During the cold months, all animals are susceptible to hypothermia. Cats are no exception. Hypothermia is when there is drastic drop in the internal body temperature. A cat's normal internal body temperature ranges from 100°F to 102.5°F.
Often times, hypothermia occurs in cats when the cat is wet or in shock due to being under anesthesia for prolong periods. Kittens are also more prone to hypothermia. Like most mammals, when a cat is exposed to cold temperatures for long periods they will begin to shiver. Shivering generates heat by increasing the cat's metabolism. However, unlike humans, cats are less prone to hypothermia due to their fur, which acts as an insulator.
Signs of Hypothermia
- lack of mental alertness
- internal body temperature of 90°F - 99°F (32°C - 35°C)
- shallow breathing
- muscle stiffness
- low blood pressure
- stupor-like state
- internal body temperature of 82°F - 90°F (28°C - 32°C)
- difficulty breathing
- dilated pupils
- inaudible heartbeat
- internal body temperature below 82°F (28°C)
Shivering is the first sign of hypothermia in cats. Cats will then show signs of having little to no energy followed by drowsiness and lethargy. Because of the drop in the metabolic rate, the cat will have slow and shallow breathing along with a lower heart rate. Eventually the cat will collapse and drift off into a coma.
The best way to diagnose hypothermia in cats is by taking their temperature rectally. A cat's normal body temperature should be around 101.5°F but it can range between 100.5°F to 102.5°F. If the cat's rectal temperature is below 99°F, then it needs to be treated for hypothermia. If left untreated, the cat will die.
If the cat is still alert and shows signs of mild hypothermia, there are simple treatments to help raise the internal body temperature. The first step is to bring the cat in a warm room free from drafts and begin to warm the cat up gradually. Be sure not to lay the cat on the cold floor. Put several towels in the dryer to warm them up. Then wrap the warm towels around the cat. If the cat's fur is wet, you can use a hair dryer on a low setting and at least 12 inches away from the body to dry them off as well as help to warm them, according to Pet Education.com. However, Pets Web MD advises against using a hair dryer, but instead simply use the warm towels to dry the cat's fur.
Adding heat packs wrapped in cloth under the cat's armpits, on the abdomen, and the chest. The heat packs can simply be warm water in ziplock bags. It is suggested that the temperature of the heat packs should be about the same temperature as testing an infant's bottle to the wrist. Every ten minutes, change the heat packs and check the cat's rectal temperature. Once the cat's rectal temperature reaches between 99°F to 100°F, the heat packs are no longer needed. When the cat begins to move around more, Pets Web MD suggests giving the cat some honey or a glucose solution (4 teaspoons sugar to 1 pint of water).
In the event that the cat is suffering from moderate to severe hypothermia, you need to call your veterinarian without delay. Whether mild, moderate or severe hypothermia, it is advisable to call the veterinarian anyway. Although mild hypothermia can be treated with passive external treatments, moderate and severe hypothermia will need to be treated with active internal treatments. The veterinarian will use warm intravenous fluids to help circulate through the body and warm up the internal organs. The veterinarian may also use warm air or oxygen for the cat to breathe in.
If the cat's heart stops, the veterinarian can perform CPR. Due to the low metabolic rate caused by the lower internal body temperature, cats can handle longer periods of cardiac arrest. Therefore the success rate of reviving the cat is greater than with other animals.
The best way to prevent the risk of hypothermia in cats is to keep your cats indoors, especially during the colder months. For those who allow their cats outdoors, it is advisable to provide sufficient shelter and bedding that is off the cold ground. Keep in mind that kittens and older cats are more prone to suffer from hypothermia. Again, the best option is to keep your cat inside. But if hypothermia does occur, knowing what to do can mean life or death for your cat.
© 2014 Linda Sarhan