If a cat's ears feel hot to the touch, it may be a sign of a fever. But what about when they're cold? Knowing about a cat's ear anatomy, as well as possible risks in the environment, can help you determine what's happening when a cool cat's ears feel chilly.
Hypothermia, or low body temperature, can occur through exposure to cold temperatures. It can cause weakness and lethargy, and even coma if the hypothermia is not addressed. While shivering is the body's way of trying to warm up, a cat with severe hypothermia won't even shiver. To detect hypothermia, feel the ears and paws. If they feel cold, then feel his lips and mouth. If the mouth feels cool in addition to the ears, the cat could be hypothermic. Wrap him in a warm blanket and seek veterinary care.
Frostbite occurs as a result of exposure to severe cold. This condition actually destroys the affected part of the body by freezing the skin and underlying tissue. Cats who are out in sub-zero temperatures can suffer frostbite as a result. Ears are one of the areas most vulnerable to frostbite. Symptoms of frostbite in cats include skin discoloration, redness, pain, burning and blackening and visible destruction of the tissue. Frostbite requires immediate veterinary attention.
Ears are Just Plain Vulnerable
Many areas of a cat's body are well-covered with fur and fat. When looking at a cat's ears, it's plain to see they are fully exposed, razor-thin and void of noticeable fat. This makes them vulnerable to things like change in temperature. While many other parts of the body feel warm all the time, even in a drafty room or outside on a brisk fall day, an exposed cat's ears respond to the chill more quickly.
Using Behavior as a Guide
If your cat is acting normally but his ears just feel a little cool, he may be having a normal reaction to his environment. Normal body temperature for cats is 100.4 to 102.5 degrees Farenheit. If you suspect hypothermia, taking his temperature can help you rule that out. If your cat seems uncomfortable in the chilly weather, keeping him warm -- perhaps cuddled up with you -- can serve as the first line of defense against cold ears.
Sarah Whitman's work has been featured in newspapers, magazines, websites and informational booklets. She is currently pursuing a master's degree in nutrition, and her projects feature nutrition and cooking, whole foods, supplements and organics. She also specializes in companion animal health, encouraging the use of whole foods, supplements and other holistic approaches to pet care.