It's not uncommon for our cat friends to offer us their heads for a friendly scratch between the brows or behind the ears. Sometimes, a cat's auricle, or outer part of the ear, may feel cooler than the rest of his body. If you notice that your cat's ears are cold with just a slight decrease in temperature between your cat's ears and body, it's probably no cause for concern. But sometimes, much colder ears can indicate serious health problems.
Cat ear temperatures
Aside from helping your feline hear, a cat's ears are used to help them regulate their body temperature, which usually rests around 101 degrees Fahrenheit. Like the rest of their bodies, a cat's ears should feel a bit warm to the touch, so if you notice that your cat's ears feel cool to your 97 degree hands, it could indicate that something is physically off. The best way to tell if your cat has a low core body temperature is to use a rectal thermometer, and be aware of what's "normal" for your cat to feel like, which could help identify a too-cold or too-hot feline.
When to seek help
Ears that are simply slightly cool are likely not a sign that anything is physically wrong with your feline, but cold ears can indicate serious health concerns, like hypothermia. In any animal, hypothermia occurs when the body loses heat faster than it can produce it, causing an overall drop in body temperature to lower than 95 degrees Fahrenheit.
While most cases can be attributed to overexposure to cold weather, MedVet states that underlying medical conditions, like hypothyroidism and hypoglycemia, can also cause hypothermia. Regardless of the reason, hypothermia can result in death if it causes a cat to go into shock.
Frostbite can also cause a cat's ears to become cold to the touch, and is a serious condition that can lead to pain, inflammation, and necrotic tissue on the affected area. Frostbite occurs when blood vessels constrict in an effort to conserve heat in the rest of the body. Symptoms of frostbite include cold skin, discoloration, swelling, pain when handled, and even dead skin tissue. If your cat has frostbitten ears, VCA Hospitals recommends raising his core body temperature using warm blankets and water bottles, and resist the urge to massage or use forced heat, like hair dryers, on the ears.
Keeping your cat safe
If you notice that cats ears are cold to the touch, consult your veterinarian immediately to prevent possible complications in the case that it is hypothermia or frostbite-related. If your cat has been exposed to cold weather, bring her inside, wrap her body in dry towels, and place a few warm bottles of water around her to help get her core temperature up. In some cases, warmed IV fluids may be needed to bring your cat's temperature up, so be sure to work with your veterinarian to find the most effective treatment plan as quickly as possible.
Prevention is anyone's best bet at preventing hypothermia or frostbite in cats. Bringing your cats indoors after a couple of hours during cold months is an essential part of keeping her safe, and always be sure to bring her inside at night when possible. Cats with underlying health problems that may lead to decreased heat production should be handled with extra care, as should aging cats, who are more prone to lower body temperatures than younger cats.