Back from the Freeze. How to Revive a Cat in Hypothermic Shock

Check the Cat’s Vital Signs

When a cat is very cold or has been exposed to cold temperatures for an extended period, it is important to quickly check their vital signs including breathing, heart rate, and consciousness. Approach the cat calmly and check for signs of breathing by watching the chest rise and fall. Normal respiratory rate for an adult cat at rest is around 20-30 breaths per minute (1). Place your hand gently on the cat’s chest to feel for a heartbeat, or check the pulse by gently feeling the inner thigh area. Count the beats for 15 seconds and multiply by 4 to get beats per minute. Normal heart rate is 140-220 bpm for an adult cat (2). Check consciousness by seeing if the cat responds to sound or touch. If the cat appears unresponsive or has very slow breathing or heart rate, contact a veterinarian immediately as the cat may be in critical condition.

Move the Cat Indoors

If you find a cat exposed to the cold outside, it’s important to get them into a warm shelter as soon as possible. Prolonged exposure to cold temperatures can lead to hypothermia in cats. According to Hill’s Pet Nutrition, most cats prefer indoor temperatures between 68-78°F. Bring the cat inside to your home or another warm, indoor area [1].

Choose a draft-free room in your home, away from doors, windows or vents that could let in cold air. Place the cat in a small, enclosed space like a cat carrier with warm bedding to allow them to warm up gradually. Avoid placing them right next to a heat source like a radiator or fireplace, as this could cause shock. Provide a quiet, calm environment to minimize stress as the cat warms up.

Do not submerge the cat in warm water, as this could send cold blood from the extremities towards the heart and lead to further temperature drops. Moving the cat indoors and using blankets and bedding to gently warm them is the safest approach.

Dry the Cat

If your cat’s fur is wet, it’s important to gently dry your cat with towels. Avoid rubbing or scrubbing the cat’s fur, as this can be stressful for the cat and damage their skin. Carefully blot or pat your cat’s fur with a towel to soak up excess moisture.

Be extra gentle around sensitive areas like the face, ears, paws, and belly. Pay close attention to the cat’s body language – if they seem distressed, take a break from drying. Work in short sessions if needed to keep the cat calm.

Terry cloth towels work best for soaking up water. You may need several towels to dry a drenched cat. Make sure to use new, clean towels if possible. Once most of the moisture has been removed, allow your cat to finish air drying in a warm area.

If your cat was exposed to any chemicals, do not towel dry them – seek emergency vet care immediately. For wet kittens under 4 weeks old, use a low heat blow dryer instead of towels to avoid chilling them. Monitor kittens closely and stop drying if they show signs of stress.

Warm the Cat Gradually

Once you’ve moved the cat indoors, it’s important to warm them up slowly to avoid shock. Use blankets or a heating pad on low setting to provide gentle warmth. Avoid direct heat sources like fireplaces or space heaters, as these can overheat the cat too quickly.

You can wrap the cat in blankets or towels that have been warmed in the dryer. Be sure they are not too hot to the touch first. Place the warmed blankets around and under the cat. A hot water bottle wrapped in a towel can also provide soothing warmth when placed next to the cat. Just be sure to monitor the temperature.

According to PetMD, heating pads are useful but should be set to low and monitored carefully to avoid burns. The pads should only warm one side of the cat at a time, so the cat can move away from the heat if needed.

The key is to warm the cat gradually, not all at once. Quick shifts in temperature can create shock and be dangerous. Provide a warm, dry, draft-free area and let the cat’s body heat itself back up over time. Check on the cat frequently to gauge their condition.

Offer Warm Fluids

If the cat is alert and drinking, provide lukewarm water, broth, or other warm fluids. A cat’s normal body temperature is 100-102°F, so aim for fluids around that temperature to gently warm the cat (2). Warming up fluids can help bring the cat’s temperature back to normal levels. Do not make fluids too hot, however, as this could burn the cat’s mouth. To warm fluids, place them in a bowl of warm water for 5-10 minutes before offering to the cat (3).

Avoid forcing fluids on the cat if it is not interested in drinking, as this may cause aspiration. Let the cat drink warmed fluids voluntarily if it is alert. If the cat is severely hypothermic or unresponsive, a vet may administer warmed subcutaneous fluids, but do not attempt to give fluids by needle at home unless shown by a vet (1). Simply offer lukewarm water or broth by mouth if the cat seems alert enough to swallow safely.

Monitor Body Temperature

One of the most important steps when trying to revive a cold cat is to monitor its body temperature closely. As cats cannot regulate their body temperature as efficiently as humans, hypothermia can set in quickly in cold environments. Monitoring temperature will allow you to assess whether the cat’s condition is improving with warming techniques or if emergency veterinary care may be needed.

The most accurate way to take a cat’s temperature is rectally with a digital thermometer designed for pet use. Cat’s normal body temperature ranges from 100-102.5°F (37.8–39.2°C). Temperatures below 98°F (36.7°C) indicate hypothermia.

Take the cat’s rectal temperature every 5-10 minutes until it stabilizes above 98°F (36.7°C). The temperature should steadily increase with warming techniques. If it drops again or does not improve, immediate veterinary assessment is recommended, as the cat likely needs supportive care to recover.

Be gentle, use lubricant, and insert just the tip of the thermometer into the rectum. Normal body temperature does not guarantee the cat is out of danger, but it is a good sign the warming techniques are working.

Continuing monitoring body temperature even after it stabilizes, as drops can still occur. Tracking temperature will help assess whether the cat is recovering or needs emergency veterinary treatment.

Provide Nutrition

Once the cat is alert and able to swallow safely, offer high-calorie food to help restore its strength and energy. Good options include:

  • Canned cat food, warmed to bring out the aroma and make it more appealing
  • Meat baby food or a little tuna or boiled chicken, mixed with broth to make a gruel
  • Nutritional gel supplements made for cats

Avoid giving dairy products, which most cats have difficulty digesting. Stick to high-protein, savory foods the cat is used to eating. Offer small amounts at a time and reheat chilled food to stimulate appetite. Keep the cat eating regularly to prevent hypoglycemia and hepatic lipidosis. If the cat refuses food completely for over 2 days, see the veterinarian (Remedies for Cat Colds). A temporary appetite stimulant may be prescribed.

Avoid Stress

When a cat is already dealing with the effects of a cold, it’s important to avoid causing additional stress, as this can prolong recovery. Keep handling and activity to a minimum so as not to place undue strain on the body while it fights illness. Provide a quiet, calm environment for rest and sleep.

Signs your cat may be stressed include hiding, aggression, loss of appetite, vomiting, excessive grooming, and urinating outside the litter box. Try to anticipate and eliminate triggers like loud noises, unfamiliar guests, changes to their routine or environment, and introducing new pets. Maintaining their normal schedule can provide stability. Offer extra affection and play when the cat is interested.

You can also use stress-relief remedies like calming pheromone diffusers or cat-safe supplements. Focus on meeting their basic needs for food, water, safety, loving attention, and a clean litter box. With time and care, your cat’s stress levels should return to normal as they recover.

Seek Emergency Care if Needed

Get veterinary help immediately if the cat is unresponsive, has trouble breathing, or shows signs of seizures or cardiac arrest. According to, severely hypothermic cats may experience irregular heart rhythms, breathing issues, or even go into shock. If the cat loses consciousness or cannot be roused, rush to emergency veterinary care right away as hypothermia can quickly become fatal. Even if initial warming efforts at home have helped stabilize the cat somewhat, continued veterinary monitoring and treatment is essential for full recovery from severe hypothermia.

Prevent Future Occurrences

To prevent your cat from getting too cold in the future, it is best to keep cats indoors during cold weather whenever possible. According to the article from ASPCA Pet Insurance[1], cats are safer indoors as it protects them from extreme cold and also potential intruders.

If your cat needs to go outside briefly in cold temps, have them wear sweaters or booties to help keep their body heat in. Make sure any outdoor shelters are insulated and out of the wind so cats have a warm, dry place to curl up outside if needed.

Always provide a way for outdoor cats to get back indoors quickly when it’s cold. You can install a pet door or leave a window cracked for access. Check frequently that they are able to get back inside.

Monitoring forecasts and being prepared for cold snaps can help prevent your cat from becoming frigid. Have sweaters, beds, and supplies ready to keep your feline warm and comfortable.

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