Kittens don’t really like cold weather and get cold on winter nights. They are so young that they are more sensitive to the cold and can also become poorly when the temperature starts to drop. In fact, kittens can get colds just humans can.
In the following guide, I will explain all you need to know about kittens and cold weather. It includes tips on how you can keep your kitten warm in the winter months, plus advice on safety to keep them healthy and comfortable.
Why kittens don’t tolerate cold weather
You might wonder; do kittens get cold? The answer would be yes, kittens do get cold in winter. Going through the development stages, kittens are brachycephalic which contributes towards them being more sensitive to lower temperatures. Their bodies lose heat quickly compared to other cats, and they get breathing problems due to the elongated soft palate.
Their short coats don’t help either, as this means they feel the cold more with not as much winter protection as a longer-haired cat would have.
In simple terms, kittens have not been bred to be outdoor cats. Being sensitive to cold, they can become dehydrated and suffer with hypothermia in dangerously low temperatures. They are so young that you really need to take special care of in cold winter temperatures.
Signs your kitten is cold
There are some common symptoms that hint your cat is suffering in cold weather. If you see your kitten suffering with any of these, you should make them warmer and in some cases seek professional advice.
- Your cat refuses to go outside.
- Your cat starts to make a nest, for example pulling at blankets or burrowing in bed.
- Your cat has the shivers.
- Your cat appears to be lethargic.
- Your cat lifts their paws off the ground when outside.
- Your cat is hissing or whining.
During very cold weather, kittens can even get frostbite and hypothermia. The latter is a deadly condition that results in blood no longer circulating round the cat's body, weakness, stiff muscles, and eventual slowed heartbeat and kidney failure.
Signs of hypothermia include:
- Shivering and trembling.
- Slowing down, lack of movement, and trouble walking.
- Cold skin and fur.
- Slowed down heart rate.
- Dilated pupils.
- Blue or pale gums and inner eyelids.
- Breathing problems.
That all sounds very serious, but providing you look after your kitten properly in the cold winter months, you should have nothing to worry about.
However, even when you do take special care, your kitten might develop some of the less serious symptoms. For example, your kitten could actually catch a cold. I have described feline cold symptoms lower down the page, so you know what to look out for.
How cold is too cold for a kitten?
There will be a point when the winter gets too cold for a kitten. The temperature that is too cold for kittens is around 4 degrees Celsius (40 degrees Fahrenheit). This can be too cold, and if combined with wet weather, or with older cats or kittens, the danger is increased.
If your kitten is lifting their paws off the ground, then it’s obviously way too cold for them. At this point, it’s too late, so check out the infographic below which shows what temperature your kitten should be comfortable at.
Once the temperatures creep into the green and blue numbers, it’s too cold for your kitten, and means their health could be in danger.
Handy Hint: It’s not possible for cats to catch a cold or flu from a human owner so don’t be too worried when you have a runny nose.
How to keep your kitten warm in cold weather
Here’s what you need to do when temperatures start to drop, and how you can keep your kitten warm in cold weather. It also includes suggestions for walking in the cold, snow, and ice, and what items you should buy to help keep your kitten warm.
1. Winter health check
Older cats are far more prone to suffering in the cold weather, as are young kittens. Low temperatures can bring on illnesses quicker and affect an existing medical condition.
When the temperatures start to drop before winter, make sure you take your kitten to the vets to get a health check. They will be able to identify anything that could get worse as it gets colder.
2. Move their bed and supply more bedding
Temperatures drop lower during the night, and this is when your kitten could be at their coldest. Think about where their bed is and whether it could be moved into a warmer position; for example, is it next to a door or near a draft?
You should also consider giving them some more bedding and blankets to keep them warmer. Your kitten will be able to make a warm nest at night and get all cosy… but don’t let them get too warm as this can also have a negative effect.
3. Don’t overfeed your kitten in winter
Most people tend to walk their cats less during the winter. The combination of the lower temperatures and dampness are enough to put most people off.
Of course, that means your kitten won’t be getting as much exercise as before, so you might want to consider how much you feed them to avoid weight issues.
Keep your kitten's weight at a sensible weight. Whilst “feeding a cold” does have some validity to it, with more food keeping their energy levels up, it’s a fine balance.
4. Make sure their drinking water isn’t too cold
Keep an eye on how cold your cat's water is. Water that is too cold can make cats ill, including exacerbating exiting cold symptoms and giving them a sore throat.
Make sure their drinking water isn’t freezing over if left outside and leave their bowl near a warmer place inside of the house.
Also think about the water coming through your tap. If the pipes are near frozen, cold water will be too cold, so run tepid water instead into their bowl.
5. Don’t go for walks when it’s too cold
Your kitten might be begging to go outside, but exercise a commonsense approach. If it’s too cold outside, use up some of their energy indoors.
With our cat, we play with him using a laser pen which he chases up and down the kitchen until he’s puffed out. It keeps his fitness levels and weight in check, and means we don’t have to go outside when it’s too cold for him.
6. Use potty training pads indoors
When it’s too cold for your kitten to even go outdoors and pee, you need a solution. I’d recommend kitten pad – you might have used this when potty training your kitten. They work just as well with adult cats.
You can buy a large packet of them on Amazon. Your cat is bound to remember how to use them, so should be ideal in cold winter weather.
7. Always use a collar and chip
Wintertime is one of the riskier times of year for cats to get lost. With those dark evenings, possible snow, and their reaction to the unusual environments, cats will often wander.
If you are taking your kitten for a walk, and it’s not too cold, make sure they have a collar and chip on so they can be easily identified.
8. Buy a winter jacket for your kitten
In recent years there has been an explosion of kitten accessories and clothing lines. Most are a bit gimmicky, but in cold weather, they are essential for winter walking and paw protection. Here are a couple I recommend.
Do not look for jackets to win any style awards, that’s not really the point. Look for ones that are extremely warm and rated very highly by kitten owners the world over. One where you can attach a leash or lead to it easily, that's water resistant, and that has a simple way to use zipper, and offers a snug fit.
Before you buy, make sure you measure your kitten up properly.
9. Don’t forget winter paw protection
You should be looking at your kitten's paw during the winter months to check for cracks and wounds. Paws are very susceptible to cold weather and ice, and can deteriorate very quickly, becoming painful – with even the possibility of frostbite!
10. Trim nails to stop skidding and injury
If you don’t think it’s cold enough to buy winter boots, you should still maintain your kitten's paws in winter, and in particular their nails.
Longer nails and claws won’t have the right traction on ice and compacted snow, and if not trimmed down could lead to slipping and injuries.
11. Avoid street salt and chemicals such as anti-freeze
During icy weather, humans tend to put salt and chemicals on the roads and pavements to stop vehicles and people slipping. Whilst this is ok for us, on catty paws that are not protective, it can be painful – the same goes for chemicals like anti-freeze which could be split.
This is a risk with kittens that are not wearing adequate have paw protection in the winter.
12. Don’t let them eat snow
Your kitten is almost guaranteed to love seeing snow for the first time. It’s an unusual feeling for them, so they will probably want to roll about in it.
Cats being cats, they will often want to eat snow too. It might seem cute, but it could make them ill if it has urine, poop, or chemical traces in it. Don’t let your kitten eat snow, it could make them ill in the cold weather season.
13. Don’t let them get wet
The biggest risk to your kitten's health in cold weather is when the cold combines with damp. It can cause hypothermia or in less serious cases, cold symptoms.
After a walk or play in the snow, make sure you towel them down properly, even using a hair dryer if they will let you.
Check for snow stuck into their fur and paws as this will quickly turn to cold water once you get back indoors, making their bedding damp too.
14. Don’t leave them in your car
Everyone knows how fatal cars can be when it’s hot, but it’s equally true in winter too. A cold car can be a killer so don’t leave your beloved kitten in your car or truck.
15. How to keep a kitten warm at night
I’ve already touched on a few ideas on how to keep your kitten warm in winter, some of which can be used at night too. I wanted to offer a few more tips here as well, as once night falls, the temperature will drop.
- Place their bed away from doors, drafts and out of cold rooms.
- Use a (not too) hot water bottle.
- Use a bed that is raised off the floor to avoid the cold floor.
- Perhaps let them sleep with you in your bed.
- Put more blankets than usual in their bed
- Position their bedding in doughnut shaped ring for them to get warmer in.
- Don’t let them sleep too close to a radiator or heat source.
Kitten cold symptoms
As you will now know, kittens can get colds. If you think your kitten is ill during cold winter weather and low temperatures, it could be a slight cold.
Like humans, the first sign might be a little sniffle and sneeze here and there.
But, just like us again, the symptoms can soon develop into a more serious illness if not treated appropriately.
Kittens don’t cope well with cold weather and winter. As brachycephalics, the cavities in their skull are smaller than other cats, meaning mucus can block the cavity.
Once that happens, your kitten could get a more serious winter illness such as dehydration, hypothermia, or even pneumonia. With that in mind, it’s important to recognize the cold and flu symptoms in your kitten before it gets too serious.
Here’s what you should always be on the lookout for:
- Runny nose and nasal discharge.
- Runny or watery eyes.
- Wheezing or wet-sounding cough.
- Lack of appetite.
- Warm ears.
- Trouble breathing normally.
- General lethargy.
Handy Hint: Here are some tips you can use to keep your cat warm at night when sleeping inside or outside the house.
Should you worry about slight sniffles?
Almost every kitten will have a cold symptom once in their lifetime, with the winter being the prime season for it. In the main, some sniffles here and there, or wetter nose than usual isn’t something to worry too much about.
When you should be concerned would be if your kitten starts to cough in winter. This will need immediate vet support, as it could lead to a chest infection in the cold weather.
You can do your own check; put your ear to your kitten's chest. It should sound clear but rattling and gurgling is a sign of possible cold and mucus on the chest area.
Some cat owners try to treat their kitten's cold without the help of a vet. I don’t recommend it, but the ones who do use a feline nebulizer. More on that in a moment.
How to treat a kitten with a cold
Here’s how to treat a kitten cold. Please note though, this should not replace professional vet’s advice and is purely tips I have found after researching online, plus reading vet comments on trusted web forums.
1. Encourage fluid intake
Dehydration is a risk I winter cold weather, so your kitten needs to be taking on enough fluids to stave off any risk. But of course, when cats are sick, sometimes it’s hard to get them to drink, so you could try adding chicken broth to the water bowl.
2. Add extra nutrition to their food
Your kitten might also have lost their appetite due to the cold and can quickly start to lose their strength. Try changing them into something like boiled chicken with brown rice for added nutrition.
3. Feed extra dietary supplements
You can also try adding some supplements into the food to help cure the cold symptoms. These can include items such as coconut oil, cinnamon, and honey. The experts say that these supplements can help kittens recover from colds as they will help to improve the immune system and can also act as a natural cough medicine.
4. Limit outdoors time and maximise rest
Limit their physical activity and don’t let them outdoors into the colder temperatures. The only reason they should go outside is for toilet breaks – but if you can, switch to kitten pads indoors.
5. Love and affection
What’s the one thing that made you feel better when you had a cold as a kid? It was cuddles and affection from your parents… and some kittens can be the same. See if they want close up love or need their space – they will all react differently.
Handy Hint: Kittens show love and affection in many different ways. Here’s how to know if your kitten loves you and is happy with life.
6. Hot water bottle
If they don’t want you getting close to them, you could heat up a water bottle and put it in their bed. Not too warm of course, but enough to raise their temperatures to a comfortable level.
7. Cat nebulizer
Before writing this article on kittens and cold weather, I didn’t realize you could use nebulizers on cats. However, a vet told me that some owners will manage their cat’s cold themselves using one of these.
8. Steam vaporizer
Just like us, steam vaporizers can help to clear your kitten's bronchial tubes and help relieve many kitten cold symptoms, making them breathe so much easier. Put it close to their bed, but not so they can knock it over.
9. Apply kitten nose balm
Kittens can get cracked and dry noses in winter cold weather, or it can go the other way, with their nose starting to run. For cracked and dry skin, you should try a cat nose butter or balm on Amazon. Look for one that is organic and will soothe and repair any cracks.
When you should call the vet
There are certain things to look out for which really demand a call into your vet. Your kitten's cold could get worse, with the following signs:
- Your kitten has started to cough.
- Your kitten stops taking on fluids.
- Your kittenappears to be in constant pain.
- Your kitten has a rattling chest sound.
If it’s an older kitten or kitty, I wouldn’t even wait this long. With the slightest sign of a cold, I would call a vet for advice. They are more susceptible in these ages to develop colds in winter temperatures.
Here’s how one vet said they would treat a kitten with a cold:
“We often have owners bring their cats in during wintertime. It’s peak time for sure. We treat kittens with colds just like we do any other cat; with a small course of antibiotics. This works by killing bacteria and helping them build up their immune system until their cold has subsided.”
Kittens in cold weather don’t really work out too well. These little guys need warmth in the winter, so please be careful at this time of year when snow, ice, and colder temperatures become the norm. Being so very young, they are one of the most at risk when it comes to cold weather intolerance.
Whilst kittens can tolerate cold weather to a degree, there is a tipping point at which you should pay more attention – you can see those temperature ranges in the graphic higher up in this guide.