Outdoor cats are resilient. They're adventurous, feisty, and fiercely independent, too. Outside cats are a hearty bunch, but when is winter weather simply too much for a cat to bear? Whether you live in Anchorage or Anaheim, here's what to know about how cold is too cold for your cat to stay outside.
How Cold is Too Cold for Outdoor Cats?
The first question to ask yourself is how acclimated your cat already is to exposure. Cats who spend 24/7 outside are naturally going to be better suited to going with the flow outside than cats who decide to stay out for a nocturnal roam once or twice a month. You know your cat best. As a general rule, vets advise against allowing your cat to stay outdoors without a warm place to retreat when the average daily temperature is lower than 45°F. That's average, not one-time. If it's been 55°F all day but dips to 44°F during the night? That's probably okay. But if the days are averaging 40°F and the nights are 28°F? That's when it's time to make alternate arrangements.
What Can Happen to Your Cat if it Gets Too Cold?
Outdoor cats are used to being a little uncomfortable and for the most part, they won't mind. What you really need to worry about when the mercury drops isn't your cat's comfort, it's her safety. Once the temperature dips below freezing (32°F) she becomes susceptible to the effects of hypothermia and frostbite, both of which can eventually lead to death. Hypothermia is what happens when your cat's body temperature gets dangerously low. Her central nervous system will become depressed and her heart will have trouble pumping blood throughout her body. As this happens, frostbite sets in as her extremities lose blood flow. Once hypothermia and frostbite start, your cat will become more and more unable to get herself to safety. Remember that moist weather (think rain, sleet, or snow) means your cat will insulate herself even less efficiently and be at greater risk.
How to Keep Your Outdoor Cat Warm During Winter
If you have an outdoor cat, it's your responsibility to ensure she has somewhere safe and warm to retreat to if she needs to. That doesn't mean you need to buy her a fully-heated cat house for the yard, but it does mean you should take a few precautions to ensure she doesn't get stuck out in the cold. An enclosed outdoor shelter outfitted with blankets and elevated off the ground will work, as will a cracked garage door and a cozy bed in the corner behind the car. A space where your cat can get out of the elements (and that stays above 45°F!) is all your cat truly needs. Do you live in a climate where super-cold days and nights are the norm? Then you might want to think about adding a cat door to your home or to investing in some kind of permanent heated structure. It's not impossible to turn an outdoor cat into an indoor cat, but it's much harder to do once a cat isn't a kitten anymore. Once a cat has been feral for longer than a year, you're better off creating a safe outdoor space than to try to domesticate her.