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.