It’s easy to assume that your cat is capable of keeping warm indoors whatever the weather is like outside. After all, most cats have their own built-in insulation systems in the form of their coats. They also seem quite happy to abscond whenever you leave a door or window open, regardless of the weather outside. Appearances can be deceptive, however; cats actually enjoy an ambient temperature a little higher than the ones that humans are used to and even the thickest fur can’t always keep out the cold when the thermometer drops.
Do cats get cold indoors? Yes, they do if it’s chilly and there’s nowhere for them to keep warm. As well as being uncomfortable it can be unhealthy for a cat to be constantly chilled. You can help by providing a cozy place to keep warm.
As a loving pet owner, colder weather probably has you concerned about your cat’s wellbeing. How cold is too cold for cats inside? Do cats get cold at night? How cold can a cat tolerate? How do indoor cats stay warm in the winter? What are some common myths about cats and the cold? Read on to find the answers to these questions and learn how you can keep your cat warm when the heating is off.
Do Cats Get Cold Indoors?
It’s true that many cats seem happy to run around outdoors in all kinds of weather. This can give one the misleading impression that they don’t mind the cold too much. In fact, cats are quite cold-sensitive. They don’t object to a bit of rain or cold wind as long as they’re moving around and staying warm but they can rapidly become uncomfortably cold once they run out of energy. It’s true that cats can grow thicker coats in the winter as a way of warding off the cold and can withstand brief stints in the cold without any special problems. That said, they can still get chilled if they have no way to keep warm beside running around.
Even the longest, thickest coat can’t fully keep out the cold if the temperature drops too far. Spending too much time chilled isn’t just uncomfortable — it can actually very bad for cats to stay cold for extended periods; it can weaken their immune systems and generally make them sickly and out-of-sorts. Cats who routinely spend time in low temperatures can suffer from a range of health issues. Actual hypothermia is a distinct possibility if the situation isn’t resolved and the cat has nowhere to go to get warm. In very extreme cold weather, it’s even possible for a cat to get frostbite on her paws or other extremities in an unheated indoor space; this can happen to cats left in a garage or an extension, for instance. Cold weather is a particularly big issue for older cats and cats with arthritis. Their joints can become more inflamed than usual, causing significant pain and stiffness and making day-to-day life much harder for them.
Even without these health issues, it’s simply unpleasant for cats to be cold. Being without a safe, warm spot can really make a kitty miserable; for these and other reasons, it’s important to ensure that your cat has at least a couple of spots where she can get warm when it’s cold outside. Something else to bear in mind during the colder months is that your pet may need to eat more — staying warm burns a lot of calories so you might want to give her more access to quality food, even if you normally restrict her diet to prevent obesity. In the upcoming sections, we’ll look at possible ways you can help your kitty stay comfortable without racking up your energy bills.
How cold is too cold?
There’s no simple answer to this question. A temperature that might be fairly bearable for a young, longhaired cat in the pink of health might be actively dangerous for a cat who is unwell or for a senior kitty. There’s also a difference between “immediately dangerous” and “apt to cause harm over a longer period”; neither are the same as “comfortable”. To help you determine whether your home is too cold for your cat, keep in mind that they actually like to be a little warmer than humans do — that’s why they’re so keen on finding a spot by the heater or in a sunbeam or snuggling up on a nice warm human lap. Your cat would generally prefer it if you cranked up the thermostat by a few degrees; the saying “if you’re cold, they’re cold” definitely applies.
If your living space seems uncomfortably chilly to you, you can be fairly sure that your cat is even less happy with the temperature. This is even more true of older cats, cats recovering from illness or injury, and especially arthritic kitties. Very young kittens need to be kept warm as they can’t regulate their body temperatures yet — if you have a queen cat nursing a litter, you need to take special care that she and her babies are warm enough. This may mean having someone stay at home with her while you’re out, or at least check in to make sure the new family isn’t getting chilled. Even a short spell without sufficient heat can be enough to cause a real health crisis for a small kitten.
Creating a warm spot for your cat without breaking the bank
It’s not necessary to leave the heating on day and night to keep your cat warm. It’s enough to ensure that she has an easily accessible cosy spot where she can warm her bones. If your home tends to be cold, set up a room where your cat has access to everything she needs so she doesn’t have to walk too far. Her food dish and water fountain should be near at hand, as well as her litter tray.
If you’ve set her up somewhere with a floor that tends to get cold, such as a garage with a cement floor or a kitchen or bathroom with a tiled floor, put down something she can walk on without getting her paws cold. A cheap, washable rug or runner is fine; if you have nothing else to hand, you can even use corrugated cardboard. Set up cosy spots with cushions, pads, folded blankets or cat beds (we’ll discuss these in more detail in the upcoming sections), making sure they’re in the warmest spots. Your cat should have comfortable bedding in locations that are secure and free from draughts — that cosy fireside spot can become much less inviting when the warmth of the fire is replaced by cold air coming down the chimney.
Cats often want to hang out by the window, which is fine in the sunshine; unfortunately, window-sills can get very cold. Try pulling the curtains or blinds closed to remove the temptation to sit by the window when the weather is cold.
Keeping your cat warm with a cat bed
One of the most obvious solutions to the problem of a chilly cat is to provide a cosy cat bed for your pet to snuggle up in. A covered bed will help keep your cat warm by concentrating and conserving her body heat so she stays comfortable even if the ambient temperature drops. Some cats really love the sense of security provided by a safe, enclosed area. Cave-style or triangular A-frame beds are perfect for cats who like small, enclosed spaces. If your cat objects to being in small space, though, you might consider one of the donut-style beds; these provide a warm, padded base with walls that your cat can snuggle up against.
Ideally, you should place your cat’s bed as high up as possible — heat rises, so placing it higher up in the room will help your pet stay warm. Cat trees often have built-in beds or sleeping platforms that can solve this problem for you; you may want to add a blanket or two to keep things extra cosy up there. If your cat has mobility issues and struggles to get around, however, an elevated sleeping spot may not be possible.
Senior kitties and cats with arthritis might have trouble getting up to their cosy bed. Your mobility-impaired kitty might also find it difficult to climb into a bed if the walls are too high. In this case, finding a bed with a ramp or building one yourself can help; you might also look at beds that have low walls or a cut-away section that’s easy for your cat to climb over. When you’re choosing a cat bed, look for one with a removable and washable cover that you can easily keep clean.
DIY cat beds and cosy corners
It’s also fine to create your own DIY shelters, if your cat doesn’t like beds or doesn’t take to the bed you’ve acquired (the more expensive the bed, the more likely it seems that your cat will have nothing to do it), you can make up a bed using blankets and cushions that she’s used to; many cats are much happier burrowing under a blanket than climbing into an enclosed bed. The most important things are that the bed be accessible, comfortable and well-insulated from the cold. If you make up a bed using blankets on a cold floor, be sure to put something underneath that is thick enough to stop the cold from striking through the blanket.
Your cosy corner doesn’t have to be elaborate — just make sure it’s comfortable and positioned to avoid cold spots and draughts in the room. It’s also fine to set up a simple structure that you take down again when you get home and turn on the heat. One of my fellow cat owners sets up a “fort” for her cat using two of the sofa cushions and a favourite blanket before she goes to work; her cat loves it and is usually still snoozing in there when she gets home. Another great option is a large cardboard box; the feline fondness for boxes is well-established and can be exploited to get a cat out of the cold even if she’s twitchy about getting into a covered cat bed. Cut down one side to make an entrance, then cover the box with a lid or drape a blanket over the top. Place warm bedding inside for your cat to snuggle down in, and leave her food and water dishes nearby.
Heating pads and heated beds
Placing an electric heating pad in or under your cat’s bed is one option in really cold weather. This can be a boon for cats with arthritis or other joint issues; the heat can be really comforting. Heated cat beds are another option, assuming you can persuade your feline companion to use them. (The smell of a new and unfamiliar piece of kitty furniture can often deter more sensitive cats, at least until it wears off; for some reason, heated beds seem to be more off-putting than ordinary ones.) If you’re using an electric pad, do not leave it switched on while you’re asleep or out of the house.
It’s very easy for an accident to occur if you let your cat use an electric pad unsupervised. It’s possible for a cat who can’t move easily to get burned; cats may also cause shorts if they have an “accident” in the bed. Reserve electric pads for when you’re around to keep an eye on things. While you’re out or in bed, you can provide additional heat using one or more of those grain or gel-filled microwaveable pads. These need to be wrapped very securely so that your cat can’t bite or claw through to the contents and can’t get burned if the filling is too hot. Cats may also try to eat the filling from heat pads, especially the grain-filled kind; this is not recommended.
Out and about
Even if you normally keep your cat as an indoor kitty, you will probably need to take her out at least once or twice during the colder months. Short trips may not present too much of a problem but longer journeys, especially if you’re not heating your car to save fuel or are using chilly public transport, can present an issue. Make sure your cat has plenty of padding in her cat box and consider including a well-wrapped microwavable pad to keep her warm. Place a blanket in her box that she can burrow into; you should also bring an extra blanket that you can place over her box when you’re carrying it outside.
Under no circumstances should you leave your cat in the car. It might seem as if the winter would be safer than the summer, as overheating is no longer a concern; however, it can actually be quite risky to leave pets in an unheated car and equally unsafe to leave them in one with the engine running. It doesn’t take long for a car to become dangerously cold and it’s easy for the time to get away from you when you’re distracted by running errands. You may only intend to be gone for a few minutes but what if you get stuck in a queue or there’s a hitch with your debit card? If there’s nobody with you who can stay in the car and mind your cat, cover her carrier with that extra blanket and take her with you; alternatively, wait till you can drop her off somewhere safe before you go to do the shopping or stop by your bank. Rain or shine, it’s really never a good idea to leave pets in the car.
Cats who spend time outdoors
You may have intended to keep your cat as an indoor kitty (something I heartily recommend, by the way) only to find that she has very different ideas. This is especially true of cats who lived outside before coming to live with you; rescue cat who were thrown out by their owners or kitties who were formerly working cats often struggle to cope with being indoor kitties.
You may also have strays or roaming outdoor kitties in the neighborhood. If this is the case, it’s a good idea to provide outdoor shelter to keep these cats safe in the colder months. It’s not too hard to create an outdoor cat shelter. A common option is to get hold of a large insulated cooler, cut a cat-sized hole in the lid and flip the cooler onto its side.
The cheap polystyrene foam coolers are the best for this as they’re easy to cut. You can also find plans for cat shelters made out of discarded tyres, plastic crates, straw and other cheap materials. Try to ensure that your cat shelter is in a safe location and is big enough for about four kitties — cats often want to snuggle up together for warmth. Don’t forget to put our some food for the cats who may be using your shelter and make sure they have a source of clean water nearby.