How Cold is Too Cold for Your Indoor Cat?
How cold is too cold for cats in a house ? Our kitty friends have a body temperature of around 100 degrees F. Almost the same as a healthy human. But we can tolerate colder temperatures better than cats. We can put on warm clothes and drink warm beverages to warm us up. If a cat’s body temperature drops below 100, they are cold. If it drops to 90 they would be uncomfortable, if it drops to 70 or 80, depending on age, size, and breed, they could be in very real trouble.
Have you noticed your cat becoming more affectionate as the days shorten and the nights become crisp? In part, they are enjoying your warmth. Sharing body heat is classic winter behavior for most animals, birds, and people too.
Last winter we experienced historic snow storms and cold temps in my neck of the woods and one fateful night the wind chill (what the air outdoors feels like with wind factored in) dropped to an all-time low of -62 degrees! With gale-force winds! In a house as historic as the winter, wind is not your friend. Then, suddenly the lights flickered and I lost my electricity! I had no heat all night! So, the question of how cold is too cold for cats in a house hit home in a very real and frightening way.
As the temp quickly dropped to below freezing in my home I was at a loss as to how to protect the little four-footed members of my family. Some cats will cooperate and stay under a quilt, others won’t. Mine are the latter. They seemed to have the situation well under control, however, and knew that by cuddling we could share body heat and we keep each other safe that night.
How cold is too cold?
If it were up to an average healthy short hair cat it would bask in room temps of 75-90 degrees F. Too warm to be comfortable for their hairless (for the most part) owners. Many short hair breeds originated in hot climates and their bodies are still wired for warmth. They are not impervious to heat but they can usually tolerate more of it than their humans. For most cats and their owners the ideal room temperature is around 70 degrees Fahrenheit. In general, if we’re comfortable, our cats are too. And cats are extremely adaptable so they can acclimate to cool temps. We take the woolens out of the closet and our cat’s coat thickens to prepare them for the winter ahead.
Many of us feel comfortable when our homes are less than that ideal temperature for our cats. Or we hope to save energy– and money– by keeping our homes cooler at night or when we’re not home. Also, older homes and apartments can be drafty with dysfunctional heating systems. In summer we often turn the air conditioning up, especially at night, and it can get pretty chilly by morning. A 50- or 60-degree F. room temperature isn’t going to kill or make your healthy adult cat sick if they have ways to keep warm. But vets recommend that temps do not fall lower than 45 degrees F. That’s far too cold.
If you are in the habit of turning the furnace way down or even off when you’re at work, school, or away for the weekend the temp in your home or flat can get too cold for your cat. If the indoor temperature falls to 32 degrees F. even cats bred to withstand the cold will be in danger. Once the room temp reaches the freezing mark or below indoor cats can experience hypothermia and even frostbite. A cat can die from hypothermia quickly. A very young cat, an elderly cat, or a cat with health problems can lose their lives from temperatures well above freezing.
How Do I Know if My Cat is Cold?
Since a cat’s body temperature must remain above 90 degrees F. we need to know the signs of a cold cat. Normally, a cat will head for the warmest place in the house if it feels chilly. That’s why we often see our cat snoozing in the sun, on or snuggled up to a radiator, or under a quilt. Signs you cat is cold include:
- Shivering and feeling cold to the touch especially the ears and tip of its tail. Foot pads may also feel cold. These are the first places to lose heat and the hardest places to warm up. Why? Because a cat’s body will reduce heat going to their extremities in order to use their heat to warm their essential organs. Tragically, that’s why outdoor cats get frostbite and often lose their ears and tips of their tails—sometimes even their toes.
- Curling up in a tight little ball. Although some cats just feel comfortable in this sleeping position if your cat doesn’t often sleep in a tight ball and has its tail and paws underneath chances are your cat is cold.
- In a puffed-up, humped, or the ‘’meatloaf’’ position with paws under it and tail either under or wrapped around it.
- Seeking body contact. If your cat is on you like white on rice it may be cold. Or multiple cats may snuggle together when cold.
If your cat is very cold, it’s body temp may be below 90 degrees and it may already be in the beginning stages of hypothermia. This can happen if the cat has been exposed to temperatures under 45 degrees F. Look for:
- Shivering and cold to the touch.
- Slow and shallow or labored breathing.
- Weakness and lethargy.
- Stiff movements.
- Dilated pupils.
- Low heart rate.
If your cat exhibits these symptoms contact your vet immediately. If they will not see your cat or it’s closed take your pet to an emergency veterinary clinic. The sooner you act the better outcome there will be.
Cats (especially Siamese cats) will tell us loud and clear when hungry but not always when other things are wrong. It’s up to us to be observant. Learn feline body language and what’s normal behavior for your cat. Your pet is counting on you.
Which breeds can tolerate chilly temperatures best?
Some cats can tolerate a rather cool environment better than others. Hairless cats may be a good choice for an owner who thrives in sauna-like room temperatures or lives in Hawaii. But obviously, the hairless Sphynx, and breeds like it, would not do well in a drafty building where the kitty water bowel occasionally ices over. At least not without help.
Breeds who laugh in the face of Jack Frost:
- Maine Coon. These cats tend to be very large with a very dense thick coat and it’s believed they originated with the Vikings. They evolved to withstand the cold harsh Maine winters with large tufted paws to keep from freezing their feet, and large tails they wrap around their bodies to keep warm. These cats might not be suitable for the Caribbean Islands but would feel right to home in Canada or the Northern U.S. They would also be happy near the a/c.
- Norwegian Forest Cat. These gentle giants were bred to survive the long cold Norwegian winters. The Maine Coon shares Norwegian Forest Cat ancestors. Their beautiful thick coats keep them snug in the winter and, they too, have a lush tail that they can use to stay warm.
- Siberian. This cool weather cat originated in the frozen tundra of Russia. And, again, this cat has a very dense coat that will withstand cool winter nights.
- Turkish Angora. These cats flaunt long flowing white coats that can keep them warm when the thermostat is turned down.
- This cat is probably one of the most perfect cold weather cats other than the Maine Coon and the Norwegian Forest Cat. Their very long, very thick coats serve them well in drafty flats.
- Ragdoll. Huge, gentle, sweet, and a little goofy these cats have a long thick coat that keeps them toasty.
- Himalayan. The sweet Persian and Siamese mix have very thick coats and they love to snuggle. They not only stay warm they keep their owners toasty too.
- Russian Blue. Although their coats look short, they’re actually very dense and warm. They originated in Russia and were bred to withstand the cold winters.
- Manx. Yes, the Manx look short haired but don’t let that fool you. They have a thick soft insulating undercoat with a warm coarse outer coat and do very well in a cool home.
- Chartreux. These, like the Manx, have a double coat with a soft insulating undercoat.
- Scottish Fold. Whether the ‘’Fold’’ has long or short hair it’s dense and soft to protect it from the cold.
- Somali often sports a thick coat and has some protection from cold.
- Exotic Shorthair. These cats are a crossbreed—part Persian and part American Shorthair. Although they are not as well prepared for cool temps, they can hold their own since they’re blessed with a dense, thick coat.
- American Bobtail. This cat is a cross between a Siamese and an American Shorthair. With its dense warm coat it’s a natural for cold climates.
Remember, these cats do have some protection but that doesn’t mean they can be left for long periods of time with little or no heat in bitter cold climates. They have times when they need extra protection, such as when elderly, very young, or if they have health problems.
It’s also not true that Tabbies, American Short Hair, and others not on this list won’t make perfectly lovely pets in cold climates. They just need a little more help to stay warm.
Breeds who hate winter the most, other than the hairless breeds, are Burmese Abyssinians, Tonkinese and Siamese. Siamese have a very short, silky, thin coat. Siamese and Abyssinians are lean and have little fat to keep them warm. And neither have an undercoat. They need warmth whether it comes in the form of a warm room where they can hang out, a heated bed, or a heated cat house. They also love abundant sunshine to luxuriate in.
Although in general Siamese cats cannot withstand the cold my Applehead seems perfectly happy in our drafty heat deficient building because he knows where to go when he feels cold—a sunny spot on the floor, his heated cat bed, on the top perch of his cat tree (remember heat rises) or snuggling with his Himalayan cat friend. He prefers to sleep on top of my down comforter rather than under on a cold night, and he’s none the worse for wear!
Seniors, Sick Cats, and Kittens
Whatever the breed some cats need extra protection from the cold. Age and health are two factors that must be considered. As cats age they tend to lose body fat and like elderly people they get cold easier. They also get stiff joints in cold weather just like their owners. Kittens and very young cats become chilled easier. Mommy cats generally do a good job of keeping their kittens warm, but if you’ve brought home a kitten you will need to keep it cozy and warm just as you would a human baby. Elderly, ill cats, and kittens also have weakened immune systems and can get sick when the temps drop for an extended period of time. On the other hand, it’s not a good idea to let any cat become overheated. If they move to a cooler place in your home, it’s because they’re too warm.
How to Keep Your Cat Warm
Whether your cat is in it’s prime, a kitten, very young cat, an elderly cat, or a cat with chronic health problems he or she will appreciate a nice warm cat bed, or a warming blanket set on low. Elderly or cats with any kind of health problem will especially thank you for these.
Buy your cat a soft fluffy blanket. They quickly learn it’s theirs and sometimes it becomes a life-long friend. I had a Ragdoll kitten who became emotionally attached to my very expensive mohair throw blanket, dragging it around the house with him, never slept without it, and kept it as his special friend for over 18 years. It always complemented him to the animal hospital and eventually he passed away on it. While I was less than thrilled about it at first, anything that gives your cat a safe secure feeling is a good thing! Most cats love the economical furry pile type or the shaggy throw blankets. Make sure the blanket is washable and easy to dry. Also inspect it often for threads that he/she may swallow.
Look for a warming pad. These are found in the pet stores and is warmed by your cat’s body heat. A heating pad is what we use for sore muscles and your cat will love it set on low. Never set a heating pad on high or leave it unsupervised. A hot water bottle is nice for kitty but make sure it’s wrapped in a thick towel so he can’t puncture it with his claws.
Buy your cat a heated bed. These are wonderful for cats of all ages. Some are open and some are covered, or pyramid shaped. There is no happier place for a cat than snoozing on a radiator cat bed. They hang over a tall radiator and are cozy, soft, and washable. An insulated heated cat house can be used indoors, as well as, out and is a good solution if you want to turn the furnace down at night.
Place your cat’s bed up on a bed, chair, shelf, cat tree or any place that won’t fall. Heat rises and so it stands to reason that your cat will be warmer up off the floor—unless you have heated floors.
Action toys will encourage your cat to run and play and thus stay warmer. Take time, if possible, to play with your cat. A wand toy will get him warmed up and give him much needed exercise.
Since heat rises and cats love to be in high places your cat might appreciate a cat tree with a 6 or 6 ½’ seat. If this is placed by a window in the sun, so much the better!
Be sure to let your cat have more cuddle time in the colder months. This not only keeps your cat warm and happy it provides you both with quiet quality time. If possible, let your cat sleep in bed with you so you’ll both be warm and comfy. You’ll both enjoy the closeness. If your cat is an ‘’only’’ and isn’t old or infirm, consider getting a kitten friend from a recue shelter. Cats make friends with a kitten easier than an adult cat and they will not only be life-long buddies they will also keep each other warm.
Cold Weather Diet
Like their humans, cats burn a lot of calories to stay warm in cold weather. However, they also sleep more in cold weather so they can use their calories to keep warm. Most cats do not need a big change in their diet. They may ask for slightly more food but don’t give enough to gain weight. Like us, it’s very hard for a cat to gets its summer body back! Home made chicken broth for cats would be a great meal to keep your cat warm.
There are those who recommend sweaters for cats in chilly homes and there are those who vehemently oppose it. In general, sweaters are unnecessary for indoor cats if the temperatures are around 65-70 degrees F. The problem with sweaters is overheating. If they become too warm under a blanket or in a heated cat bed, they can simply leave it and find a cooler place. However, if they overheat in a sweater and find themselves trapped in it, they are unable to cool themselves.
Also, cats are natural Houdini’s but sometimes they cannot extradite themselves from dangerous situations and can strangulate in a tangled sweater.
On the other hand, some breeds really can use some help from a sweater when the weather gets nippy. Hairless, or almost hairless, cats have a very tough time staying warm. If you live in a cold climate choose high quality hypo-allergic yarns because some hairless cats suffer from allergies. It should be very soft next to the cat’s skin since their skin is very tender. Choose a sweater with no buttons/toggles because these can be a choking hazard.
Be sure to measure your cat so you’ll know what size you need. It’s essential to get the right fit; too small and the cat’s movements will be restricted. Too loose and the cat won’t keep it on. Dress your cat very gently and use tons of positive encouragement. Above all avoid stressing your cat. It’s not a good idea to leave a clothed cat home alone. To keep your fur baby safe, he or she needs supervision.
What about air conditioning?
Although the temperature outside might fry an egg on the sidewalk the temperatures can get somewhat crisp inside with the air conditioning on. How cold is too cold? 65 to 70 degrees F is probably a range the whole family is comfortable with. If it gets closer to 62 and a cat becomes too cold it will find a comfortable place in a sunny window or warmer part of the house. My Siamese found my air-conditioned bedroom (about 64 degrees F) a bit nippy this morning and headed for the attic to warm up. Cats are far from helpless. But what if there isn’t a warm place? Make a cozy kitty bed (non-heated) or a sleep sack available for your chilly feline.
What is the best heating system for a family with pets?
If you are lucky enough to have zone heating, you are lucky indeed– and so is your cat! Or if you are considering a new heating system look into zone heating. With this system you can heat just where you want heat and not where you don’t. So, while the family is at work and school you can heat the downstairs or upstairs only. You can also heat (or not heat) the bathrooms separately so if your cat gets too hot or cold it has a place to warm up or cool down. If you need to be fairly cold or warm for a good night’s sleep that’s fine because you can keep the other areas of the house at a good temperature for your cat.
If you’re wondering if shivering counts as exercise your cat is probably wondering too. On the other hand, if you’re too warm, your fur baby is probably twice as warm. Just a little common sense goes a long way when caring for our furry little family members winter or summer.