Cold, windy weather or wet conditions can cause hypothermia in cats. Untreated hypothermia is fatal. Here are the causes, symptoms and treatment of hypothermia in cats.
Hypothermia develops when the core body temperature drops below normal. In healthy cats, the core body temperature is usually 38.8°C (102°F), but may fall safely between 37.7°C (100°F) and 39.4°C (103°F).
Cats are especially vulnerable to hypothermia. Frostbite and hypothermia may occur together. See Frostbite in Cats: Symptoms and Treatment.
If the body temperature is too low, the cat can’t warm up by itself. The body will go into failure, and the cat will die.
Symptoms of Hypothermia in Cats
Signs and symptoms of hypothermia in cats include:
- violent shivering
- blue or pale gums
- lack of response when touched or moved
- slow, shallow breathing
- low heart rate
Hypothermia Risk in Cats
Some cats can tolerate cold extremely well, depending on body build, health and hair density. Other cats are more vulnerable to hypothermia. Cats especially at risk for hypothermia include:
- wet cats
- short-haired cats
- cats with an underlying illness
- cats on medication
- malnourished cats
Treatment of Hypothermia in Cats
Apply first aid immediately if the cat is suffering from hypothermia.
Hypothermia in Cats: First Aid
While a cat with frostbite should have the extremities warmed as quickly as possible, a cat with hypothermia should be warmed slowly. Warming the cat too quickly causes extreme stress to the body, and the cat may suffer fatal shock or heart attack. Never rub or massage frostbitten extremities.
To warm the cat, use
- towels or a blanket warmed in the dryer
- warm compress
- a warm bath with temperature of 40-42°C (104-107.6°F)
- body heat
- ambient warmth such as a heater, fireplace, or warm room
Dry a wet cat with a hair dryer set on low. Blow heat indirectly, and take care not to burn the cat. Likewise, never put a cold cat too close to a heater or fireplace. Air should be comfortably warm, but not hot.
It’s best to wrap the cat in a warm towel or blanket, or use a warm bath treatment. Both are effective for hypothermia and frostbite.
Body heat can help warm up a hypothermic cat, but as the cat recovers it may be dazed or in pain, and could bite or scratch. If frostbite co-exists with hypothermia, the cat will have severe pain as the frozen area warms, and may react aggressively. Be careful to avoid injury while treating a hypothermic cat.
While applying first aid, contact the vet or animal clinic to determine further treatment. In some cases, the cat may need medical attention. The vet can administer intravenous fluids or oxygen. The vet may also inject warm fluids into the stomach, colon or abdomen to warm the cat’s body core.
Prevention of Hypothermia in Cats
Wind, cold and damp conditions can cause hypothermia in cats. If possible, keep the cat indoors during cold weather.
If the cat is wet but shows no sign of hypothermia, allow him/her to air-dry in a warm environment. Don’t let a wet cat outdoors in the cold.
If the cat likes to be outdoors for long periods of time, provide a shelter away from the wind, where the cat can warm up between forays.
Keep a sick or underweight cat inside. Keep a close watch on indoor cats and kittens, who are more susceptible to hypothermia and frostbite if they escape outside.