Hypothermia & frostbite - keep your cat safe from dangerous winter conditions
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Hypothermia & frostbite - Dangerous, yet avoidable, winter conditions

Drs. Foster & Smith Educational Staff
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Hypothermia and Frostbite in Cats

Winter can be a hazardous season for your cat, especially if she spends time outdoors. We always advise keeping cats indoors for their best health and longevity. However, some cats prefer to live outdoors, and some slip outdoors whenever possible.

Hypothermia and frostbite commonly affect cats who are outdoors in extremely windy and cold weather without sufficient shelter, as well as cats with certain medical conditions such as diabetes or those taking certain medications including beta-blockers.

Hypothermia

  • This potentially fatal condition occurs when your cat's body temperature drops too low for her body systems to function normally.
  • Symptoms include violent shivering, slow and shallow respiration, a slow heart rate, and pale or bluish gums.

If you suspect your cat has hypothermia, contact your veterinarian right away. Wrap her in warm blankets, keep her horizontal, and immediately transport her to your veterinarian. Do not rub or massage her. Do not use water bottles, heating pads, or hair dryers to warm her, as these can cause serious burns. Hypothermia can cause heart arrhythmias, shock, and death.

Frostbite

  • A result of extended tissue exposure in freezing or subfreezing temperatures, frostbite most commonly affects the tips of the ears, the tail, the scrotum, and the feet (especially toes).
  • Blood vessels in frostbitten tissue constrict and stop blood flow from warming the area. The area eventually becomes pale, hard, and as cold as the surrounding air temperature.
  • If the tissue actually freezes, it will die and eventually slough off over the course of several weeks.

If you suspect your cat has frostbite, contact your veterinarian immediately. If your cat’s coat is wet, gently pat it dry with a towel (do NOT rub or massage the area), and begin warming the affected area by wrapping your cat in insulating blankets. Do NOT use direct dry heat such as a heating pad or hair dryer. Immediately transport your cat to your veterinarian for further treatment, as your cat may have hypothermia as well. If you cannot keep the frostbitten area warm, do NOT warm it, as refreezing will greatly injure the tissues.

If your cat lives outdoors during winter, give her appropriate shelter and other cold-weather essentials. An Outdoor Kitty House is ideal, thanks to its sturdy, weather-resistant construction. Whenever possible, keep your cat indoors and safe from threatening winter weather.

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