Cat Ears Are Cold — What To Do?

You’re randomly scratching your cat’s head one day when you notice that their ears are awfully cold.

At first thought, most owners will dismiss this as a symptom of flu.

However, cold ears could be a sign of something much more serious.

If you want to understand why your cat’s ears are chilly, keep on reading ahead!

Why does my cat have cold ears?

Finding out that your cat’s ears are cold is quite alarming for many owners. Fortunately, cold ears are not a sign of any serious disease in the majority of cases. 

The ears are anatomically quite narrow and mostly made up of cartilage. They’re also covered with the least fur, all of which makes them even more prone to becoming colder than the rest of the body.

Still, it’s worth knowing when chilly ears can be an indication of something serious. Let’s take a look at some of those reasons below:

Reasons For Cold Ears In Cats

Knowing why your cat’s ears are cold can give you peace of mind when everything is okay and a hint when it might be time to visit the vet. Below are some of the most common explanations for this phenomenon and ways to identify each of them:

1. Regulating body temperature

Aside from hearing, cats use their ears for another crucial function; regulating their body temperature. In summers, their ears dissipate heat and reduce their body temperature, while in winters, they sacrifice warmth for the rest of the body by becoming colder.

When your cat takes a quick stroll in the snow, their body will automatically reduce circulation to the ears so it can keep the vital organs running. Although it sounds like a desperate measure, this situation isn’t a cause of concern. Once your cat steps back inside, they will adjust the temperature themselves by warming up near a heater or your lap.

2. Hypothermia

Hypothermia is not only limited to humans. It can also occur in cats if they are subjected to extreme cold for an extended period. As a result, their body will be unable to maintain warmth, and their temperature regulation system will give up. This is usually an emergency as your cat can experience convulsions, shock, and even death if not treated immediately.

If you suspect your cat is hypothermic, look for the following symptoms:

  • Cold ears, tail, and paws
  • Shivering
  • Lethargy
  • Lack of alertness

When do cats get hypothermia? Temperatures below 45°F (7°C), wet fur, and extended time outdoors in winter are all perfect scenarios for cats to develop hypothermia. If you notice that your cat has returned from outside with wet fur, immediately check their ears and body temperature. Also, look out for breeds with shorter coats, such as the Bengals, American Curls, and Burmese, as they are more prone to hypothermia in winters due to less insulation.

What to do if your cat feels hypothermic? If you notice any of the above symptoms, as well as shivering, dilated pupils, and mute heartbeat, immediately warm your cat by wrapping them in a thick blanket. Try to heat your room, and reach out to a vet as soon as possible to prevent the situation from worsening.

3. Frostbite

For pet owners living in cold climates, it’s worth knowing that cold and painful ears can also be a sign of frostbite. Not only ears but the paws and tail are also highly susceptible to frostbite due to their large surface area and contact with cold surfaces such as snow.

When do cats get frostbite? After a cat is exposed to sub-zero temperatures, their body naturally constricts blood vessels to body parts that are furthest from the heart. This can be particularly problematic if your cat already suffers from cardiac diseases or diabetes, as the blood circulation is already disturbed.

As a result, the ears are the first body part to start freezing (even faster if they’re wet or damp). You will initially notice swelling, redness, and pain when the ear is touched. If you don’t take quick action, the frozen tissue will start to die in the following days. It will first discolor and turn gray/blue/black, then start to fall off after a couple of weeks.

What to do if your cat gets frostbite? As soon as you notice that your cat cries when you touch their cold ears, your priority should be to bring up their body temperature gradually. To do that, first, get your cat to a warm area and cover them with a cozy blanket. Use a hot water bottle wrapped in a towel as a heater to increase their body temperature steadily. 

You should make your way to a vet as soon as possible so that they can examine your feline friend for signs of shock or infections. They will likely administer antibiotics to prevent infections and provide painkillers to your cat. 

How to keep your cat warm in winter

Assuming that a cat’s thick fur keeps them warm is a mistake that many owners make. The truth is, your cat cannot verbally tell you whether they’re feeling cold. They will only exhibit signs that you can take a clue from, such as:

  • Curling up into a ball 24/7
  • Trying to cuddle in your lap all the time
  • Spending most of the day near the heater/thermostat
  • Having cold ears, paws, and tail

Even one of these signs could indicate that your cat feels uneasy with the indoor temperature and needs extra insulation. We highly recommend confirming your suspicions with the help of a rectal thermometer, which should indicate a body temperature greater than 95°F, so you can rule out hypothermia.

But if you record a temperature anything below 90°F, it would be wise to put the following tips into effect:

1. Place your cat’s bed above the ground

Higher ground is generally warmer than the floor since heat travels towards the ceiling. If your cat is feeling chilly, it might be a good idea to move their bedding above the ground, such as the top of a dresser. Just make sure the surface is stable and there isn’t any furniture nearby!

2. Give your cat some warm blankets

Although you can’t buy your cat a pair of fluffy trousers, a nice cotton blanket can do wonders for their body temperature. You can get cat blankets from any major online pet store and lay them around your cat’s sleeping area to make their bed cozier and warmer during the winter season.

3. Let the sunshine through

Nothing feels as comforting as the winter sun! Make sure your cat can have some of that warming action by opening your curtains during the daytime. They will naturally soak this heat during the day by relaxing under the window.

4. Increase their food intake

Even though cats don’t go into hibernation, they can benefit from extra food by using it as fuel to warm their bodies. Many experts recommend this technique too, but if you’re worried about weight gain, talk to your weight before implementing this tip.

5. Buy them a heated bed

If you live in colder states or your house generally stays cool during winters, it might be worth investing in an electrically heated bed for your feline friend. The bed will ensure that your cat stays warm throughout the day without damaging their skin. You will also want to invest in a heated bed if you have kittens or breeds with shorter coats.

FAQ’s

How to tell if your cat has fever?

A cat suffering from fever will have a body temperature over 102°F and will experience symptoms such as loss of appetite, lethargy, decreased drinking, shivering, hiding, and rapid breathing.

Do cats with frostbite die?

If your cat gets frostbite on the ears and gets treated before necrosis sets in, they have a high chance of survival. Keep an eye out for symptoms of frostbite, such as discoloration of skin, pain, and swelling, and take your cat to the vet as soon as possible.

Should a cat’s ears be cold or warm?

A cat’s ears should be around 100°F, which is the same temperature as the rest of their body. If they’re feeling cold or hypothermic, the ears are the first body part where circulation is cut. So cold ears are generally a good indicator of unusually low body temperature.

How to check if your cat is cold?

You can check if a cat is feeling cold by feeling their ears, which should ideally be around 100°F. Our hands have an average temperature of 90°F, so a cooler object will be easy to detect. Still, we advise you to use a rectal thermometer to get a more accurate reading and decide how to deal with your cat’s cold.

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