How to keep a cat warm outside

How to keep a cat warm outside
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Figuring out how to keep a cat warm outside is one of the biggest considerations anyone with an outdoor cat will have. Although they undoubtedly love spending time in the great outdoors, if the temperature dips, your feline friend can run into all sorts of cold-related difficulties. But never fear, there’s plenty you can do to ensure that your cat still enjoys free roam, but also has the opportunity to warm up when necessary too.

In this piece we’ll be looking at how cold is too cold, as well as showing you simple ways you can help ensure your kitty stays warm during a cold snap.

How cold is too cold for a cat to be outside?

This one very much depends on how used to the cold your cat already is. Cats are pretty hardy creatures and if they spend a good proportion of their time hanging around outside, then it’s very likely that they’ll already have a good understanding of when it’s time to come back inside for some warmth. 

If your cat is still young, or has yet to experience a harsh winter or cold snap, then it’s a little bit more concerning. Generally, the advice is that once the average temperature starts to dip below 45 degrees Fahrenheit ( around 7 degrees Celsius) then you might want to make some provisions for your cat to make sure they stay warm. 

When temperatures dip below this frequently, you might want to consider stopping letting them go outside at all, or locking them inside overnight when it will usually be its coldest. Many outdoor cats don’t have litter trays inside – so if you’re planning to keep your cat inside for any length of time, make sure you provide one of those so they can still carry out their business when necessary – it will also help keep the desire to go outside at bay too.

If your cat is absolutely insistent on going outside even in very low temperatures, then consider where they can retreat to when necessary – whether that’s through installation of the best microchip cat flaps, building an outdoor cat house, or providing easy access to a shed or garage for them to snuggle up in. 

How to keep your cat warm outside

There are a number of ways you can ensure your cat has plenty of warmth when the temperature drops. The most common and easiest solutions are as follows:

1. Install a cat flap

Most cats are very tough, so aside from those who have a specific medical condition which makes them ultra-sensitive to the cold, what they can put up with will be a lot colder than we as humans would like. 

Cats are generally adept at knowing when to  retreat from the cold, but you can put your mind at ease by installing the best cat flap. These days, microchip cat flaps are very clever and can even be set to only allow your cat out during certain times of day too – so you can prevent them from getting out if it’s extremely cold and you’re concerned. 

2. Give them access to an outside space

If your cat goes outside, but you don’t want to install a cat flap, then another alternative is to give them access to other types of outdoor spaces, such as a shed, or a garage. 

This will bridge the gap between the indoors and outdoors, giving them somewhere to retreat to when they need to without having to bother you – or without you having to be around noticing them asking to come back in (useful for when you’re at work or in the middle of the night). 

Carve out an area of your shed or garage that is designed just for your kitty, so include warm blankets and a bed them to snuggle into. Try to elevate this space from the floor for maximum warmth. You’ll also have to ensure there’s a way for them to get in and out of the space easily, which could be through a kitty door, or a crack in an existing door. If you have access for your cat, try to avoid leaving anything valuable in the space that might attract thieves. 

3. Invest in an outdoor cat house

An outdoor cat house is another way to make sure your cat has somewhere safe and warm to go, and is the ideal solution for those with gardens or yards.

Not only are these kitty enclaves ideal for keeping your cat warm when it’s cold, the best outdoor cat houses can also come in handy during the warmer months when your cat needs a space to cool off – so it’s a worthwhile investment. 

Cat house

(Image credit: Amazon)

How to keep an outdoor cat safe

When the weather drops, then cats are at risk not only from the effects of the cold, but also from other potential dangers such as predators and getting trapped underneath cars. 

There are a few things to be aware of when the cold weather sets in that should help keep your outdoor cat as safe as possible and help put your mind at ease. 

1. Know the signs of hypothermia and frost bite

Although cats are hardy creatures, they are susceptible to problems like hypothermia and frostbite, if temperatures take a serious plummet – especially if there’s a lot of rain or snow too. Make sure you’re aware of what to look out for should you find your cat in such a state. 

The first sign is usually the cat will be shivering violently in an attempt to get warm. The cat will get increasingly lethargic as frostbite sets in, with their heart rate and breathing slowing down. Moving your cat to a warm environment and wrapping them in blankets and towels is the first thing you should do, but you must contact a vet immediately if you find a cat in this condition. 

2. Be aware of potential predators

Outdoor cats are at risk of predation by other animals, and that’s particularly true in the colder months when sources of food become scarcer. 

Be aware of potential predators in your area, keeping an eye and ear out for sightings and reports of anything particularly problematic, such as coyotes, birds of prey and even foxes. If you begin to hear of a lot of predator activity, consider keeping your cat indoors as much as possible. 

Don’t fit a bell to your cat’s collar if there are predators in the area, as this can make them a target. Ensuring your outdoor cat house is tall and off the ground, and is solidly constructed can help keep unwanted noses out of your cat house, too.

3. Check cars, garages and sheds

In the cold weather, cats will be drawn to whatever warmth they can find. It’s a good idea during cold weather to check underneath your car to check any furry friends (especially your own) aren’t taking shelter. It’s also wise to avoid using antifreeze in your own vehicle if you can as it can be lethal to animals, especially if you’ve made space in your garage for your cat. 

It’s also wise to check garages and sheds if you haven’t seen your cat for a short while – it’s easy for them to get accidentally trapped when seeking out shelter. It also pays to have a friendly word with your neighbours to ask them to do the same, too.

PawHut Large Wooden Outdoor Cat House

(Image credit: Amazon)

How to build an outdoor cat house

Although there are plenty of outdoor cat houses that you can buy on the market, it’s also relatively easy to make your own from products you likely already have around the house. 

Essentially, a sturdy cardboard or plastic box (with a lid) is all you really need, with the latter having the benefit of already being waterproof. You’ll just need to cut entry and exit holes into the box at each end, which may be easier with cardboard. If you’re using cardboard, find some plastic sheeting to cover the box to keep it as dry as possible. 

Elevating the DIY cat house on a small table or a couple of planks of wood will also help to keep it away from the elements.

Amy Davies

Amy Davies is a freelance writer and photographer with over 15 years experience. She has a degree in journalism from Cardiff University and has written about a huge variety of topics over the years. These days she mostly specialises in technology and pets, writing across a number of different titles including TechRadar, Stuff, Expert Reviews, T3, Digital Camera World, and of course PetsRadar. She lives in Cardiff with her dog, Lola, a rescue miniature dachshund.