Yes, of course domestic cats can survive in the cold but it all depends on how cold, how wet and for how long a cat suffers these conditions. Cats are pretty robust and they do wear a coat 24/7. And cats are very tolerant of harsh conditions so they might not complain if they are too cold but it will ultimately harm them. Cats can suffer from cold exposure which is called hypothermia or low body temperature. It’s about a prolonged exposure to cold temperatures causing a drop in body temperature.
As mentioned, this is most likely to happen if a cat is wet as well as cold. Incidentally, hypothermia can occur in cats with shock after a long time under anaesthetic and it can occur in newborn kittens.
- How do feral cats stay warm in winter?
- Do domestic cats get a winter coat?
- Domestic Cat Eats More in Winter
Signs of low body temperature
If you want to know what the signs are of hypothermia they are violent shivering, followed by listlessness, lethargy, collapse and ultimately coma. Their rectal temperature is below 36°C or 97°F. Some veterinarians say that hypothermia in cats is defined as a body temperature below 100°F.
For infant kittens chilling is their single greatest danger to life. They can become chilled quite rapidly. They don’t have reserves of fat and if they’re not eating to raise metabolism they become chilled. If they are in an ambient temperature of about 70°F, which might be the room temperature in many homes, it is well below the recommended level for infant kittens when their body temperature can fall if their mother is away for 30 minutes. When they are chilled their metabolism is reduced dangerously. The temperature of a kittening and surrounding area should be kept at 85°F to 90°F (29.4°C to 32.2°C) for the first few weeks. It can be lowered afterwards in stages each week until it reaches 70°F at around six weeks of age.
Online, you can readily find instances of outdoor cats suffering from frostbite due to long periods of very low temperatures (click here for treatment for frostbite). The cats often survive but they have to have their feet and ears amputated. In Russia, where temperatures regularly fall well below freezing for extended periods, cat lovers insist that the ventilation grilles leading to the basements in large apartment blocks are kept open to allow cats to survive during these periods. No doubt the basements are very cold but they are just about able to maintain a sufficiently high body temperature to make it to spring and summer.
If there are signs of hypothermia the advice from veterinarians is to wrap your cat in a blanket or coat and carry him into the house. If they are wet you should give them a warm bath and rub them vigourously with towels to dry the skin.
You can warm a badly chilled cat by applying warm water packs wrapped in towels and placed against the abdomen, chest and armpits. My reference book says that the temperature of the packs should be about that of a baby’s bottle which is warm to the wrist. I have a page on this website about how to take a cat’s temperature which you can read by clicking here. The temperature should reach 37.8°C or 100°F. Be cautious about warming a cat with a hairdryer. It is not advised because it may burn your cat.
In addition, a hypothermic cat on the mend can be given a few spoonfuls of a glucose solution which is made by adding 4 spoonfuls of sugar to a pint of warm water. If your cat refuses to drink it you might try putting a dab of honey on their gums.
The book referred to is Cat Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook page 21 and 22.