As the colder months move closer, and the days shorten you might notice a change in your cat’s appearance. They’re no longer the sleek kitty they were during the summer, instead, they morph into this fluffy ball of fur.
In a sense, just as we begin to wear thicker clothes, similarly our feline companions begin to work on their own fur.
But what triggers such a furry change?
Do cats get winter coats? Cats begin to grow a winter coat during fall when the daylight is reduced. Because their winter coat isn’t necessarily influenced by the temperature, but mainly by sunlight, even strictly indoor cats that don’t need the extra insulation will go through seasonal shedding.
If you want to know more about the winter side of seasonal shedding get ready to dig deeper and look at why your cat gets a thicker coat!
Do Cats Get Winter Coats?
If you’re a new cat owner who is confused by the fluctuating state of your cat’s fur, wondering why your cat is suddenly looking thicker or thinner as the seasons come and go, don’t worry, they simply know how to dress appropriately for each seasonal occasion!
Most cats grow winter coats to keep themselves warm. Once the winter comes to an end they will shed a big portion of their fur to stay cool during the summer and grow it back, again and again, each year, to insulate themselves from the cold season. As Tammy Hunter, DVM explains this process in more detail, “some cats that live in cooler climates, particularly if they frequently venture outdoors, will undergo two heavy seasonal shedding cycles per year (late spring and late fall), during which much of the undercoat falls out in clumps.”
With some cats, the change from a winter to summer coat can make a huge difference in their appearance. For instance, longhaired cats that were built to withstand the cold, like the Maine Coon and the Norwegian Forest Cat can look like completely different cats going from one season to the other.
What Exactly Is A Winter Coat?
As with most cat-related things, winter coats are an important process and it’s there to make the life of a cat easier and safer. But in order to understand how this process known as seasonal shedding works, we need to take a closer look at their fur.
Feline Fur Function
Most cat breeds have a similar coat, it may vary in length of course, but they usually have a smooth outer coat of guard hairs that have most of the color pigment. If you brush their fur and take a closer look, you’ll also discover a much finer undercoat that has a greyish tint. This undercoat is the main part of what we would refer to as the winter coat and it’s what provides additional insulation.
Tammy Hunter, DVM, and Ernest Ward, DVM state that “your pet’s coat consists of thousands of hairs produced in hair follicles. Because hairs are under constant environmental stress, they are continuously shed and replaced.”
On its own, the feline fur protects the cat from external stressors, like chemical damage, skin trauma, ultraviolet light, and against contact with hot surfaces. Most importantly your cat’s coat helps them regulate their body temperature. This process is called thermoregulation, during which your cat will move their hair follicles to either bring them closer together when they’re cold or further apart when they’re hot.
Another thing you should take into account when it comes to your cat’s winter coat is that the type of fur and length it is also matters. Most cats grow winter coats, but naturally, the fullness will vary depending on their breed, the climate of the country they’re living, and the heating conditions of their home, but the type of coat they have is also relevant.
As Tammy Hunter, DVM, and Cheryl Yuill, DVM, MSc, CVH explain, “Selective breeding has led to cats with a number of coat characteristics ranging from the hairless Sphinx cats to fluffy long-haired breeds.”
Obviously, you might presume that a winter coat isn’t a thing if you own a Sphynx, or you will stay unimpressed by the short coat of the British Shorthair, but if your feline companion is a Syberian cat then you’ll definitely see the drastic changes in their coat during both seasons. But even cats with short fur will shed and grow a thick undercoat to protect them from the cold.
I mean look at this mini panther enjoying the snow. I’m sure he has a proper winter coat underneath to protect him!
When Do Cats Shed Their Winter Coat?
Your cat will grow their coat somewhere during late fall and will begin to shed it during late spring. The seasonal shedding is heavily affected by the hours of daylight outside (the photoperiod), as the days grow longer during spring and shorter during fall, and to an extent by the rise and fall of the outside temperature.
Domestic cats that spend their life indoors, will most likely be less affected by the outside climate since they live in a consistent environment. The same can be true if you live in an area with a more mild winter. For instance, I live in a country where the winters are quite mild, and I noticed that my kitties don’t go through drastic winter coat changes like I’ve seen with similar shorthaired cats in a few Northern countries I’ve visited.
If you’re lucky enough to live in a country that’s always consistently warm, and you let your kitty outside then chances are that you will not see the full potential of their winter coat, and their shedding will be more or less underwhelming. Then again if you live in the northern hemisphere then your kitty will most likely develop a thick undercoat to insulate them from the cold, especially if they also have access to the outdoors.
Do Cats Still Need A Winter Coat?
For cats sporting a fancy winter coat is completely natural. Some hairless breeds will never know what it feels like to be draped in thick fur, but as we established the majority of cats will experience this change. The thickness of course may vary, but it’s definitely something they cannot control themselves.
While cats are equipped to withstand cold temperatures, it doesn’t mean that they should and that it’s good for them. So, making sure they’re comfortable and warm should be our priority as responsible and loving cat parents!
Signs Your Cat Is Cold
The feline normal body temperature is 101.0 to 102.5°F (38.3 to 39.2°C) which is much higher than the normal human body temperature of 98.6°F (37°C). This means that our fluff-lords need to work a lot harder to keep themselves warm, so they will always need a winter coat.
But even with a lush coat to protect them your feline companion might still get cold, especially if they’re allowed outside. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, “Just like people, pets’ cold tolerance can vary from pet to pet based on their coat, body fat stores, activity level, and health. Be aware of your pet’s tolerance for cold weather and adjust accordingly.”
If you notice your cat being less alert, lethargic, especially after being outside or somewhere where the temperature is lower, then they might be hypothermic. Another more obvious sign might be trembling and shivering, which cats do to make themselves warmer. Some cats will cry, or look for warm places to sit with their paws tucked in for extra insulation.
These signs, of course, aren’t enough to know if your kitty is hypothermic, since they might be the result of some medical condition, but if you notice your cat being cold, wrap them in warm towels, measure their temperature, and call your vet for further instructions. As Krista Williams, BSc, DVM, CCRP, warns “temperatures above 104°F (40°C) or below 99°F (37.2°C) are emergency situations.”
Keeping Your Cat Warm During Winter
I think the line of overestimating and underestimating your cat’s winter coat can be easily crossed, for new cat owners, and especially for those of you who have a kitten or an older cat in your care. Similarly, cats that have shorter coats, or no coats at all will most likely need more care and protection during the colder months, without this meaning that you should neglect your longhaired furry friend.
The first step you should take is creating multiple spots in your home that are warm and cozy for your kitty to sleep. Our floors can be quite cold for their feet and belly, so putting down carpets, or simply adding a few extra self-warming cat beds can do the trick! Make sure to avoid placing them next to doors because of cold drafts, and if you have a cat tree near a window simply take pull it away so it doesn’t touch the cold glass.
Respectively, dressing your cat in cat clothes should be avoided unless you had to shave your cat’s fur during the winter and your vet has recommended you to go for it. I know tiny cats look cute in tiny pirate costumes, but they will most likely restrict your cat’s movement, and cause them stress, discomfort and could possibly lead to overheating.
Adjusting your cat’s feeding during the cold weather months on the other hand can help them stay warm since they’ll be burning extra energy. Most importantly if your cat enjoys venturing outside, consider keeping them in during the extra cold months. But when you do let them outside ASPC warns that “like coolant, antifreeze is a lethal poison for dogs and cats. Be sure to thoroughly clean up any spills from your vehicle and consider using products that contain propylene glycol rather than ethylene glycol.”
Make sure you check your kitty’s paws after your walk or when they return since they’re susceptible to frostbite. If you notice any change in color, cracked scaly skin that peels off and looks red, gray, or white, first make sure to clean them with a warm damp towel to help return the temperature, and then call your vet for a check-up and a treatment.
What To Do When Your Cat Loses Their Winter Coat?
You may have watched your cat during the whole winter strolling around while wearing his thick coat proudly, but as we all know this coat doesn’t last forever. I’ve watched with horror the way my kitties unleashed their fur on every surface of my home, my furniture, and most importantly my clothes! But no matter how scary it might seem, I promise you that there is a way of staying on top of seasonal shedding!
Unlike outdoor cats that go through heavy-duty seasonal shedding, indoor-only cats usually shed consistently all year round, and if your feline companion is also shorthaired and is kept strictly indoors you might not need to change your grooming routine too much.
Nonetheless, being on top of your cat’s winter coat or summer coat is extremely important all year round, but I think I speak for most cat owners that spring is the time you want to be extra thorough. Of course, you can help reduce the shedding by changing their food to a brand that helps minimize shedding, but nothing will save you more than a good cat-brush!
I know the market is full of options, there are special gloves for the timid kitties, and the usual metal brushes that more or less resemble a medieval torture device (that’s what I think at least!) But the one brush that has truly helped me get through the winter coat shedding period is this If you want to know more you only need to look at the reviews to see that there are more than 20,000 pleased customers raving about alongside me!
It’s important to remember that shedding will occur no matter what, but regularly brushing your cat’s fur will not only reduce the dust bunnies around your home, but it will also keep the skin of your fur baby healthy and their coat free of tangles.
Lint Rolling Everything!
My final tip for every spring will forever be the miracle known as Lint Roll! I truly think they are a blessing for most cat owners, because not only do they keep my clothes fur-free for the most part, but I also make sure to use them on surfaces like my couch, my cat’s bed, and any pillow they decided to take a nap on.
I also try to make my life easier and as fur-free as possible, by covering most of my furniture with light blankets, that are easily washable and the fur doesn’t stick to them as easily. I know it all might seem a time-consuming and overwhelming process, especially for new cat owners, but this period is short-lasting, and it can help minimize your spring allergies!
Whether your kitty has a long and lush mane or a silky short fur they’ll shed it for the summer and fluff it back up to eventually make it suitable for the winter. It’s a never-ending cycle and part of their beautiful design.
I honestly think this is a beautiful skill to have, even if during the spring months half of their coat will end up on me and in my cold beverages. But there’s something magical about seeing your kitty suddenly blow up into a soft and furry lordling! I mean they’re so fluffy I’m gonna die!
Now it’s your turn to let us know if you also think that your cat looks cuter in their winter coat!