How Cold Is Too Cold for Cats?

Sandra C. Mitchell, DVM, DABVP
By Sandra C. Mitchell, DVM, DABVP on Oct. 25, 2023
A cat sleeps by the window on a snowy day.

In This Article

Do Cats Get Cold?

As you run from the car to the house, you pull your jacket a little more snugly around you—and you notice your cat sitting at the door, waiting to go out.

Can cats get cold?

How do you know what temperature is too cold for cats?

If you want to let your cat enjoy some time outdoors—or even just in a catio—but worry about exposing them to temperatures that are too cold, you’re not alone. Let’s talk about everything you need to know when keeping your fur baby at a good, comfortable, and healthy temperature.

Key Takeaways

  • Cats get cold very easily.
  • Even if your cat is asking to go outside, say no when the temperature is below 45 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • During a weather emergency, do not evacuate and leave your pets behind—this can cause hypothermia and death in cats.

Do Cats Get Cold?

The simple answer is yes, cats do get cold.

In fact, cats get cold very easily. They’re descended from desert dwellers and have a warmer body temperature than humans. Because of this, cats typically feel colder quicker than humans do.

This may be one of the reasons we see cats routinely seeking out warm places, like the small spot of sun through the window, the top of a radiator cover, or a warm lap.

However, cats will feel cold temperatures differently. 

Old and young cats get cold quicker, as well as sick cats, skinny cats, and breeds that stem from a warm climate, like the Egyptian Mau.

Cats with heavy coats like the Maine Coon will keep themselves warm longer. But eventually, all cats that are exposed to chilly temperatures will be uncomfortable.

How Can I Tell That My Cat Is Cold?

Cats are often a little more subtle than other animals, like dogs, when telling their humans that they’re cold.

If a cat is left outside in declining temperatures, they’ll seek out the warmest possible location and hunker down there when they first feel chilly.

As they get colder, cats will curl up in a tight ball and may even cover their noses with their tails. Eventually, they may start to shiver, and curl inward even tighter. 

Eventually, however, they are likely to become hypothermic, meaning that their body temperature will drop below 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Then, they become quiet and less responsive. If left untreated, a cat will die from hypothermia.

It’s crucial to recognize when your fur baby is cold or uncomfortable, and to take steps to warm them up before hypothermia develops. If your cat spends time outdoors, bring them indoors at the first drop in temperature and especially at the very first signs that your cat is chilly.

If no warm location is available, providing a deep bed or bedding which lets them crawl inside or under it will help warm them up quickly.

Offering a bowl of water warmed to human body temperature (98.6 degrees Fahrenheit) can also help heat up your cat.

It’s crucial to recognize when your fur baby is cold or uncomfortable.

What Temperature Is Too Cold for Cats?

There are many factors that are involved in deciding what temperature is too cold for cats.

Small cats, thin-coated cats, and older and young cats can’t tolerate temperatures below 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

Other cats with significant weight loss or diseases such as arthritis may be significantly uncomfortable at cold temperatures, even if the temperature only drops below 60 degrees Fahrenheit.

However, for most healthy adult cats, temperatures below 45 degrees Fahrenheit over a prolonged period will be uncomfortable.

In all cases, cats in temperatures below 32 degrees Fahrenheit for an extended period can get frostbite and hypothermia.

Exact tolerable temperatures may vary by cat type.

Black cats are better at absorbing heat from the sun, and community cats may develop thicker coats to help insulate them better. Some breeds, such as Norwegian Forest Cats, may naturally be better at tolerating the cold.

But if the temperature is below 45 degrees Fahrenheit, all cats should have a sheltered, comfortable, and warm place to rest.

Can Cats Survive the Cold?

While it may be possible for cats to survive, it’s not advisable nor humane to leave them outside in cold temperatures. Even indoor/outdoor pets should be kept inside once temperatures are hovering below 45 degrees Fahrenheit.

If there’s a neighborhood cat that appears to not have pet parents, wintertime is a dangerous and uncomfortable period for them.

Provide them shelter inside your home or at the very least, give them a heated, wind-free, and insulated area to sleep, eat, and seek shelter.

Even if your cat is asking to go outside, say no when the temperature is below 45 degrees Fahrenheit.

What To Do If Your Power Goes Out

If you experience a severe winter storm and lose your electricity for an extended period, it’s likely that you and your cat will need to stay warm in cold temperatures.

Luckily, many cats love to sit on laps and snuggle—which may serve to keep both you and your cat comfortable during a short outage!

However, if the power is out for a longer period, making sure that you have plenty of comfy beds that your cat likes. Many cats like to sleep under things, and putting a warm, comfy blanket on top of their favorite sleeping area is likely to help keep her toasty.

Battery-operated heating pads or self-warming beds might be another option for short-term warmth.

If the power outage is lasting longer than expected and both you and your cat are getting cold enough to evacuate, be sure to research which shelters will allow you to bring pets along.

Do not evacuate and leave your pets behind—this can cause hypothermia and death in cats. 

Fortunately, many places let you take shelter with your pets in case of emergency.

Make a cold weather plan for your cat before the storm hits—it’s better to have all the details squared away before you need it.

Keeping Your Cat Warm in Winter

Most cats will seek out the warmest parts of the house, such as the heat vents, next to the fireplace, a warm lap, or just the sun coming in through the window.

If your cat is in the house and the temperatures are generally comfortable, this is OK.

However, there may be times when your fur baby feels cold and need a little more heat.

This is the perfect time for cat beds (including a heated bed), blankets, and even cat clothes

Some cats will tolerate wearing a sweater in chilly weather, especially older or thin cats that feel cold even at room temperatures comfortable to humans.

If your cat is going outside in cold temperatures to go to the bathroom, a warm sweater is helpful. Don’t forget a leash or harness and collar—you don’t want your cat to dart out into the woods after a squirrel when the weather is bitter cold.

How Cold is Too Cold for Cats? FAQ

How do community cats survive cold weather?

Most cats that spend the entire year outdoors will develop thicker coats than pampered house pets, which allows them to stay a bit warmer in inclement weather.

These cats have also had the time and exposure to explore for all the warm nooks and crannies (such as broken windows allowing them to get into a sheltered garage or a ground-level heat vent from a heating unit) and will often frequent them in poor weather. 

Unfortunately, however, not all outdoor cats will survive the winter weather—especially if they are unable to find enough food, adequate shelter, or have developed an illness.

Featured Image: GettyImages/vubaz


Sandra C. Mitchell, DVM, DABVP

WRITTEN BY

Sandra C. Mitchell, DVM, DABVP

Veterinarian

Sandra Mitchell is a 1995 graduate of the New York State College of Veterinary Medicine. Since graduation, she has worked in many fields...


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