Is your cat extra cuddly these days? As the temps continue to drop, your cat will seek out reliable heat sources—and you’re one of them! (Not that you’re complaining.)
But how cold is too cold for your cat?
According to PetMD, a cat’s normal body temperature falls between 99.5° and 102.5° Fahrenheit. If his temperature dips below 99°, your cat is at risk of mild hypothermia. Luckily, there are simple ways you can help your cat maintain a comfortable body temperature, even in the coldest months.
So if you’re wondering, “Is my cat cold?” then this is how to keep them warm all winter.
How do I know my cat is cold?
Since cats tend to hide their discomfort, you’ll need to be extra observant to detect these subtle signs that your cat is cold.
1. Cold extremities: Your cat’s ears, paws, and the tip of his tail will lose heat first. If these body parts feel cold, your cat is probably uncomfortably chilly.
2. Snoozing on direct heat sources: If you catch your cat routinely heading to the radiator for his midday siesta, you can bet he’s trying to boost his body temperature.
3. Curling into a ball: While this could just be one of your cat’s go-to sleeping positions, sometimes it’s a clue that he’s too cold. A cold cat will tuck his paws and tail beneath his body to preserve heat
4. Always wants to cuddle: If your cat is permanently fixed to your lap, it’s fair to say he’s trying to get warm. Chilly kitties will huddle together for warmth.
If your cat’s body temperature dips below 90°F, they are at moderate risk of hypothermia. PetMD lays out the following signs of mild to severe hypothermia in cats.
Signs of mild hypothermia (body temperature of 90-99°F) in cats include:
- Lack of mental alertness
Signs of moderate hypothermia (82-90°F) include:
- Muscle stiffness
- Low blood pressure
- Unresponsive, stupor-like state
- Slow, shallow breathing
Signs of severe hypothermia (less than 82° F) include:
- Fixed and dilated pupils
- Inaudible heartbeat
- Difficulty breathing
Any of these symptoms warrant a trip to the vet for immediate treatment.
Tips for keeping a cat warm in winter
Bundled-up humans can tolerate cold temperatures better than cats, so it’s important to be mindful of the digits on your home’s thermostat. We’ve got blankets and flannel jammies to keep us comfy and warm through the long winter nights. Your cat does not have such luxuries.
That said, with a warm place to cozy up, most cats are fine for the ambient temperatures in a house — say, 60°F. If you have an indoor-outdoor cat, or an outdoor cat, be wary of temperatures lower than 45°F, according to Texas A&M Veterinary Medicine. Older, thinner cats may also need more generous temperatures to stay comfortable, according to Cat Behavior Associates.
Here are some additional tips to warm up your cat.
1. Offer a blanket (or two or three)—Flannel is the coziest material for a kitty to burrow in. And as cute as it sounds, please don’t roll your cat into a blanket-burrito. They hate restriction! Let your cat arrange the blanket however he likes to have it.
2. Try a heated bed—Choices abound here: there are donut-shaped pet beds, semi-enclosed beds, as well as traditional pet beds. A word of advice—choose a heated bed that most closely resembles your cat’s original bed (if he sleeps in one). A removable cover for easy washing is a plus. We’ve got a list of the best heated cat bed options here.
How about just a regular heating pad wrapped in towels? According to cat behavior expert Pam Johnson-Bennett, it’s not the safest option. “If not monitored and kept on the lowest setting, there’s a good chance your cat could get burned. It’s better to invest in a heated bed made especially for pets.”
If your cat is older or suffers from arthritis, take this into account when shopping for a bed. Skip any beds with high sides, and opt for one he can climb into with ease.
3. Elevate your cat’s bed—Since heat rises, your cat will stay warmer at a higher level. Just don’t balance his bed on anything unstable.
4. Take advantage of indoor sunshine—We can all conjure the image of a cat sunbathing blissfully near a window. Leave your curtains open during the day so your cat can enjoy the extra warmth.
5. Extra playtime—Set aside time every day for some interactive fun with your kitty. Encourage your cat to run and jump. This will boost his body temperature and help the two of you bond.
6. Extra food—Cats burn more calories in the winter to stay warm, so you can relax your feeding policy during this time. Some veterinarians, like Dr. Ken Tudor who writes for PetMD, even believe that we should be changing the amount we feed our cats based on the season, feeding them less in warmer months and more in colder months, rather than the same amount year-round.
7. Share your bed—As long as it doesn’t interfere with your own sleep, consider letting your cat cozy up to you in bed for extra warmth.
How to help outdoor cats stay warm in winter
Most of this advice so far has been for indoor cats. But if you have an indoor/outdoor cat or you just want to offer comfort to feral cats in your area, there are a few things you can do.
Keeping indoor/outdoor or outdoor cats warm
According to what veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker told VetStreet, there are two main components that will keep feral cats warm in the winter: shelter and food.
You can buy an insulated shelter at a pet store or go the DIY route if you’re handy. Make sure the openings aren’t large enough to accommodate other animals such as raccoons, skunks, or opossums, and a plastic flap can go a long way toward keeping warmth in. Hay and mylar blankets are best for insulation—avoid fabrics that retain moisture like everyday towels or blankets.
Place shelters away from high-traffic areas. Try to keep them raised a few inches off the ground to conserve heat and do what you can to position the shelter’s opening against a windbreaker such as a wall or a fence to reduce windchill.
When it comes to food, conscientious cat people can place warmed canned food outside at scheduled intervals. This will teach the cats to arrive on time for a warm meal. Serve dry food, too, because canned food will freeze if not eaten immediately.
Don’t forget the water! Be sure to check it periodically to make sure it hasn’t frozen over.
Above all, remember—if you’re cold, it’s likely your cat is cold too. Just a few simple changes are all it takes to keep him safe and cozy all winter long.