is no doubt about it, cats are gluttons for warmth. When the weather
outside is frosty, you can probably find your cat curled up in front
of its favorite heating vent. Why does an animal with such a nice
fur coat seek out heat?
A catís body temperature
stays at a toasty 100ļ - 102ļ F, keeping the muscles warm and ready
to spring into action on a moments notice, should any antelope, mice
or dust bunnies wander by.
For cats, as with
all mammals, food fuels the bodyís furnace, but this is just one way
cats cope with the cold. As temperatures drop a catís body can turn
up the heat by increasing its basal metabolic rate - its rate of energy
use. A cold cat may also become more active, since muscle contractions
generate a lot of heat. In really frigid weather, even a combination
of accelerated metabolism and increased activity may not be enough
to sustain normal body temperature. Then a catsí muscles will begin
shivering. Shivering is the bodyís last-ditch effort to stay warm.
If your cat goes outside and you see it shivering, bring it to a warm,
dry place right away.
No matter how
much heat a cat generates, it is all wasted if the heat escapes, and
body heat has many escape routes. Every bit of the catís surface radiates
heat to the colder outdoor air. However, cats are equipped with features
that prevent undue heat loss. A layer of fatty skin insulates the
body because it conducts heat at only 1/3 the rate of other tissues.
Thick feline fur traps air next to the skin, creating a protective
Not all cats are
created equal when it comes to heat retention. Thick bodied cats with
long hair and dense undercoats tend to be of breeds that originated
in northern climates, and fine boned, short haired cats came from
Cats rely on metabolism,
fat, and fur to stay warm, but in addition there are behavioral strategies
that come into play. On a cold day you are likely to find your cat
lying someplace warm, like on top of the stove or a warm clothes dryer,
or right in the middle of your lap. A cat may curl up and pull its
paws under its body to decrease heat loss, and they will sometimes
cover their face with a leg or tail to prevent heat loss from the
nose or mouth.
Cats can also
hold heat by fluffing their fur. Called piloerection, it adds to the
insulated layer of air around the cat. This is an automatic response
that occurs in cats when the skin feels cold air.