How Cold is Too Cold for a Cat to Go Outside?

Published: 01/14/2021
When the weather turns cold, we turn to sweaters, coats, gloves and hats to keep us warm. But what about our furry feline pals? Cats come equipped with fur coats, but is it enough to keep them safe when temperatures drop to freezing or below? 

If you let your cat roam outside, you’ve probably wondered if it ever gets too cold for them. The answer is yes, it can get too cold, because even though cats are adapted to living outdoors and in cold weather, extremely cold conditions can put them in the danger zone.  

Whether your cat likes to explore outdoors, or you’re taking care of feral strays, read on to find out how cold is too cold for your kitty to be outside.

What is Too Cold?

A cat’s average body temperature is close to 100 degrees Fahrenheit, so relaxing in a house that’s between 60 to 70 degrees is easy living indeed! How well cats can keep themselves warm outside will depend on a lot of factors, such as their fur thickness, body mass, age and even health status. While it can be hard to determine the exact temperature that could be dangerous for your cat, there are some standards to go by.

On average, many veterinary professionals agree that when the temperature hits the freezing mark of 32 degrees, its too cold for a domesticated, indoor cat. Most, however, suggest that even 45 degrees is too cold for a cat to be outside, and recommend keeping them in.

Just like us, cats can be susceptible to hypothermia and frostbite, especially when their core body temperature dips below 90 degrees. If your cat is caught outside in zero or sub-zero temperatures, they could succumb to hypothermia, resulting in shivering, cold skin, weakness, rigid muscles, decreased heart and respiratory rates, lethargy or even a coma. 

If exposed to these cold temperatures too long, cats could also be at risk of frostbite. Most often occurring in a cat’s tail, toes, and tips of their ears, frostbite is difficult to diagnose at first, but can become apparent after the cat warms up, or within several days. You may notice an icy feel to the affected areas, while your cat may have a lack of sensation or even numbness that can turn into pain once those areas begin to warm. This type of tissue damage can cause fur to fall out, and the skin to blister, discolor, or swell, all signs you should seek veterinary attention immediately as the tissue can die if not treated.

But there are SEVERAL WAYS to help keep your cat safe in extremely cold temperatures.

How to Help Your Cat in Cold Temperature

If you’ve got an indoor cat itching to explore outdoors, it’s best to keep them inside when temperatures reach 45 degrees or below. This completely negates any risk of hypothermia or frostbite, and keeps them safe from other outdoor dangers.

However, if you have an outdoor cat, or are taking care of feral stray cats, there are some things you can do to help them stay safe when the temperature drops. Note that any elderly or sick cats should never be kept outside below 45 degrees.

#1 Build a Shelter

Even cats that are used to living outside all winter long should have access to a warm shelter. Choose a shelter that is just large enough for the cat or cats to turn around in, and features just one entrance/exit. Be sure the entrance is shielded from the wind, and that the shelter is elevated off the ground, stuffed with warm bedding such as blankets, and the bedding is changed often to keep the shelter dry.

#2 Provide Extra Food and Non-Frozen Water

Animals living in cold temperatures need to consume more calories to help their bodies generate enough body heat, so provide increased portions of food. Dry food won’t freeze, but wet food takes less energy to digest, so consider giving this kind in plastic rather than metal bowls to prevent freezing. For water, use a heated bowl or a heating pad to keep from freezing, and don’t place any water inside the shelter where it can easily be knocked over.
 

#3 Alert Cats Before Starting Cars

Cats looking for warm, covered places to hunker down often crawl under the hood, or inside the tires or wheel wells of cars. Be sure to take a quick look, thump on the hood, and honk the horn before starting the engine, and give any cat a few minutes to move before turning the key. 

#4 Beware of Outdoor Hazards

During the winter, there are several poisonous hazards that our outdoor kitties can face besides the cold. Be sure to clean up any spilled anti-freeze which tastes good to cats, but is deadly if ingested. Salt and de-icers can also be lethal when cats lick them off their paws, so consider using a pet-friendly alternative. And if you have other critters trying to find a way into your warm home, be careful when using poison as your cat may find it too!

Keeping your best furry friend safe shows them how much you love them. And as your cat curls up next to you, purring in blissful warmth, you’ll know they appreciate all you do for them too!