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Pet Safety

How cold is too cold for cats, explained

Neither indoor cats nor outdoor cats should be outside for long periods when the temperature drops below 45°F (7°C)

Updated January 5, 2021

Created By

Lauren Cocking,
Cat playing with snow

The essentials

  • Cats do feel the cold temperatures and need extra care during the winter months This can include providing blankets, heated cat beds, and extra food.
  • Some cat breeds, like Maine coons and Norwegian forest cats, can better withstand the cold That doesn’t mean they don’t need looking after during winter, though.
  • There are several warning signs to look out for in chilly kitties These include cold ears and paws, shivering, and lethargy.

Indoor cats vs. outdoor cats

You might think that cats handle the cold better than humans, given that most cat breeds have full-body fur coverage. But cats are actually more prone to getting chilly than their owners. After all, they can’t reach for a wooly sweater or a hot water bottle when the temperatures drop.

All cats have the same natural body temperature of 100 to 102°F (37.8 to 38.9°C), regardless of whether they spend most of their time indoors or outdoors. Your cat’s body temperature shouldn’t be allowed to get cooler than 99 to 100°F (37.2 to 37.8°C), because that’s when mild hypothermia symptoms can start to kick in.

How cold is too cold for indoor cats

Indoor cats often spend their days lounging on soft beds, cozy cushions, and freshly-washed laundry. Given how unused they are to cold weather, they tend to be less resilient than outdoor kitties when the temperature drops.

However, as long as the ambient temperature of your home is hovering somewhere around 60 to 70°F (15 to 21°C), your indoor kitty will be fine during the cold winter months. Just make sure they’ve got plenty of cozy, warm spots to curl up in.

🚨 Neither indoor cats nor outdoor cats should be outside for long periods when the temperature drops below 45°F (7°C). This is even more important for kittens, as well as old and sick cats. 

How cold is too cold for outdoor cats

It’s fair to say that cats used to being outdoors may be more acclimated to chilly weather and can therefore cope better in the cold. Even so, that doesn’t mean outdoor cats should be out all day and night when temperatures are averaging 45°F (7°C) or colder. Especially if they don’t have a safe, warm place — like a barn or an outdoor bed — to retire to.

🚨 Cats with health problems, senior cats, and kittens are all much more susceptible to the cold. Even if they usually go outside, you should keep them indoors and closely monitor them during winter as the temperature dips.

Long-haired vs. short-haired vs. hairless cats

It’s a common myth that long-haired cats are especially good at coping with the cold weather, but that’s not entirely true. Regardless of whether they’re indoor or outdoor kitties, the cold can affect different breeds of cat differently. While your cat’s coat and the length of their fur is one indicator of how well they cope with the winter weather, it’s not the only one. Here are some more factors to keep in mind.

  • Long-haired cats. Often, these breeds originated in extremely cold countries and have evolved to deal with ice and snow. Breeds include Maine coons, Ragdolls, and Norwegian forest cats. However, if their long fur gets wet, they may lose heat rapidly and fall victim to hypothermia and frostbite.
  • Double-coated cats. Some of these cats may have seemingly short hair, but their coats are doubly thick and well-suited to cold weather. Breeds like Russian blues, Scottish folds, and tailless manx cats fall into this category, as do many long-haired breeds.

🚨 Even though double coated and long-haired cats can withstand the cold better, they still need warm, indoor spaces and beds. You can’t just leave them outside all winter.

  • Short-haired cats. This is perhaps the type of cat most people think of when you talk about kitties. They have short fur and no double coat, meaning they can cope with some cold but not much. If you have a short-haired outdoor cat, consider keeping it inside as much as possible during winter.
  • Hairless or ‘naked’ cats. Sphynxes, Donskoys, Peterbalds, and Minskins are all hairless cat breeds. Naturally, these are the breeds that need more care in the cold weather and are likely to be happier in warmer climates. These are probably the only cats that need and will tolerate wearing kitty sweaters during winter.
  • Skinnier cats. Siamese and Abyssinian cats are skinnier than most average cat breeds and this lack of body fat means they feel the cold quicker than your average tabby or plush Ragdoll.
  • Older cats. Breed, coat, and weight aside, age is a big factor in your cat’s cold weather resilience and older cats are generally more susceptible to the cold. If you have an elderly outdoor cat, consider bringing it indoors during winter.
  • Sick cats. Sick cats probably shouldn’t be outdoors anyway, especially if they suffer with communicable illnesses, or auto-immune diseases. However, even indoors, they can suffer more from the cold and require closer observation.

What happens if my cat gets too cold?

When it drops below freezing, even the hardiest, healthiest outdoor cats can succumb to hypothermia and frostbite. Meanwhile, cats used to being indoors — as well as older cats, kittens, or sick cats — may be in trouble before the thermometer hits freezing point. Combine low or freezing temperatures with wind chill and rain, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster, so be sure to bring your cats inside long before the weather worsens.

If your kitty gets too cold, they may develop warning signs of mild hypothermia including, shivering, lethargy, and weakness. If this worsens, you may notice shallow breathing, stiffness, and fixed, dilated pupils. These are all signs of moderate to severe hypothermia. All of these symptoms require immediate veterinary attention.

🚨 You must be extra vigilant for all of the above behaviors and symptoms if your cat is unwell or senior.

How to tell if my cat is cold

There are several ways to tell if your feline friend is feeling the chill. A good rule of thumb is that if you feel cold, the chances are your cat does too, but there are more tell-tale hints to look out for. If you notice any of the following giveaways, try to warm up your house and provide some blankets and bedding for your cat to use.

  • Cold ears, paws, and tail tip
  • Curling up in a tight ball, or ‘loafing’ with their paws and tail tucked beneath their body
  • Avoiding cold tiles in favor of sofas, beds, and cozy corners
  • Getting extra cuddly (this means they’re trying to steal your body heat!)
cat being lazy in winter

Winter can make even the most hyperactive cat a bit lazy

How can I keep my cat warm in winter?

As noted above, cats can get dangerously cold if their normal body temperature drops just a few degrees, so it’s key to keep them warm over winter. Having an ambient home environment is one way to do so, while providing soft blankets and beds is another. Here are some more ways to keep your kitty warm — whether they spend most of their time indoors or outdoors — this winter.

  • Keep your outdoor cats inside as much as possible. They might not like it at first, but keeping your outdoor cat inside over winter is one way to help them stay safe. Just be extra vigilant when opening and closing doors, as they may try to make a run for it. But what about those stubborn or semi-feral kitties that just can’t be kept inside? Make sure you dry them off thoroughly when they come back inside and try to limit their time outside as much as possible. Installing a cat flap and providing them with places to curl up and stay warm while outside can also help.
  • Provide them with a warm bed. Make sure your cat has a warm place to curl up in, preferably one that’s near a radiator or elevated up off the cold floor. You can even buy heating pads or hooded ‘cave’ beds if you live in an especially cold climate. Whichever style of bed you opt for, positioning them in corners away from draughty doors and windows is key. You could also just let your kitty snuggle into bed with you.

🚨 Don’t let your cat sleep directly on a heating mat, or use it without supervision, in order to avoid burns. 

  • Tuck them in, if they’ll tolerate it. Draping a blanket over your cat while they sleep can be a good way to help them stay warm, especially if you’ve noticed them balling up tightly to preserve warmth. Aim for a loose cat-wrap effect, rather than a cat-burrito though.
  • Play with them more. Cats, like humans, warm up when they move around more. To warm you cat up during the winter months, build in extra playtime and get their paws pounding. This has the added bonus of helping you bond, too.
  • Give them extra cat food. Make sure they have all the calories they need to keep warm. Giving an extra scoop of biscuits or incorporating wet food into their diet can help your cat keep warm and healthy in winter.

👉 If you live in a cold climate, be sure to turn your thermostat on low during the day so your feline friend can keep warm while you’re at work.

FAQ about cats and cold weather

What about feral cats?

Feral cats are cats that spend all of their time outside and don’t have an owner. They’re often unused to human contact, and can be wary of (and sometimes aggressive towards) people. If you want to help feral cats stay warm over the winter months, make an elevated, protected styrofoam cat house in your garden and line it with some soft blankets.

Adding a plastic flap or making sure the entranceway is nice and small can prevent other critters and predators from getting inside, while setting out warm canned cat food and biscuits can encourage the kitties to enter. If you want to provide water too, check periodically to make sure it hasn’t frozen over.

What about cats in the garage or the car?

Have you ever gone into the garage or got into your car in the dead of winter and felt cozy and warm? No? Then your cat shouldn’t be in there either, especially as cars and garages are likely to harbor toxic products (like antifreeze) that could prove fatal for your cat.

Don’t forget that feral and outdoor cats often like to hide in your car frame and wheel arches during the winter too. Make sure to knock loudly on the hood and check your tires before zooming off on a winter morning.