Yes, domestic and feral cats may shiver when cold and particularly when hypothermic (see below). However, I have never seen it and I think that it is quite rare. Perhaps this is because cats are well insulated and are tolerant of the cold up to a certain temperature. I think it’s more common in dogs. But logically, cats should shiver because they are warm-blooded animals and they have to maintain their core body temperature in order to maintain their body functions. Shivering warms up the body because the muscles are activated which means that they deliver heat to the body. That’s the purpose of shivering.
My 620 book on cat health1 makes one reference to cats shivering, as far as I can tell, and it concerns hypothermia (see below). There is quite a subtle difference between tremors and shivering. When cats are poisoned they can tremor.
Perhaps the question in the title is being asked by people who want to know whether their cat is feeling cold. I have a page on, “How do I know if my cat is feeling cold?” You can click this link to read it if you wish.
Low body temperature is called hypothermia. Long exposure to cold can cause the body temperature to fall. It is more likely to happen if the cat is wet as well. It can occur with shock and in newborn kittens. It can lead to low blood sugar because cold burns up the available energy in the body.
The signs of hypothermia are violent shivering followed by listlessness and lethargy, a rectal temperature below 97°F (36°C) and finally collapse and coma.
A few words on frostbite. This is damage to the skin and underlying tissues caused by extreme cold. Often it accompanies hypothermia. Normally it concerns the tail, scrotum, ears and toes. We see lots of photographs of frostbitten ear flaps in cats on the Internet. The first item of anatomy to be affected is probably the ears as they are the most exposed and only lightly covered by fur. When circulation returns the area becomes red and swollen. It may peel later on. It looks like a burn and there is a line of demarcation between the dead and living tissue. The dead tissue turns dark and becomes hardened and brittle. It may take a week or more for the extent of damage to be known. A veterinarian must be consulted. There will be amputation of the ear flaps.
1. Cat Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook – excellent by the way. Recommended.
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