Feline Hypothermia and Frostbite

Feline Hypothermia and Frostbite
Feline Hypothermia and Frostbite
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

The winter has been brutal in Midwestern United States, I am told by the newspapers online. The subzero temperatures are far lower than any that we experience here in the UK. Midwestern United States is an area which is towards the top and the middle of the US. The region consists of 12 states. One of our esteemed regular visitors, Ruth, lives in that area.

Although a high percentage of cats living in America live indoors, full-time, there are many cats that live outdoors, or indoors and outdoors, or are strays and of course we must remember feral cats. For these cats, prolonged exposure to cold at the temperatures referred to (-40°F) can cause serious health problems.

Hypothermia in cats is a big deal. Also, cats outdoors in very low temperatures can suffer frostbite. There is a recent story online from Fargo which is in North Dakota. A local shelter in Fargo says that the winter has been particularly tough on cats in the area. An example is a cat that they have named Polar. A lady found this cat in her garage. His ears and paws were frozen. He had frostbite. He ended up at a veterinarian’s surgery (thankfully) where they decided to save his life (it was touch and go). Veterinarians amputated some toes and the tips of his ears. Cats are very adaptable and a few weeks afterwards he was able to walk on all fours again. Polar is like other cats in shelters that are missing parts of their ears, parts of their tails and paw pads.

It does not take very long in temperatures of 40° below for an outdoor cat to suffer from hypothermia and frostbite. Hypothermia in cats can also occur if the cat gets wet in cold weather and the temperatures do not need to be as cold as those stated. Hypothermia also occurs if the cat is in shock after, for instance, an injury.

Prolonged chilling burns up energy in the body and can result in low blood sugar. One of the things a person can do to rectify this is to rub a bit of honey onto the cat’s gums where the sugar is absorbed into the body.

The signs of hypothermia are firstly shivering followed by lethargy, collapse and then coma. Stray cats surviving in extremely low temperatures should be brought indoors, quite obviously. That may not be possible. If possible a cat should be brought to a shelter. If the cat suffers from hypothermia the cat should be wrapped in a blanket and if the cat is wet he should be given a warm bath. The skin should be dried thoroughly. Warm water packs can be applied to arm pits, chest and abdomen. The temperature of the pack should be about the same as that of a baby’s bottle. It may be necessary to take a cat to a veterinarian because, as mentioned, hypothermia is not always that easy to rectify. What I mean is it can be difficult to bring the core body temperature back to normal.

Hypothermia, which is less than normal body temperature, becomes serious when the cat’s body temperature decreases to 94°F (34.4°C).

On this website there are one or two pages which may prove useful. There is a page on making home-made outdoor shelters. However, these alone will not, as far as I can tell, suffice under extremely low temperatures. They would need to be heated.

I think we should mention dogs as well. Some dogs are kept outside. They live outside and have a kennel. Sometimes people become careless and sometimes these dogs die due to low temperatures. Dogs with short coats are unsuited to long periods outside and low temperatures.

A quick word about frostbite. Frostbite is damage to the skin and underlying tissue. It is often accompanied by hypothermia. As mentioned, the cats extremities are affected. Frostbitten skin is initially pale and then when circulation returns it becomes red, it may peel and the dead area will turn dark and become brittle and hard to the touch. It may take a week or more before the full effects of frostbite are apparent.

In my opinion, if a cat appears to be suffering from frostbite, the cat should be taken to a veterinarian. However, frostbitten areas should be warmed up by immersing in warm but not hot water for 20 minutes until the skin becomes flushed. Ice or snow should not be applied. The areas that are damaged should not be rubbed or massaged as this may damage the affected area because the tissue there is easily damaged.

Like dogs, some cats are better suited to survival in very cold weather. These cats have double or triple coats. Many domestic short haired cats have single coats. These cats do not have an undercoat. They are less suited to cold conditions. Pedigree cats with coats that are less functional than normal due to a genetic mutation such as the Peterbald should be kept indoors at all times. It is ironic that the Peterbald comes from St Petersburg in Russia.

Associated: Cats in cold weather and 2011: Pontiac freezing weather.

Useful tag. Click to see the articles: Cat behavior

39 thoughts on “Feline Hypothermia and Frostbite”

  1. Michael claimed, “People who are engaged in trap neuter return are not causing the problem of stray and feral cats they are helping to reduce the numbers and therefore resolve the problem.”

    Then why are you so upset when they freeze to death? That is a PERFECTLY NATURAL death-by-attrition, of which you are so proud to support.

          1. Ruth aka Kattaddorra

            Hello…. earth to Woody…..he lives on money he has EARNED by hard work! He chooses to help cats with money he EARNS.

    1. Ruth aka Kattaddorra

      Would you rather be TNR and cared for, or freeze to death yourself?
      Cats are living beings with the same feelings of pain and fear as humans have, but then you wouldn’t know that because YOU yourself are not human!


        Don’t ANY of you pay attention to what you are doing? TNR’ed CATS FREEZE TO DEATH. Or die hundreds of other inhumane ways. The LEAST inhumane of ways is being shot-to-death. You rob them of the only humane death they might ever have — in a vet’s office when you had the chance. But you’re too spineless and heartless to face their peaceful death.

          1. Ruth aka Kattaddorra

            Hit post comment too quickly by mistake there!
            Why should cats have to die? I don’t understand what you are getting at, TNR and being fed by someone who cares, allows them to live the life they are used to
            Surely being shot and taking that life is very cruel.
            Would you like to have to die because you were homeless through no fault of your own?
            Life is the right of ALL living beings and is precious to ALL living beings. It’s not up to YOU to decide who should live or die.
            You are obviously barking mad if you think you are God!

    2. Supporting trap neuter and return is not supporting death by attrition because the process reduces the number of cats and therefore there are less deaths by attrition over time. I am very surprised that you are unable to understand this simple statement.

  2. Well. I’m not sure which is worse, to leave a cat to die by herself, or to let her beloved human companion to die without her, in the cold, while she is left with a ‘trusted’ friend. And then, to leave that human to die of hypothermia…without her cat. I think that the latter is better.

  3. Yay for TNR!

    First you illegally let cats roam free to get hurt by cars, animals, environmental poisons, freezing to death, or being shot by humans who are trying to clean up this invasive species disaster that you created — you know, all those “humane” ways that you want all your TNR cats to reduce in numbers due to your “loving attrition”.

    Then when they DO start to suffer and die from your TNR “attrition” euthanasia method (death by any means), then you parade your injured cats in the media to rake-in donations. Exploiting the suffering of animals for your own selfish, self-centered, and personal financial gain.

    Why aren’t all you people in prison yet for perpetuating and exploiting the suffering of animals for cash?

    1. Exploiting the suffering of animals for your own selfish, self-centered, and personal financial gain.

      Writing about hyperthermia and frostbite in stray cats is in no way exploiting those cats. That is obvious to any sensible person.

      People who are engaged in trap neuter return are not causing the problem of stray and feral cats they are helping to reduce the numbers and therefore resolve the problem.

      You say that these people should be put into prison. You are probably a shooter. You sound like one. In which case, you are the person who should be put into prison.

    2. Ruth aka Kattaddorra

      We are not the people causing the suffering of innocent cats, we are the ones trying to help them humanely instead of leaving them to cold hearted, bitter, twisted, haters like you are Woody/Brad/whichever name you use.
      When will it penetrate your single brain cell that cats are out there because of BAD cat caretakers not because of us GOOD ones?
      What cash do we get out of it? I don’t know any of us who get paid for what we do!
      We happen to care not only about our own cats but also about unfortunate cats worldwide who through no fault of their own are hated and abused and murdered by idiots who enjoy doing that.
      We do NOT parade our cats to the media! Michael simply reports on stories he knows that his cat loving visitors will want to read about.
      WHY do you come here other than to rant and pour out your evil from your rotten inside?
      I’ll second what Michael says, YOU should be in prison for your cruel comments to decent HUMANE people. You could find your ilk in there and moulder together in your hatred of anyone decent.

        1. Ruth aka Kattaddorra

          That’s OK Michael, I hate biased, ignorant critical idiots having a go at you or at any of our PoC family 😉

  4. it upsets me when people leave there animals out in the cold. a friend of ours does that, we would never let our animals out in the cold at anytime. esp in the winter. we try and encourge him to even if its for a small town let him inside.

  5. I think of this all the time because if I had not taken Monty in he would have had to spend winter outdoors. He does not tolerate cold well at all. I’m glad I have him in here with me where I can spoil him. Today was warm though– around 40 degrees above zero! He played out there quite a bit and I went out with him for a little while, just to get a little sunshine and fresh air. He likes to stand on the tops of my feet so his feet don’t get cold.

  6. Its heartbreaking to think of all animals not just cats out there in the freezing cold. I’ve been feeding and sheltering a stray who my hubby has named Mr Jinks. I can’t keep him because we already have 3 cats. Luckily we have had a mild winter so far so he has been fine with his cat house in the cat pen. I bought a little cat house off Ebay http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/Personalised-Blue-Small-Dog-Puppy-Cat-Rabbit-House-Bed-/270361465265?pt=UK_Home_Garden_Kitchen_Steamers_Cookers_PP&hash=item3ef2cc91b1 put plenty of of hay in there and he’s nice and snug fed twice a day. Despite his little house and him being cosy if we went into minus figures I would bring him indoors.

  7. I wish we could all have a candlelight vigil or moment of silence to honor the cats (and all animals) that heve to endure freezing temperatures, especially the unloved, uncared for.
    It makes me cry.
    I am so grateful to have my cats in this state.

    1. I agree. Out there, in the cold, there are hundreds of thousands of unloved cats that should be in warm and friendly homes. I can’t really think about it too much because if I did it would upset me.

        1. That’s lovely Ruth, I hope it brings some peace and compassion to the Woodies and I hope it’s light shines for all cats, dogs and people who are cold and hungry and neglected

  8. Ruth aka Kattaddorra

    It makes me sad to think of the hardships that abandoned pet cats have to face.
    Ferals are better able to stand very cold weather as long as they have food and shelter, but it’s horrible that any cats have to struggle to survive outdoors and as usual it’s all down to the selfish human race who caused them to be homeless in the first place.

    1. I wish we could all have a candlelight vigil or moment of silence to honor the cats (and all animals) that heve to endure freezing temperatures, especially the unloved, uncared for.
      It makes me cry.
      I am so grateful to have my cats in this state.

    1. Yes, a lot have died and most of the time we don’t know anything about it. It just happens out there somewhere, unseen and undiscussed. It is just the way of the world.

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