment. This little guys do not yet have the ability to regulate their own body temperature correctly! Other common causes of hypothermia in cats are:

  • Prolonged exposure to cold temperatures (especially if their fur gets wet).
  • Illness
  • Diseases of the hypothalamus (the part of the brain that controls body temperature)
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Malnutrition
  • Anesthesia (97% of cats that undergo anesthesia experience hypothermia)
  • Shock
  • Severe infections

Tips for Avoiding Hypothermia in Cats

Treatments for hypothermia in cats can range from wrapping the cat in blankets in mild cases to warm enemas and intravenous treatments in severe cases. Of course, as with any other medical ailment, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Here are some tips that can help you to keep your kitty warm and comfortable:

Avoiding Hypothermia in Cats - Cuddling with kitty

Cuddling is a great way to stay warm!
Photo Credit: John Mettraux via flickr

  • Keep  your cat indoors!
    Indoor cats don’t have to face the frigid winter weather or have to face snow and ice. It also lessens their likelihood of contracting illnesses and allows you to monitor their behavior, symptoms, and food intake.
  • Watch that thermostat.
    If you like to turn down your thermostat while you are away from your home, consider your cat’s comfort level (especially if you lock your cat in the basement or garage). Young kittens, elderly cats, and cats with certain medical conditions may need a higher temperature than healthy adult cats. Talk to your veterinarian to find the purrrfect temperature.
  • Give your cats warm options.
    Cats love a little extra warmth in the winter months! Warm, dry cat beds and window perches in sunny spots are always a welcome addition. Heated pet beds and heating pads are also available.
  • Ask your veterinarian if adding calories to your cat’s diet is appropriate.
    It takes more energy for your cat to keep his/her body warm when the temperatures in the environment are cold. If your cat spends any time outdoors or in colder-than-normal temperatures, it may be appropriate to give them a little more food.
  • Provide shelter and food for outdoor kitties. 
    There are a number of simple, inexpensive shelters that can be made for outdoor cats. It is best if these are raised a little off of the ground, kept small to keep in the cat’s body heat, and away from areas with high traffic or where the cats may be considered pests. The inside of the shelter should be filled with a non-absorbent type of bedding, like straw (not hay). Bedding should be changed regularly to keep it clean and dry. Food and water should be provided and checked on regularly as well.

What is your cat’s favorite way to keep warm?

Keeping Pets Warm Blog Hop

Today I am joining with a number of other great pet bloggers in the Keeping Pets Warm Blog Hop. Thank you to Davinia and Indiana from Two Little Cavaliers for hosting this hop!

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