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Do cats get cold outside and what temperature is too low for outdoor kitties? Veterinarians weigh in

Here's how you can tell if you cat needs to come in from the cold

If your cat is an indoor/outdoor pet, he likely loves to pop outside even when the temperatures drop. There are plenty of cold-weather cats who have thick coats and seem to do well outdoors in the winter, but it’s important to consider your cat’s comfort and safety, too.

Cold temperatures affect cats and threaten their health, and extreme temperatures can even lead to a cat’s death. That doesn’t mean you can’t let your cat out in the frigid temps, 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
rihaij / Pixabay

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 feline will depend on several factors, including the thickness of your cat’s fur and his body mass. If your cat isn’t acclimated to the outdoors, 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 out when the temps dip below that.

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 nestle in. 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. 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 your cat stay warm. Don’t forget that it’s important to provide your cat with fresh, unfrozen water and to increase his food since he’ll burn more calories trying to keep warm. However, the simplest way to keep your cat warm in the winter? Keep him indoors.

Cat sits in his house outdoors
Serhii / Adobe Stock

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 pet is at risk of frostbite and hypothermia. When your cat develops frostbite, blood flow to his 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, his heart will struggle to move blood through his body. Both hypothermia and frostbite make it difficult for your cat to seek shelter and warmth, and your cat can die as a result.

Sphinx cat wearing a yellow sweater
Elena Sherengovskaya / Shutterstock

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 that indicate 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. He also could have dilated pupils, and his heart rate may slow down. If you notice your cat is unusually lethargic or that his breathing is slowed or shallow, these signs may show 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
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Strategies to keep your cat warm inside

While your cat might want to go outside for brief periods during the winter, he’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 he 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 cat doctor can help advise you about how well your furry friend may handle the cold and can take into account other risk factors like specific health issues and your cat’s overall condition. If your animal goes outside in the cold, you’ll need to monitor how much time he spends outdoors and give him access to shelter, so he doesn’t get too cold. Be sure to watch your cat and look for signs that he’s not coping well with the temperatures. You might find that after just a few minutes outside, he realizes it’s much more comfortable in your home and is ready to come back in again.

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Paige Cerulli
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Paige's work has appeared in American Veterinarian, Business Insider, Healthline, and more. When she's not writing, Paige…
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