Do cats feel the cold?

Barbara George
Cat Behaviourist
24 August 2012

With the cold weather around us the question arises – do cats feel the cold?

Yes they can feel cold; the degree depends on the cat and the circumstances it finds itself in at the time.

Cats that spend much time outdoors will grow a soft undercoat that is fluffed out to trap air which acts as a protecting layer against cold, much as your duvet does. This is effective if the cat is in a sheltered spot; rain and wind will disturb the warm air and replace it with cold. Some breeds, such as Maine Coon, Siberian and Norwegian Forest Cats, have an extra layer of long hairs in their fur called a ‘rain coat’ that allows water to run off their back and shoulders keeping their undercoat dry for as long as possible. Prolonged wet conditions will make even their undercoats wet eventually.

Short-haired cats will also grow undercoat and fluff out, as can often be seen on feral cats.

Growing a winter coat is a natural instinct based on temperature, amount of available sunlight and environment. Indoor cats have the luxury of warm houses, heaters, fires, air-conditioning and warm beds so their need of a fluffy fur coat is less. Some indoor cats will grow extra undercoat regardless of the temperature.

This undercoat is the reason Kitty can lie right next to the heater for hours without apparently feeling the heat. I have heard of cats sitting in metal-working forges, where the heat from the furnace is far hotter than our fires, without becoming overheated.

Although they feel warm to the touch, cats such as the Sphynx and the Rex cats who have no real fur coat can feel the cold any time of the year and are often seen wearing jackets.

Just like us, some cats feel the cold more than others even when wearing warm fluffy undercoats. Cats that are old or ill and very small kittens will suffer more from the cold than healthy young cats. Cats will seek warm sheltered places to rest – windowsills, car engines, ceiling spaces, cupboards, tumble dryers and around electrical equipment are just a few of their choices.

Feeding is important in winter; cats need more food, especially protein, to deal with the cold weather. Too much food, however, will lead to fat cats in warmer weather, so dispense additional food according to need and exercise levels.

Help outdoor cats by ensuring they have shelter from wind and rain. A roof, side walls and a dry bed are all they ask. This need not be elaborate but should be off the ground to prevent cold from seeping up from ground or cement floors.

So what happens when the sun comes out and the temperature rises – cats shed their excess fur and regain their sleek figures. Most cats will retain some undercoat even in summer as it will keep them cool in the heat. While they lie still during the day the cooler air around them stays trapped and will slowly warm up in the heat of the day.

Comments

  1. Antonella Greville says:

    Old saying:

    “You can tell the heat of the the day by the length of the cat.”

    I do like this one and it is so true.

    By the way our local African Wild cats also have a water-proof coat where when they sit in the rain the water just runs off. One of these cats adopted us for a while and we had a chance to observe her behaviour.

  2. Barbara George says:

    Antonella
    That is true even with our house cats!
    They curl up tightly when it is cold and stretch out in the warm sun.
    Cats are also aware of pending changes in the weather and can alert us to thunderstorms, earthquakes, volcanos and other natural disasters if we read their behaviour correctly

  3. Antonella Greville says:

    I love cats!

    In fact I love all animals.

    In fact I love all the natural world. Pity humans come along and mess with it.

  4. Will a cat use a vacant dog house? The last several months I’ve had a feral cat living in my back yard. I feed her and she now lets me pet her a bit but she’s very skittish. With cold weather approaching I’ve been wondering how to add protection for her during cold or wet weather and wondered if buying a dog house would be a good solution.

    • Hi Darlene
      The large opening of a doghouse would be too much for a cat to defend; it would feel insecure in the dog kennel believing that any size or number of animal attackers could get in. A very small dog kennel or a cat box without the door would be a better option. Line with newspapers to keep them warm, change the newspaper occasionally.
      I have a large plastic storage bin with a cat-sized hole in one short end under a tree in my garden for outdoor cats to use.

  5. Do cats find their spot in cold weather? by instinct?
    I am in Canada. I saw a sreet cat digging some food under the snow.
    I stopped and I wonder if she was OK.,, mind that it was -20C.

    • Both food and shelter are necessary for survival. Sometimes one is more important in the moment.
      At the moment you saw the cat, food, or the possibility of food, was the focus. Probably the cat was feeling cold at the time but it would have found shelter where it could dry off and warm up when it had fed. Food will help to warm the body too.
      The cat was alive and active, which shows resilience and strength.
      I am not an expert on snow but I understand that the temperature of snow is not that cold, so snow can be warmer, although wetter, that the ambient temperature.

Share Your Comments