Updated: Mar 10
Just like us humans, different cats have different levels of tolerance for cold and hot weather. The most obvious factor is of course how thick and long their fur is. But on top of that, it also depends on factors like, what kind of weather they are most used to, how much time they’ve had to acclimatize to any extreme temperatures, how active they are when they’re out and about in these temperatures, how long they’re exposed to this, the level of humidity, … and much more.
My general advice is:
Until you know your cat’s tolerance levels for cold/hot weather really well, keep your outings in those conditions as brief as possible and stay close to your home or car. Ideally, leave it up to your cat for how long they want to stay out (- but watch out for inexperienced and overconfident kittens!)
It’s better to be overly cautious than under-prepared. Make sure you take everything with you that you might need to keep your cat warm/cool if they start to get uncomfortable.
Make sure to inform yourself about the potential dangers that extreme temperatures might pose for cats in general, and how to spot the relevant warning signs in your cat! – If in doubt, cut your adventure short, or just stay home that day.
For suggestions on specific gear to use in cold or hot weather, check out the lists with hot/cold weather add-ons on my blog post, Adventure Prep: Our packing lists.
❄️THE COLD ❄️
Dress up warm!
Just as with a harness, most cats will need some time to get accustomed to wearing any type of clothes, and some cats will be more sensitive about this than others. Practice and positive reinforcement are key here: make sure to start by putting a sweater or jacket on your cat for just very short times to start with, and reward/distract them with food/treats/play while they’re wearing it. They might start out by walking a little funny, but hopefully, they’ll soon get used to it.
To make things easier (especially if any apparent discomfort doesn't seem to get any better after several trial sessions), pay attention to which specific features of clothes your cat is most averse to, and look for clothes that don’t have these. For example, with Percy, I know that he doesn’t like anything that’s long enough to touch or cover his tailbone (cue: he keeps flicking his tail a lot and walks with his rear end really low). I also know that getting his paws through little sleeve holes (or worse: long sleeves!) can be quite an uncomfortable struggle for both of us, especially if the fabric is not very stretchy.
Many jackets or sweaters designed for small dogs work really well for cats too. But there are some small businesses too now that create winter clothes specifically designed for cats. You can check out which clothes Percy currently uses here (go to the "Add-Ons for Cold Weather" section and click the link for "Weather-appropriate cat sweater or jacket").
While clothes will no doubt help your cat to stay warm, be aware that cats absorb the cold also through their paws. The paws, or rather, their toe beans to be precise, are the most likely body part that cats will develop frostbite on! The first signs that your cat’s paws are getting cold are your cat frequently lifting up or shaking individual paws and licking their toe beans a lot. In this case, it’s good to make sure that you can at the very least get your cat’s paws off the cold ground at some point soon.
Like dogs, cats can wear boots that help to keep their paws warm and dry. However, getting your cat used to walking in boots might require a lengthy commitment to gradual positive-reinforcement training. (We haven’t tried it yet).
In either case, one of the most important parts of gear is your cat-pack. Ideally, this should be a place where your cat can warm up a little if they start getting too cold for comfort. If the backpack has a lot of openings for ventilation, try to find ways of closing up some of those vents and/or lining the cat-pack with warm fabric. If your cat lets you, you could also simply stuff a warm blanket inside with your cat (- Percy would probably freak out if I tried that). Also, look into getting some kind of heating pads that you could put into the backpack’s sleeves or pockets (- but make sure not to put a very hot pad anywhere where it would be direct or almost-direct contact with your cat!).
Another thing to watch out for in winter is road salt! This can be harmful if ingested (which might simply happen by the cat licking their paws), and dry out their toe beans. Try to avoid walking on pavements with lots of road salt as much as possible, and make sure to wipe your cat’s paws with a wet cloth as soon as you get back inside.
☀️THE HEAT ☀️
While it is often said that cats naturally hate the cold and love the heat, that’s not entirely true for all cats. Exposing your cat to hot weather can potentially be just as dangerous as exposing them to very cold weather. In fact, cooling your cat down in very hot weather can be more difficult than making sure your cat stays warm in very cold weather!
Signs that your cat is getting too hot, are sweating (in particular on their nose and toe beans) and panting. While panting is normal in dogs, if you see your cat panting, you should start thinking of ways to get them out of that hot environment soon. (Note: panting can also be caused by over-exhaustion, or even be a sign of asthma if it’s not usually connected to heat – so pay attention to the context!). Watch closely for signs of unusual behavior such as lethargy in your cat, since that can be a critical sign that means you need to get your cat out of the heat right away.
Ways to help cats cool down:
If they’ve been very active them take a break and ride in the backpack for a while.
Make sure they stay well-hydrated. Most cats won’t drink water while on a hike, a good alternative is therefore liquid treats. You can use water, however, to wet them down a little, especially their toe beans.
Check the temperature of the ground that your cat is walking on! Since we wear shoes, it’s not something we’re accustomed to paying much attention to. But remember that your cat walks barefoot and that a cat’s toe beans are one of their primary heat-conductors!
Take a small electric fan along; ideally, one that you can attach to the cat-pack.
If you’re in the direct sun, get your cat some shade. I found taking an umbrella along and using that as a parasol can be quite helpful.
There are special types of clothing, such as cooling vests and cooling scarfs. – Personally, I’m still not sure how much they help. So this is something that I want to try out more next summer.
IMPORTANT: Do NOT completely wrap your cat in a wet towel or other fabric! Instead of helping them cool down, it will most likely create some kind of sauna effect and cause more harm than good.
Make sure to also check out the posts on seasonal adventuring by my fellow Adventure Cat Collaborative bloggers !
Percy's adventure packing lists: Adventure Prep: Our packing lists
Follow Percy's adventures on Instagram: @percytheexplorercat