Where Do Outside Cats Stay Warm?

It is estimated that there are over 70 million feral and stray cats living outdoors in the United States alone (https://www.humanesociety.org/outdoor-cats”). These cats face many challenges in order to survive, including finding food, water, and shelter. But one of the most pressing issues, especially during winter months, is staying warm.

Feral and stray cats do not have the luxury of climate-controlled homes like domesticated house cats. So how do they manage to survive frigid winter temperatures? As resourceful and resilient creatures, outdoor cats have adapted in a variety of fascinating ways.

Body Temperature Regulation in Cats

The normal body temperature range for cats is between 100.4-102.8°F (38-39.5°C), with an average of 101-102.5°F (38.3-39.2°C). Cats regulate their body temperature through a variety of mechanisms:

Cats have a higher normal body temperature than humans, which gives them a greater resistance to infection. Their body temperature can also vary during the day, being lower early in the morning and higher later in the day after activity and eating.[1]

Cats maintain their normal body temperature through physiological responses like vasodilation and vasoconstriction of superficial blood vessels. When they’re hot, these blood vessels dilate to allow heat to radiate off their body. When they’re cold, the vessels constrict to conserve heat. Cats also use shivering to generate body heat by increasing muscle activity when needed. [2]

Behavioral mechanisms like seeking out warm/cool spots, huddling, sunbathing and altering activity levels also help cats regulate their body temperature. When sick, fur and fat insulation can help maintain normal body heat, but fever may indicate an infection requiring medical attention. Monitoring temperature is part of overall health assessment for cats.

[1] https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/taking-your-pets-temperature

[2] https://www.hillspet.com/cat-care/healthcare/normal-cat-temperature-and-checking-vital-signs


Feral and stray cats seek shelter in a variety of places to stay warm in the winter. Since cats are resourceful and adaptive, they are able to find shelter in man-made structures as well as natural outdoor locations.

Barns and outbuildings are a common shelter spot for feral cats in rural areas. The enclosed structure protects them from wind and precipitation. Barn lofts lined with hay also provide insulation from the cold ground. In suburban and urban areas, many feral cats find shelter under porches or decks. Staying under porches keeps them out of the elements while still having easy access to leave when needed.

Other popular shelters include abandoned houses or buildings, sheds, crawlspaces under homes, or even tunnels. Any small enclosed space that blocks wind and retains heat is prime real estate for a feral cat. And cats don’t need much room – an opening as small as 3 inches is enough for a cat to crawl into.

Feral cats also seek natural shelters like hollow logs, brush/debris piles, reeds near water, or dug out holes in the ground. Though not as warm, natural shelters still provide insulation and protection.

In summary, feral cats are quite skilled at finding a variety of man-made and natural shelters to keep warm and survive frigid winters outdoors.




A cat’s fur coat provides important insulation against both hot and cold temperatures. The fur acts as a natural insulator, trapping air close to the cat’s body to help maintain proper body temperature. This layer of trapped air in the fur reduces heat loss from the body and allows cats to retain warmth in cold conditions.

Cats will often grow a thicker, longer fur coat in the winter months to provide extra insulation against the cold. The longer guard hairs and denser undercoat during winter create more air pockets that retain body heat. This seasonal coat helps outdoor cats regulate their temperature and prevent hypothermia in cold weather.


One of the main ways cats stay warm in the winter is by huddling together. Cats are social animals and will often congregate in groups called colonies. Feral cat colonies will huddle together in abandoned buildings, under porches, or even just in holes in the ground (source). When cats huddle together, they conserve body heat. The combined body heat from multiple cats huddling together can raise the ambient temperature significantly. This helps cats stay warm through shared body warmth.

Cats tend to huddle most often at night when temperatures drop. By sleeping curled up together in a tight group, they can maintain a warm microclimate. The indoor portions of abandoned buildings may also allow feral cats some protection from the wind, further helping them stay insulated (source). Huddling behavior is essential for outdoor and feral cats surviving frigid winters.


Cats love to sunbathe because it helps raise their body temperature (Why Do Cats Love to Sunbathe? (6 Reasons Why)). By lying in a sunny spot, cats can increase their body temperature by several degrees. Since cats have a normal body temperature of 101-102°F, sunbathing allows them to reach their optimal temperature range of 100-102°F (Why Do Cats Love to Sunbathe? Our Vet Explains…). This feels comfortable for cats. When cats are too cold, they may sunbathe to warm up. Sunbathing also provides heat that aids digestion and lowers a cat’s heart rate. Cats tend to sleep deeply during sunbathing sessions. While sunbathing can be beneficial, cats can still get overheated or sunburned. Therefore, cat owners should provide shady spots for their cats to cool off and limit sunbathing time on extremely hot days.

Physical Activity

Physical activity plays an important role in helping cats stay warm in cold weather. When cats move around and are active, it raises their body temperature and generates heat. This helps counteract the chilling effects of lower ambient temperatures.

One way cats stay active outdoors in winter is by hunting. The act of stalking and chasing prey gets a cat’s blood pumping and muscles working, which produces internal heat. So their natural hunting behaviors actually serve a practical purpose in cold conditions by helping them stay warm. Outdoor cats that have adequate shelter and food sources can maintain sufficient activity levels to retain body heat just through their regular hunting activities.

For indoor/outdoor cats, encouraging playtime and creating an enriched environment with toys for stalking and pouncing can simulate hunting behaviors. This will prompt physical activity even when the cat is inside, supporting healthy circulation and warmth. According to one source, “Actively engaging your cat can also help stave off behavioral issues that result from boredom.”[1] So keeping cats active helps in multiple ways – generating body heat while providing mental stimulation.

[1] https://www.hillspet.com/cat-care/play-exercise/helping-your-cat-exercise-in-winter


Despite being much smaller than humans, cats actually have a higher metabolism. This means their bodies burn calories at a faster rate in order to maintain normal body functions. According to a study by Court et al, feline drug metabolism is over 10 times faster than in humans (1).

Cats have very effective systems for breaking down and eliminating toxins and drugs. Their livers contain higher levels of certain enzymes like cytochrome P450, which play a key role in drug metabolism (2). This accelerated metabolic rate generates more internal body heat, which helps cats stay warm.

Overall, the higher metabolism of cats compared to humans and other mammals helps them retain body heat in cold environments. Their bodies are primed to quickly burn calories for energy and warmth.

(1) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3811070/
(2) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16912554/

Outdoor Heated Cat Shelters

For cat owners concerned about their outdoor cats staying warm in the winter, there are a variety of heated outdoor cat shelters available for purchase or DIY construction.

Some popular options for manufactured heated outdoor cat shelters include The Kitty Tube, which is an insulated tube with a self-regulating heated pad, and the A Safe Pet House which is a waterproof, elevated, and insulated shelter with included heating pad.

For those who want to build their own heated shelter, the Outdoor Kitty House Extra-Wide provides an insulated and protective shell that cat owners can add their own heating source to. Building your own heated shelter allows customization and control over materials and heating.

When selecting or building an outdoor heated cat shelter, key features to look for include insulation, elevation off the ground, protection from the elements, and proper regulation of heating so it does not overheat. With a good heated shelter, owners can rest easier knowing their outdoor cats have a warm refuge in cold weather.


In summary, outdoor and feral cats have many ways of surviving cold winter weather. Their small size and insulated fur coats allow them to stay warm. Cats will seek out sheltered places that block wind and precipitation. Given the opportunity, they will huddle together with other cats to share body warmth. When the sun is out, cats sunbathe to absorb radiant heat. Cats are always active to some degree, which generates internal body heat. They also have a faster metabolism than humans. People can help outdoor cats by providing insulated shelters and warming beds. Despite cold temperatures, feral cats are highly resilient creatures well-adapted to outdoor living.

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