Because of their desert-dwelling ancestry, cats generally enjoy the sunnier seasons more than winter. Most cats will prefer to seek out a warm spot at home at this time of year.
But breeds like the Himalayan may have an advantage when it comes to coping with colder temperatures. Are Himalayan cats really cold-resistant?
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Cats and the cold
Cats prefer an ambient temperature of around 30-38°C. If your cat had the opposable thumbs necessary for the job, they would be turning the dial up on your thermostat at every opportunity. Fortunately for your heating bill, they can manage with our preferred household temperatures of 15-20°C.
What temperature is too cold for cats will vary depending on their age, breed, size and health. But it’s generally agreed that anything below 7°C brings a risk of hypothermia.
A dual-layered coat
As their name suggests, Himalayan cats look like a breed ready to face the chilly weather. A robust cat with a thick, luxurious coat, they are better equipped for the cold than other shorter haired varieties. Their fur is dual layered, meaning they have an inner waterproof layer that is thick and downy and an insulating layer made of long, coarse outer hair.
This coat has its positives in winter, but it requires daily grooming to prevent matting. In the summer, it can be a hinderance. Himalayan cats are at risk of overheating when the ambient temperature increases. The flatter the cat’s facial profile, the higher the risk of breathing difficulties and overheating. Himalayan cats are actually a colour variety of the Persian cat, and unfortunately this breed has been afflicted by selective breeding for a flatter face, leading to brachycephalic airway syndrome in some cases.
Colour point genes
As well as having Persian relatives, Himalayan cats also share some of the same genetic material as the Siamese breed. Siamese cats are known for their point colouration, a characteristic coat pattern of a pale body with darker extremities. Himalayan cats also have ‘points’, with a pale truck and darker ears, muzzle, tail, lower legs, and paws. A genetic mutation affecting the activity of an enzyme needed to create a dark pigment called melanin gives rise to the colour points. The enzyme produces melanin at low body temperatures but fails to function at normal body temperature.
This means the body parts that are the coolest (the ‘points’) produce more melanin and appear darker in colour. It’s worth being aware that when you shave an area of paler fur, the skin beneath will get cooler and it’s liable to grow back darker! It won’t be a permanent change, however. Another fun fact is that cats with points are born white, because the mother’s womb is so warm and cosy. As they age, melanin gets deposited, and they gradually develop their colour points.
But do colour points help keep a cat warm? Well, not really! They are useful in the summer though, as melanin helps to protect the skin from sun damage.
So, are Himalayan cats cold resistant?
Well, their long fluffy coat will provide that added layer of protection from the cold. But the same can be said about many other long-haired breeds of cat. If you are thinking about owning a long-haired breed of cat like the Himalayan, you will need to be very committed to grooming them and have the time to do this every day.
If you are concerned about keeping your cat warm this winter, here are a few hints and tips that may help:
- Provide a quiet cosy space for your cat to sleep in, away from the noise of the rest of the house.
- Bedding made from warm insulating materials such as fleece or wool are great choices.
- Radiator beds are often very much appreciated!
- Encourage your cat to toilet in the litter tray rather than by venturing out in the cold, by cleaning the tray daily and placing the tray in a quiet, secluded area.
- Do not leave your cat unattended around lit fireplaces, stove tops or electric heating pads.
- Regular exercise will help generate body heat, so frequent short bursts of interactive play are ideal in winter. Fishing rod toys are a great way to encourage this.
- Avoid putting clothing on your cat. Tempting as it may be, your cat won’t appreciate being dressed up. It can make them stressed and prevents them from engaging in essential behaviours such as grooming.