People assume that because cats have their bodies protected by hair that they will be able to handle cold weather. Depending on the severity of the weather it may be ok to let your cat out in the cold. With 27 states currently experiencing a cold snap at present I think that it is timely to bring up the subjects of Hypothermia and Frostbite.
Technically speaking Hypothermia is low body temperature and can occur as a result of being exposed to low outdoor temperatures for a prolonged period and can be exacerbated by being wet. Hypothermia can also occur following shock or anesthesia.
SIGNS OF HYPOTHERMIA
Violent shivering, lethargy, low body temperature of below 97º F and shock. This can result in unconsciousness, coma or at worst, death.
WHAT TO DO
Bring the cat inside and try to warm him/her as fast as possible.
Use a heat pack if available, however check the temperature first.
If the cat is wet give a warm bath if possible and dry thoroughly.
Be very careful using hairdryers as it could burn the cat’s skin.
Take the cat’s temperature, if you have a rectal thermometer.
Replace towels and heat pack until the cat’s temperature reaches 100º F. Check the cat’s temperature at 10 minute intervals.
Take the cat to the Veterinarian for assessment and further treatment, if warranted.
Frostbite is the actual damage that occurs to the skin and underlying tissues when the cat is exposed to extremely cold temperatures. Common places for frostbite to occur are the ears, toes, paws, scrotum and tail.
Cats with heart disease or diabetes are at higher risk of developing frostbite due to poor circulation to the extremities.
SIGNS OF FROSTBITE
Skin may be pale and white or blueish and grey then red and swollen later.
Affected area is cold to touch.
Pain when affected area is handled.
Swelling may be evident.
Blisters or skin ulcers may be present.
Black skin otherwise known as necrotic or dead tissue.
As the affected area thaws your cat will experience pain and there will be redness and swelling evident. It may take days for the dead tissue (necrosis) to appear.
WHAT TO DO
Bring the cat inside and treat indoors.
Dry the cat with a towel carefully and wrap in a heated towel or blanket.
Place a warmed heat pack inside but check temperature first.
Do not rub or massage the affected area.
Apply warm water to the affected area/s with a compress or soak their limb in a bowl of warm water for approximately 15-20 minutes, then dry off afterwards.
Do not use hairdryers in this instance
Do not give the cat any medication for pain
Once circulation returns to the affected area it will become evident by the color of the skin, if necrosis has occurred. Note that it may take several days before necrosis becomes evident, therefore frequent assessment is important.
Depending on the extent of damage surgery may well be required as well as antibiotic therapy and pain management.
In some cases there may be no long term effects, however in extreme cases the cat may require surgery to remove dead tissue or even limbs. The prognosis will depend on the period of exposure, the cat’s age and medical history.
Please be aware of temperatures in your area, and if extreme keep your cat inside. If your cat has been exposed to extremely cold conditions outside, commence with the measures listed above, then take the cat to the Veterinarian as soon as possible for assessment and treatment.