Frigid Felines: Do Cats Get Cold?

Brrrrrrrr! As the mercury outside drops, we crank the thermostat, dress in layers, and pile on blankets. But what about our furry friends? In the wintertime, cat owners might look lovingly at their pets and wonder if they are warm enough, especially given most cats’ resistance to any kind of kitty clothing.
Let’s look at the facts about how cats adapt to regulate their body temperatures and what we can do to help our indoor and outdoor feline friends be comfortable in the cold.

How Warm Are Cats?

You might know the sweet feeling of waking up in bed with your soft cat cuddled up against you, helping make your bed even warmer and cozier. But did you know that this is because cats are actually warmer than humans? That’s right: while the normal range for a human’s body temperature is in the 97-99 degrees Fahrenheit range (about 36-37 degrees Celsius), a cat is healthy when their body temperature is about 100-102 degrees Fahrenheit (about 37.5-39 degrees Celsius). That means that the next time someone accuses cats of having cold hearts, you can put them in their place!

What Temperatures Are Comfortable for Cats?

The fact that they have higher body temperatures might make it seem as if cats can endure colder temperatures, but the opposite is actually true. Since cats’ internal body temperature is warmer, this means that they need a warmer environment than even people do in order to stay comfortably warm.

Exactly how warm? Well, that depends on the cat. It is unsafe for a cat to be in freezing temperatures (at or below 0 degrees Celsius and 32 degrees Fahrenheit) for more than a couple of minutes. But in terms of comfort, most cats like temperatures around seventy degrees. This is good news for owners since energy-efficient homes set thermostats around 68 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter, which is perfect for cats and cat parents alike!

How Do Cats Keep Themselves Warm?

Cats may need warmer temperatures in order to keep warm, but they also have some evolutionary and behavioral adaptations that help them in this endeavor as well. After all, cats existed in the wild long before we brought them to live in our homes.

For one thing, cats have fur. Their fur insulates them from the cold and provides a thick, warm layer of protection. Many mammals share this adaptation, including other felines (such as mountain lions), canines (such as dogs and wolves), and bears.

In addition to their fur, cats also seek out warmth and heat. You have no doubt seen your beloved animal stretched out in the sun. They probably also have a few favorite spots where they frequently snooze in your home. More than likely, these are little pockets of extra warmth, perhaps where the heat blows directly from the vents or where a hot water pipe runs under the floor. For whatever reason, it is cozy, and that is why your cat loves it.

Speaking of snoozing, your cat is not just sleeping because they are lazy. Cats sleep so much of the day to help them conserve energy. It takes a lot out of them to keep themselves warm; speaking from an evolutionary perspective, conserving their energy in this manner allowed them to hunt, seek water, and find shelter with greater efficiency. It is actually a remarkable survival technique.

How to Help Your Cat Stay Warm

There are a few things that cat owners can do to help their cats stay warm all winter long besides cranking the heat on the thermostat. First, consider increasing their food supply a little bit. They are going to burn extra energy, maintaining their body temperature so they might need it. Plus, it won’t hurt to endear yourself to them a little bit more.

Provide spaces in your home for your cat to warm up by setting up cozy blankets or pet beds for them. You can even purchase a heated pet bed for an especially coddled kitty. Keep blinds and curtains open to allow sunshine inside.

Finally, you should maintain the temperature in your home even when you are not there. Set your thermostat at least in the mid-60s.

What About Outdoor Cats?

Lots of cat owners like to indulge their pets’ natural instincts to hunt and roam by giving them some time outside. But owners of indoor and outdoor cats (and all pets) need to be extra careful when the mercury drops. Beginning in the fall and continuing into springtime until the weather is consistently warm, restrict your cats’ outdoor time to early in the day. That way, they can do their thing while the sun is shining and get home well before the temperatures fall overnight.

If you have a cat that is strictly outdoors, you can still help support them through the winter. One of the simplest things you can (and should) do is increase their food supply. Cats need more food in the winter, both to help them conserve energy and to give them extra energy to burn while their bodies fight to stay warm. You should also make sure that they have easy access to a water supply that will not freeze.

Make sure that your outdoor cat has safe shelter. A doghouse actually works quite well for this purpose. Fill it with old blankets, towels, or other cloth items; these items absorb the cats’ body heat and help it stay warm.

What Can We All Do to Help Feral Cats?

As a cat lover, your affection probably extends beyond the animals in your home, and the thought of shivering kitties in the winter could draw some tears. There are a few things that anyone can easily do to make winter a little easier on feral feline friends.

As discussed above, easy access to good food helps cats stay warm because they can spend less time burning energy hunting and more time resting quietly. Put out high-quality cat food for them to eat. Make sure that you put it out regularly so that any cats counting on you don’t go hungry.
If putting out food is not something you are able or want to do, you can still contribute to the food supply for cats by removing traps for small animals around your house. Let your local feral felines take care of them for you. Or put out bowls of water once or twice a day. Once small ponds and puddles freeze, cats can have a hard time hydrating.

Providing some shelter is another great way to help feral cats in winter. If you have a doghouse in your yard, leave it up. Even some types of furniture that provide shelter from the elements (especially wind) can help, so leave them outside. Alternatively, you can make an easy shelter from some household items. Finally, always check under your car for cats in the winter and tap your hood before starting the car. Many cats seek the shelter and warmth from a recently run engine.
To conclude, yes! Cats can and do feel cold. As loving cat owners, it is our responsibility to make sure that their environment is healthy and comfortable. In addition, we can be good cat Samaritans by creating spaces where feral cats can warm up during the winter months.