Lenny, a feral kitten, learned everything from humans
, , , ,

Hypothermia & Frostbite serious threats to cats in winter

Feral cats benefit from TNR programs
Feral cats benefit from coming inside out of the cold.

Hypothermia and frostbite pose serious threats to cats in winter.

Severe hypothermia can kill you pet.

Frostbite can lead to serious damage to the ears, tail, or paws.

The best treatment though – make sure your cat stays inside, or if they must go out, be sure they have plenty of food, water, and shelter, and a quick way to seek cover.

As the snow keeps piling up, and the temperatures dip below zero, hypothermia and frostbite are serious, and their threat should  not be taken lightly. Even if it is not subzero, your kitty can still get hypothermia.

Both are serious and if either occur, your cat will  require immediate veterinary care.

How cold is too cold for your cat?

When the temperature is below 45 degrees Fahrenheit, your cat should not be left outside for any extended period of time.

If the temperature dips below freezing, they are at high risk of hypothermia if they are outside for extended periods of time.

Cats, even if acclimated to outdoor temperatures should always have Keep in mind, temperature tolerance (i.e., at what point a cat gets cold) can vary quite a bit depending on body weight, age, hair coat, and breed. access to warm shelters.
  • Kittens, senior, geriatric, or sick cats should never be kept outdoors when the temperature is below 45 degrees Fahrenheit.
  •  Hairless cats typically need a sweater even when indoors.
  • Cats are not able to get enough water by licking ice.
  • NEVER leave your cat alone inside a vehicle during cold weather. A vehicle can act like a refrigerator causing your cat to freeze to death.
  • Outdoor cats like to find warmth wherever they can find it. That includes under the hood of your car. Thump your car hood before starting your car, especially if cats can have access to it.?
  • Cats who suffer from endocrine disease such as hyperthyroidism should never be out in the cold as they are typically cold sensitive.
  • Cats with any illness including renal disease, heart disease, or cancer, should not be allowed outdoors in any weather,

What is hypothermia & why is it a threat to cats?

Simply put, hypothermia is below-a normal body temperature, and it is usually caused by exposure to cold weather. According to PetMD.com, hypothermia happens when the body cannot maintain normal temperature, ‘causing a depression of the central nervous system. It may also affect the heart, blood flow, breathing, and negatively impact the immune system. An irregular heartbeat, trouble breathing, and loss of consciousness to the point of coma may result.’

Three phases of hypothermia:

  • Mild hypothermia is classified as a body temperature of 90 – 99°F (or 32 – 35°C)
  • Moderate hypothermia at 82 – 90°F (28 – 32°C)
  • And severe hypothermia is less than 82°F (28°C)

Hypothermia and frostbite are serious hazards for cats exposed to the cold winter temperatures.
Hypothermia and frostbite are serious hazards for cats exposed to the cold winter temperatures.

So keeping your pet safe during harsh winter weather is important. The best way to manage hypothermia is to avoid it. Always provide warm, dry shelter for pets when they’re outdoors.

Hypothermia symptoms in your cat:

  • Violent shivering, followed by listlessness
  • Weak pulse
  • Lethargy
  • Muscle stiffness
  • Problems breathing
  • Lack of appetite
  • Rectal temperature below 98°F
  • Coma
  • Cardiac arrest

What you should do if your pet has hypothermia:

  • Wrap your pet in a warm blanket or coat. Put blankets and coats in the dryer for a few minutes to warm them up. NEVER USE A HEATING PAD.
  • Bring your pet into a warm room.
  • Give your pet a solution of four teaspoons honey or sugar dissolved in warm water to drink. If the pet is too weak to drink you can also put 1-2 teaspoons of corn syrup on the gums, proving an immediate energy boost.
  • Place warm, towel-wrapped water bottles against your pet’s abdomen or at her armpits and chest, then wrap her in a blanket.
  • Do not use hair dryers, heating pads, or electric blankets to warm up a hypothermic pet as this may result in burns or cause surface blood vessels to dilate, compromising blood flow to vital organs.
  • Call your veterinarian immediately.


Frostbite happens when a part of the cat’s body, including their paws, tail, or ears, freezes. Severe winter weather, especially when windy, wet or humid, can lead to frostbite. While frostbite will not kill your kitty, it is very painful, and may require antibiotics to treat any infections, and in severe cases may require amputation.

Signs of Frostbite:

  • Pale, gray, or blue skin at first
  • Red, puffy skin later
  • Pain in ears, tail, or paws when touched
  • Skin that stays cold
  • Shriveled skin

Frostbite Treatment:

  • Apply warm (not hot) water for at least 20 minutes to the frostbitten area. Do not use hair dryers, heating pads, or electric blankets to warm up a frostbitten pet as this may cause burns.
  • Handle the affected areas very carefully; don’t rub or massage them as you could cause permanent damage.
  • Call your vet immediately.

The best place for kitty is safe inside in a warm, cozy bed, or in front of a sunny window, out of harms way. However, sometimes kitty may bolt outside,
or there may be a neighborhood or feral cat that is in distress. It’s a subject that we need to keep front and center during the cold winter months. That why Paws
for Reflection chose to bring this issue to the forefront once again. Last year, we shared, Cats like humans get frostbite and hypothermia. 

What do you do to keep your cats safe? Have you ever had to deal with a cat, dog, or horse with frostbite or hypothermia? Do you have any additional suggestions we could add to this list to help pets cope with hypothermia or frostbite? Please share and weigh in on the discussion.

5 responses to “Hypothermia & Frostbite serious threats to cats in winter”

  1. Sharon Seltzer Avatar
    Sharon Seltzer

    Thank you for sharing this important information to protect pets. I’m lucky that I live in a more moderate climate so I haven’t had to deal with frostbite or hypothermia. Will share.

    1. BJ Avatar

      It’s an important, and often overlooked, subject.

  2. Ellen Pilch Avatar
    Ellen Pilch

    We know all about frostbite.. When we found Pranice, she had been out in the cold and her little ear tips fell off 🙁

    1. BJ Avatar

      Poor kitty. Lucky you found her.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.