When Is It Too Cold for Cats to Go Outside?

If you have an outdoor cat, you need to know their limits during the winter months and when you should let them inside.

Cats might have thick, fluffy coats, but that can’t fully protect them when the temperatures start to drop. Most people keep their cat indoors all year round, but for those that let their cat outside to explore you’re going to want to keep an eye on the temperature during the winter to make sure it’s safe for them to be outdoors. If you also have a dog at home, here’s when it’s too cold for dogs to go outside.

When is it too cold for a cat to go outside?

“Similar to dogs, it depends on a number of factors such as age and coat thickness, as well as if they are usually an outdoor cat or indoor cat,” says Dr. Gray Richter, a veterinary health expert with Rover. If your cat is accustomed to living outdoors, they’re smart and know the best places to find shelter and stay warm. If your indoor cat happens to get out when it’s cold, they’ll most likely be in more danger. Bottom line, “if the weather dips below freezing (32 degrees Fahrenheit), all cats are susceptible to hypothermia or frostbite,” says Dr. Richter.

When should you start to think about bringing your outdoor cat inside for the season?

“As a general rule, I would recommend bringing your cat inside the house if they don’t have a warm place to retreat to when the average daily temperature is lower than 45°F— they shouldn’t be outside for any length of time at that temperature,” says Dr. Richter. Make sure you don’t fall for these common “facts” about cats that are actually false.

If a cat’s body temperature falls below average, they can suffer from hypothermia and if winds are high, they can get frostbite. Cold temperatures (even if they’re not yet below freezing), high winds, and snow or rain—causing your cat’s coat to be wet—can lead these things to happen more quickly.

What can you do to keep your cat safe in the winter?

“Cats need more calories in colder weather, even if they stay indoors, so make sure your feline friend is always well-fed,” says Dr. Richter. He also recommends keeping your blinds open during the day so your indoor cat can get lots of sunshine.

If you have an outdoor cat it can be difficult to get them to want to stay inside during the cold. If that’s the case, make sure they are well fed and have access to a warm shelter. Consider adding a cat door to your home, setting up a safe shelter outside, or investing in a permanent heated structure.

Creating an outdoor shelter doesn’t have to be an elaborate process. Dr. Richter recommends taking an old storage container and create insulation using straw (not blankets) to keep your cat—or strays that frequent your neighborhood—warm. You want to make sure they have enough space to move around, but not so much space that it makes it difficult to keep it warm. Keeping your cat out in the cold is just one of the dangerous mistakes cat owners should never make. Read up on the other to make sure your feline friend is happy and safe.

Morgan Cutolo
Morgan is the Assistant Digital Managing Editor at Reader’s Digest. She graduated from the University of New Hampshire in 2016 where she received her Bachelor of Arts in Journalism. When she’s not writing for rd.com or keeping the 650+ pieces of content our team produces every month organized, she likes watching HGTV, going on Target runs, and searching through Instagram to find new corgi accounts to follow.