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Maine coon cat looking at snow outside

The essentials

  • Cats need extra care during the winter months — This can include providing blankets, heated cat beds, and extra food to protect them from the cold.
  • Some cat breeds, like Maine coons and Norwegian forest cats, fair better in the cold — They still need looking after during the winter season, though.
  • There are several warning signs to look out for in chilly kitties — These include cold ears and paws, shivering, and lethargy.

Many pet parents think cats can handle the cold better than humans. After all, they have fur all over their body, shouldn’t they be able to withstand a little cold weather? The truth is, cats get cold faster and more often than their owners. Any time the temperature drops to 45 or below, you’ll need to provide your outdoor cat with a way to get warm. If cat owners aren’t careful, frost bite can start to set in (and more quickly than you’d think).

All cats have the same natural body temperature of 100 to 102°F. Your cat’s body temperature shouldn’t be allowed to get cooler than 99 to 100°F; otherwise, mild hypothermia symptoms can set in. So how cold is too cold for cats, and what can you do to protect your furbaby during the winter months? Read on to find out.

Indoor cats and the colder months

We all shiver a little inside our homes in the winter. This is true for your feline friend, too. While you may be tempted to save a little on energy and bundle up, it’s important to keep your pet in mind before cranking down the heat.

The absolute lowest your home should be is 50°F. As long as the ambient temperature of your home is hovering somewhere between 60 and 70°F, your indoor kitty will be fine during the cold winter months. It’s also important not to overheat your home, either. Anything above 80°F is too warm for your kitty.

Keep this in mind when you’re turning on the heat — and in the summertime, when you’re trying to save on energy bills.

How cold is too cold for outdoor cats

It’s fair to say that outdoor cats may be more acclimated to chilly weather and can therefore cope better in the cold if they have a safe, warm place where they can go. Even so, 32°F is too cold for a cat, even if they are mostly an outdoor or feral kitty.

Outdoor, stray, and feral cats are all susceptible to the cold. Feral cats may be the most equipped to live outside in the cold winter months because they live in groups, but even they need some help. Feral and stray cats survive cold weather by looking for shelter in abandoned buildings, holes in the ground, or deserted cars.

While these are okay spots for these kitties to go, they will still be in danger if the temperature drops below what cats can tolerate outside. Also, there’s a risk of serious injury to kittens who seek refuge in car engine compartments if the car is still started with them still in it. No cat should be left outside without shelter once the temperature drops below freezing. Cats can only survive for 3 to 4 days in weather around or below 20°F.

👉 Outdoor cats shouldn’t be out all day and night when temperatures are averaging 45°F (7°C) or colder.

How to tell if a cat is cold 

A good rule of thumb is that if you feel cold, chances are your cat does, too. You can also read your cat’s body language. If you notice any of the following, try to warm up your house and provide some blankets and bedding for your cat to use:

  • Cold extremities. Cat ears are usually warm, so if you notice ears, paws, or tail tip that’s cold to the touch, your cat needs to warm up. When extremities get cold, it means the body is using all of its energy to produce internal body heat, which protects the insides.
  • Loafing. You’ve probaly seen your cat tuck their paws and tail beneath their body like a little loaf of bread. That doesn’t usually indicate that something is wrong. If your cat is curling up in a tight ball or “loafing” in a cooler environment, however, it’s likely a sign that your cat is cold.
  • Seeking warmth. Anytime your feline friend is avoiding cold tiles in favor of sofas, beds, and cozy corners, it’s a good indication they’re chilly. If you prefer to keep your house cooler, you might consider a heated cat bed to keep everybody happy.
  • Extra cuddles. Whether your cat is normally aloof or always up for hugs, a cold cat will often lean in close. It could be an act of love, or it could be your cat trying to steal your body heat! Signs of Hypothermia

Make sure to be on the lookout for warning signs of hypothermia. Watch extra closely if your cat is sick or a senior.

Mild hypothermia Moderate to severe hypothermia
Shivering Shallow breathing
Lethargy Stiffness
Weakness Fixated, dilated pupils

All of these symptoms require immediate veterinary attention.

Prolonged exposure to cold temperatures increases the risk of damage to all the body systems. This includes affecting the function of the heart and bloodflow. Brain function, muscle control, and breathing can be impacted as well with increased exposure.

Dr. Dwight Alleyne

Signs of frostbite

Frostbite is a serious concern for any cat that is outside for prolonged periods in temperatures below 32°F. It happens when blood vessels close to the skin start shrinking in size to try and keep the blood at the core of the body and maintain a stable core temperature. Signs of frostbite include:

  • Discolored skin, often bluish, pale, or gray
  • Area is brittle and/or cold when touched
  • Pain when touched
  • Swollen areas
  • Skin ulcers or blisters
  • Areas of dead or blackened skin

🚨 If you think that your cat may have frostbite, see your veterinarian immediately.

Cold weather and different types of cat coats

It’s no surprise that a cat’s coat plays a key role in how well they may be able to handle cold weather. No matter the coat type, the cold affects each breed differently. It’s important to remember that just because a cat has a long coat doesn’t mean it’s equipped to cope with winter weather. Let’s take a look at how different coats affect different cats.

  • Long-haired cats. Although long-haired cats have evolved to deal with ice and snow, they may lose body heat rapidly and fall victim to hypothermia if their fur gets wet. (Breeds like: Munchkin, Ragdoll, Scottish fold)
  • Double-coated cats. Whether long or short-haired, these cats have coats that are double thick and well-suited for cold weather. Still, they shouldn’t be left out for long periods. (Breeds like: Maine Coon, Manx, Norwegian forest cat)
  • Short-haired cats. These cats have short fur and no double coat, meaning they can cope with some cold but not much. They should absolutely be brought inside during winter. (Breeds like: American shorthair, Siamese, Savannah)
  • Hairless or ‘naked’ cats. These breeds will need more care during the winter as they have no fur to help retain body heat. A cat sweater and warmer indoor temperatures are a must. (Breeds like: Sphynx, Elf Cat, Minskin)

How cold weather impacts cats of different sizes, ages, and health

Kittens, senior cats, and cats suffering from health conditions will need extra help during the winter months since these kitties are much more susceptible to the cold. This can look like extra food, extra blankets, cat sweaters, and heated cat beds. There are a few things to consider when it comes to these different types of cats.

  • Kittens. Their small size means kittens chill quickly because it’s harder for them to retain body heat. Their coats usually aren’t thick enough to keep them warm, either.
  • Skinnier cats. Cats that lack body fat will feel the cold faster, so take extra care to keep them warm.
  • Older cats. Regardless of breed, weight, coat, or health, age is a major factor in how well a cat can handle cold. If your cat is a senior, it’s safe to assume they’re more sensitive to cold.
  • Sick cats. A cat with any type of health condition is at a higher risk in winter weather. These conditions can include, but are not limited to, arthritis, diabetes, or a hormonal imbalance that makes it hard to regulate body temperature.
Cat sleeping under a warm comforter

How can I keep my cat warm in winter?

When a cat’s temperature drops even a little, it can be a serious issue. Make sure to keep your home at a comfortable temperature for them even when you’re not there. Blankets and beds are another great way to help them stay warm. Here are a few more ways to consider keeping them warm in 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. Be extra vigilant when opening and closing doors, as they may try to make a run for it. If your cat happens to get out, make sure you dry them off thoroughly  when they come back inside. Try to limit their time outside as much as possible. Installing a cat flap and providing them with a good shelter 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, preferably near heat 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 drafty 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.

If they’ll tolerate it, tuck them in

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

Like humans, cats warm up when they move around. To warm your 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.

Frequently asked questions

What temperature is too cold for cats inside?

A good rule of thumb is to keep the house around 70 degrees so that your cat’s body temperature can stay where it needs to be (around 90 degrees). That being said, cats will be okay in indoor temperatures as low as 50. If your house is that cold, consider providing warmth in your cat’s bedding.

How do I know if my cat is  cold at night?

Pay close attention if you notice your cat sleeping in a tighter circle or snuggling more. This could be a sign that they are starting to get too cold. Other signs to watch for are shivering, shallow breathing, if they feel cool or cold to the touch, and if they are acting weak or lethargic.

Are cats OK outside in the winter?

As long as the temperature doesn’t drop below 45°F and the cat has access to a warm shelter, fresh food, and water, then yes, cats are OK outside in winter.

What temperature is unsafe for cats?

Anything below 45°F is considered to be unsafe for cats if they are left exposed for long periods of time.

Do cats get cold inside the house?

Depending on their coat and their body weight, they may. Most cats will be fine with temperatures above 45°F, but be mindful of both indoor and outdoor temperatures. You may need to adjust your thermostat, or set out a warm place for yourcat if you like to keep it cool.

Will my cat be okay outside overnight?

It is highly suggested that you keep your cat inside during the night for more than just temperature issues. There are road injury issues, predator issues, extreme temperatures, and inclimate weather issues that your cat will have to face if left outside.

How do stray cats survive cold weather?

Stray cats get cold like any other cat. Stray and feral cats do adapt to the elements, but will also seek warmth in the form of shelter like the underbody of cars or whatever else they can find.

How cold is too cold for cats in garage?

Your cat shouldn’t be in there, especially as cars and garages are likely to harbor toxic products (like antifreeze) that could prove fatal to them. Don’t forget that feral and outdoor cats often like to hide in your car frame and wheel arches during the cold months, too. Make sure to knock loudly on the hood, blow your horn, and check your tires before starting your car.