Cold weather can bring with it a number of dangers for our cats. How cold is too cold for cats? Don’t believe the myths! Even in mild winters, we still have to take precautions to help our kitties thrive during the winter months. Do you know what cold weather conditions could affect your cat?
Title Photo Credit: Darrel Birkett via Flickr
Myth #1: A Longhaired Coat is Enough
The Myth: A cat’s coat is enough to keep them warm through any kind of cold weather. They live just fine in the wild, right?
The Truth: While it is true that some cats’ coats are more adapted to cold weather than others (see the Norwegian Forest Cat, Maine Coon and Siberian), cats are just as susceptible to hypothermia and frostbite as humans are. Sadly, animal rescues here in Michigan are called on to rescue cats that are found frozen to the ground regularly throughout the winter.
If a cat’s coat gets wet while outdoors in cold weather, they are at especially high risk of developing hypothermia. A cat is said to have hypothermia when his/her body temperature drops below 100°F (37.8°C). The normal body temperature of a cat can vary with breed, but generally, it is about 102°F (38.9°C). Frostbite is most likely to occur on a cat’s paw pads and ears, but can occur anywhere on the cat’s body when that area is exposed to cold temperatures long enough.
Myth #2: How Cold is Too Cold for Cats? Freezing.
The Myth: I am perfectly comfortable when it is 50°F (10°C) outside, therefore my cat is comfortable at that temperature too.
The Truth: There isn’t really a set temperature at which the weather becomes too cold for all cats. Generally speaking, when the temperature hits freezing (32°F or 0°C) the risk for severe hypothermia and frostbite are high. However, there are a variety of factors that determine which temperatures are comfortable for a cat and which are too cold. These factors include:
- The overall health of the cat.
Is the cat young and vibrant? Older? Suffering from any diseases which could be affected by the cold weather? Cats with arthritis may be in quite a bit of pain when cold weather sets in.
- Access to appropriate shelter.
Cat the cat find a place to stay dry? How about a place that can block cold winds? Sometimes it can be difficult to find an ice-less place on the ground to put those delicate paw pads.
- Access to food and water.
The ability to keep a high enough amount of calories coming into the cat’s body makes a big difference on how his/her body will react to cold weather. Cats that are well fed may have an easier time dealing with cold than cats that are struggling to find a meal. Water is important too – the body can’t work properly without it!
- Familiarity with their surroundings.
An outdoor cat that knows their neighborhood inside and out will know the best places to find food, water, and shelter. They will also know how to avoid dangerous things like cars. If an indoor-only cat escapes out the door during the winter. He/she may find themselves feeling quite lost and helpless.
Myth #3: The Garage is Fine in Cold Weather
The Myth: My cat will be fine if I leave him/her in the garage overnight when it is cold outside.
The Truth: Your garage may hold some hidden dangers for your cat. Antifreeze being stored in the garage or leaking from a car is toxic to a cat if ingested. Unfortunately, antifreeze is an attractive treat to many animals and even if they don’t drink it directly, they may lick it off of their paws or fur as a part of grooming. Also, chemicals used to melt ice can be toxic to cats. These may be stored in your garage or tracked in by people or cars.
Be sure to give your car’s engine a few good knocks before starting it in the morning. If a cat gets cold overnight, he/she may seek shelter in the car’s engine or wheel coverings. It can be pretty warm in those areas!
Myth #4: My Cat Will Be Fine in the Car.
The Myth: Since it is not hot outside it is okay to leave the cat unattended in the car while I run into the store for a few things.
The Truth: A cold car can be just as dangerous as a hot one. If the hot weather can turn your car into an oven, then the cold weather turns it into a refrigerator. Being left in a cold car could cause a cat to become hypothermic quickly. It is best to limit your cat’s car rides to necessities when it is cold outside.
Myth #5: Feral Cats Can’t Be Helped
The Myth: Since feral cats won’t come indoors during cold weather, there is no way that they can be helped.
The Truth: It may be true that you can’t provide feral cats with some of the luxuries that you can provide for your indoor cat, but there are things you can do to help them. Feral cat shelters can be made simply and inexpensively with rubber totes, styrofoam, and straw. Alley Cat Allies has free instructions and tips for making shelters. These give feral cats clean, dry places to seek shelter in cold weather. They can even use the cat’s own body heat to keep the shelter at a livable temperature.
Providing food and fresh water for these cats can help them too! Remember to change these often as water can freeze in cold weather. Heated/insulated bowls can be purchased to help keep water in its liquid form too.
How do you keep your cat warm in cold weather?
Sources & Digging Deeper
- Hypothermia in Cats – PetMD
- Winter Weather Tips – Alley Cat Allies
- Cold Weather Safety Tips – ASPCA
- Cold Weather Pet Safety – AVMA
- Outdoor & Cold Weather Safety Tips for Cats – Drs. Foster & Smith
- Pam’s Cold Weather Safety Tips for Cat Parents – Cat Behavior Associates
- How Cold is Too Cold For Our Pets? – PetMD