Should Cats Be Allowed Outside in the Snow?

Quina Baterna

With the winter season ravaging the nation, many people are wondering if it is safe for their feline friends to go out in the snow. While most cats are actually well-adapted to a variety of temperatures, they are still prone to hypothermia when temperatures are below freezing.

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Similar to human beings, different cats have varying tolerances when it comes to how much cold they can handle.

How Cold is Too Cold for Your Cat?

When it comes to how cold is too cold for your cat, many factors come into play - such as breed, coat type, age, weight, and other medical conditions.

For example, hairless cats need sweaters to maintain a healthy body temperature, even when living indoors. On the other hand, Persians and Maine Coons will likely be able to withstand a few minutes of running around in the snow due to long coats.

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Unlike healthy adult cats, older cats are less likely to be able to survive colder temperatures. More often than not, they are no longer able to regulate their own body temperature effectively. Additionally, when it comes to cold temperatures, newborn kittens are especially at risk. Kittens can experience hypothermia indoors or even at normal body temperature when left without warmth for too long.

“As a general rule of thumb, anything below 45 degrees Fahrenheit is too cold. If the temperature dips below freezing, they are at high risk of hypothermia if they are outside for extended periods,” says Michael Arpino, DVM.

Another factor for how much cats can handle the cold is dependent on their medical conditions. Though obesity puts cats at risk for many other illnesses, obese cats can better endure colder weather than cats with smaller fat deposits.

Cats with hyperthyroidism and hypothalamus disease tend to have difficulty handling the cold in general. When it comes to dealing with cats with compromised immune systems or critical illnesses, such as cancer and heart disease, they should not be allowed in the snow at all.

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How to Know if Your Cat Is Cold Or Has Hypothermia

Despite being adapted to cold weather, cats may still suffer from hypothermia if left outside in freezing temperatures for too long.

Signs & Symptoms of Hypothermia in Cats

Here are some of the common symptoms of hypothermia:

  • Labored breathing
  • Confusion
  • Dilated pupils
  • Muscle stiffness
  • Low blood pressure
  • Slow or irregular heartbeat

If you suspect that your cat is experiencing hypothermia, bring it inside immediately. For severe hypothermia cases, you will need the help of a veterinarian for urgent, life-saving treatment.

Diagnosis for Hypothermia in Cats

One of the first things that your vet will do is to check if your cat is breathing properly. If your cat was outside in the snow, the vet should also inspect it for possible frostbite.

Afterward, the vet will proceed to measure its body temperature with a thermometer or esophageal probe. The veterinarian will need to inspect your cat’s heart for any irregularity and may require an additional ECG for evaluation.

If the condition of your cat is still not conclusive, the vet may request an additional urinalysis. Other than hypothermia, low body temperature in cats may be due to other factors and diseases such as hypoglycemia, metabolic disorders, lung disease, or heart disease.

If you suspect or have confirmed that your cat is experiencing hypothermia, here are some of the treatments that your vet may prescribe:

Treatments for Hypothermia in Cats

The most urgent thing about treating hypothermia in cats is to help them return to a normal body temperature. If you suspect a cat has hypothermia, it should be brought to a warm area as soon as possible. Also, it is best to minimize the movements of your cat to prevent possible heat loss.

The appropriate treatment for hypothermia depends on the severity of their condition – Mild, Moderate, or Severe. Here are the various treatment methods for each type of severity.

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Mild Hypothermia

For cats, a body temperature of 90 - 99°F (or 32 - 35°C) is classified as mild hypothermia. For most adult cats, mild hypothermia can be treated by simply preventing further heat loss. If you suspect that your cat is experiencing mild hypothermia, bring them indoors, wrap them blankets, hold them close to your body, or let them stay in warm rooms.

Moderate Hypothermia

Cats with moderate hypothermia typically have a body temperature of 82 - 90°F (28 - 32°C). Unlike mild hypothermia, treatment for moderate hypothermia requires external re-warming. To do this, you may wrap your cat in a warm blanket and place it next to a fireplace or heater. Also, you may place a warm heating pad wrapped in a towel on the cat’s belly to help warm its core temperature.

Severe Hypothermia

A body temperature of less than 82°F (28°C) is characterized as severe hypothermia for cats. For any cat to survive severe hypothermia, they quire urgent invasive core warming. If your cat is experiencing severe hypothermia, do your best to keep them warm and bring them to the veterinarian as soon as possible.

For a cat to survive severe hypothermia, they may require the administration of warm intravenous (IV) fluids to support their blood volume and oxygen masks to help them breathe.

When in recovery from any form of hypothermia, cats should not be allowed to go out in cold temperatures at all. The vet may require your cat to be hospitalized for several days so that they can adequately track their body temperature, blood pressure, and breathing.

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Keep Your Cat Safe from the Cold

While light snowfall can be a fun, winter wonderland for your cat, it can quickly get dangerous if it turns into a blizzard. Aside from the elements, your cat also remains at risk of being stolen or attacked by predators.

Despite the love that some cat breeds have for cold weather, it is best to supervise cats outside in moderation. You should also invest in collars and trackers so that you can easily track them in the event of a loss.

If you are concerned for other cats in your community who may not be as adapted to cold weather, you may create warm winter shelters where they can safely rest.

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Quina is a writer, cat mom and artist. Her greatest joys in life are creating remarkable experiences and writing about them.

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