Reading the Wired story on cats and boxes last week I was introduced to the cat’s “thermoneutral zone.” This is the temperature range at which animals do not expend any additional energy trying to stay warm (or cool off). For cats, this range is believed to be between 86 to 101 degrees Fahrenheit (for comparison, for dogs, the “TNZ” is more like 68 to 95, with much more variability and tolerance for lower temps)! Because most of us wear clothes, the human TNZ ranges between 64 and 72.
I realized how sad so many kitties must be that we domesticated them and took them away from their desert lifestyle. Are our poor cats constantly shivering and miserable? Well, feline happiness may depend on two things: where the kitty lives, and how much the cat’s human warms up the environment.
Living in the Bay Area, we have a few issues: poorly insulated housing, bad heating, and a rather low and unchanging range of temperatures. In 2014, monthly average temperatures where I live were (in order, January to December): 52, 54, 59, 59, 63, 63, 67, 67, 67, 64, 57, and 55, with max temps of: 77, 73, 78, 89, 91, 86, 90, 78, 83, 92, 73, and 68. We had a mere EIGHT days in the cats’ TNZ – meaning days where the average temperature was 86 or above (thank you Weather Underground!).
At times, my own cat has taken to sleeping on our floor heating grate for warmth from the gas pilot (conjuring images of Harlow’s monkeys).
Besides giving kitties boxes to sit in, how can we keep our cats happy in chilly temps? Well, keeping our homes between 86 and 101 degrees is probably not an option for most of us, for our own comfort and being able to pay our heating bills. But here are a few simple tips to help your cat be more comfortable:
1. Take advantage of sunspots! Place kitty condos, bedding and shelves in places where your cat can take advantage of the natural heat.
2. Blankets: kitties love fleece, vellux, and anything else soft and fuzzy. Some kitties like to burrow to stay warm.
3. Heated cat beds: there are many options! From the plug-in style flat pads and heated cups, to microwavable heating pads to DIY microwavable options. Always remember that a cat needs to be able to remove themselves from the heating source if they want!
4. Cuddling: we produce heat too! A feline, human (or even canine) cuddle buddy can be a great way to stay warm!
So next time you are feeling a little chilly, don’t forget your cat is feeling chilly too! While we may not all live in the cat’s ideal temperature zone, we can take action to make them feel a little more cozy, and probably a lot more happy!
Fascetti, Andrea J., and Sean J. Delaney, eds. Applied veterinary clinical nutrition. John Wiley & Sons, 2012.
National Research Council. Nutrient requirements of dogs and cats. Washington, DC: National Academy Press; 2006.