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How cold is too cold for outdoor cats? Veterinarians weigh in

If your cat is an indoor/outdoor cat, chances are he still wants to go outside, even when the temperatures drop. There are plenty of cold weather cats who have thick coats and who seem to do well outdoors in the winter, but it’s important to consider your own cat’s comfort and safety, too. Cold temperatures can affect cats and threaten cats’ health, and extremely cold temperatures can even lead to a cat’s death. That doesn’t mean that you can’t let your cat out in the cold, though; instead, it’s important to understand how cold is too cold and what extra care your cat may need to stay comfy in chilly weather.

Calico cat walking in the snow

Do cats get cold easily?

Do cats get cold outside? Absolutely, and it can happen easily, depending on the temperatures. According to Texas A&M University, the temperature that’s too cold for your cat will depend on several factors, including the thickness of your cat’s fur and his body mass. If your cat isn’t acclimated to outdoor temperatures, you shouldn’t leave him outside if the temperatures are below 45 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s also important to never keep kittens, older cats, or sick cats outside when the temperatures dip below 45 degrees.

If your cat does go outdoors in the cold, you can give him some protection from the temperatures by ensuring that he has an insulated place where he can go and curl up. Curling up lets your cat maintain his body heat, so provide him with a small doghouse or other structure that’s large enough for him to lie down in. The house can help to block the wind, and you can add in blankets or straw to make it more comfortable. A heating pad designed for outdoor use can also help keep your cat warm. Don’t forget that it’s also important to provide your cat with fresh, unfrozen water and to increase his food since he’ll burn more calories when staying warm.

However, the simplest way to keep your cat warm in the winter? Keep him indoors.

How long can cats survive cold?

According to Gallant, your cat’s safety can be at risk when it’s too cold out. In temperatures below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, your cat is at risk of frostbite and hypothermia. When your cat develops frostbite, blood flow to her extremities will decrease. If hypothermia sets in, your cat’s body temperature will drop too low. If that condition is left untreated, it can affect your cat’s central nervous system. Eventually, her heart will struggle to move blood through her body.

Both hypothermia and frostbite make it difficult for your cat to seek out shelter and warmth, and your cat can die as a result.

How do I know if my outdoor cat is cold?

The Rescue Vets explain that if your cat is cold, you may see multiple signs indicating he needs to warm up. Your cat might shiver and feel cold to the touch, especially around his ears, tail, and the pads of his feet. Your cat might have dilated pupils, and his heart rate may slow down. You might notice that your cat is unusually lethargic, and his breathing might be slowed or shallow.

These signs may indicate that your cat is experiencing hypothermia. This is an emergency situation, and you’ll need to take your cat to the vet or the emergency clinic immediately.

Black cat covered with snow

Strategies to keep your cat warm inside

While your cat might want to go outside for brief periods during the winter, she’ll be most comfortable indoors, where you can better regulate the temperature. There are plenty of ways to help keep your cat cozy indoors, even when the temperatures outside are uncomfortably cold.

Consider giving your cat a warm blanket or bed in the spots where she likes to curl up. You can also use a self-warming bed or even get a pet-specific heating pad to help keep your cat extra cozy. Older pets, in particular, may appreciate this extra heat. Turning up your thermostat a couple of degrees, at least in the rooms where your cat spends the most time, can also help to keep your cat comfortable.

If you have questions about what’s best for your cat, especially when it’s cold outside, be sure to talk with your vet. Your vet can help advise you about how well your cat may handle the cold and can take into account other risk factors like specific health issues and your cat’s overall condition. If your cat does go outside in the cold, you’ll need to monitor how much time she spends outdoors and give her access to shelter so she doesn’t get too cold. Be sure to watch your cat and look for signs that she’s not coping well with the temperatures. You might find that after just a few minutes outside, she realizes it’s much more comfortable in your home and is ready to come back in again.

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