Cats have fur to protect them from cold temperatures. When winter arrives, most breeds grow a thick undercoat to help them stay warm and comfortable. However, domesticated indoor cats live in temperature-regulated homes, leaving some cat owners wondering whether their pets still grow their winter coats.
Do Cats Get Winter Coats?
Yes, cats get winter coats. These coats begin to bulk up during the fall season when daylight hours start to shorten. While indoor cats do not need extra insulation because they live in a temperature-regulated home, they will still grow winter coats if they are exposed to sunlight. This means that the thickening of the fur is not dependent on temperature, but rather a response to the amount of available daylight.
Cats have long, visible hairs, called guard hairs, that give them their patterns and colors. Underneath the guard hairs is an undercoat – a thick and fluffy layer of fur that is usually gray and which keeps the cats warm. When this undercoat thickens during cold weather, it is known as the winter coat.
Most cats are self-sufficient when it comes to grooming their winter coats, but older cats may need help. They are not as flexible as when they were younger, and some also suffer from arthritic joints. They are thus unable to groom themselves like they used to, and their coat may become matted and tangled with the shorter fur that needs to be shed.
Once the winter season ends, cats shed a large portion of their fur to stay cool during the summer season. Their fur grows back again each year, so they are protected from the cold again during winter. According to Tammy Hunter, a doctor of veterinary medicine, cats that live in cold countries go through two heavy seasonal shedding cycles annually, during the late spring and late fall.
The undercoat falls in clumps, especially in cats that frequently venture outdoors. Long-haired cats like the Maine Coon and Norwegian Forest cat look very different during the changes of season. The change from winter to summer coats could make a big difference to a cat’s appearance.
While most cats grow winter coats, the fullness and length will vary depending on their breed. The climate of the country they are living in is also a factor, as is the heating conditions in their home.
Benefits of Fur for Cats
- Protects them from chemical damage.
- Protects them from skin trauma.
- Protects them from contact with hot surfaces.
- Helps regulate body temperature through the process of thermoregulation, whereby cats can move their hair follicles to bring the hairs closer together when they are cold or further apart when they are hot.
How To Keep Your Cat Warm in Winter
- See to it that your heating system is reliable so your cat stays comfortable and warm at home, especially if you are leaving it alone for a long period.
- Place a soft blanket, towel or cat bed in a temperature-regulated room so your cat can snuggle up when it wants to take a nap.
- If you have an older cat, get a therapeutic cat bed that is designed to soothe aching joints during the colder months.
- Feed your cat a nutritious diet so that its coat stays thick and healthy.
- Encourage your cat to play interactive games to give it some exercise and warm it up on chilly days. Let your cat hunt mice toys, chase ping pong balls, or navigate an obstacle course of cardboard boxes and paper bags.
If you need to take your cat outdoors, such as for a visit to the vet, it may need to wear a light sweater. Cats with long, thick coats do not need sweaters as they may be prone to overheating. Hairless cats, on the other hand, should always wear a sweater if they are taken outdoors during the winter season.
You may also need to provide booties for your cat if there is snow or ice on the ground; however, most cats are not comfortable if their paws are covered. Cats should not be allowed to walk on snow or ice for more than an hour, as snow and ice could stick to their toes and crack their pads, so keep the outdoor adventures short and sweet. Long-haired cats may catch snow and ice between their toes and on their bellies.
Don’t allow your cat into areas that could be contaminated with antifreeze or salts, since these chemicals can irritate your cat’s feet. Since cats groom their paws and feet they could potentially ingest lethal or toxic chemicals. After a romp outside on the ice or snow, check your cat’s feet for redness, cracks or irritation and be sure to wipe your cat’s paws with a towel.
Cats are endowed with thick fur that protects them from the harsh elements, unless they are members of a hairless breed. They get winter coats that start to thicken during the fall season, and these protect them during the colder months. Indoor cats also get winter coats despite being in temperature-regulated homes, since they still get sun exposure which is a factor in stimulating winter coat growth. Thus, they will also undergo seasonal shedding, just like most other felines.
Image: istockphoto.com / ThomasMorkeberg