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Cats on Cars in Cold Weather: Vet-Reviewed Facts and Safety Guide

Written by: Ashley Bates

Last Updated on April 29, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team

The homeless not purebred cat hides in the shelter under a car body from snowfall

Cats on Cars in Cold Weather: Vet-Reviewed Facts and Safety Guide


Dr. Marta Vidal-Abarca Photo


Dr. Marta Vidal-Abarca

Veterinarian, BVSc GPCert (Ophthal) MRCVS

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

Learn more »

When the cold days are among us, pet safety precautions will be broadcast over every social media platform—and for good reason! Frigid temperatures can be a perilous time for our pets.

Obviously, you won’t want your cat to be out in the cold for too long, but have you ever thought about cats being on cars specifically? We all know how much our cats love perching, but an automobile top is really not the right place to lounge. Let’s learn why this is the case and how to prevent your cat from getting on your car in cold weather.

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Why Is Cold Weather Dangerous for Cats?

Cold weather is dangerous for cats for obvious reasons. Outside temperatures can get bitter in the winter, and animals need to be able to maintain a stable body temperature. If it gets too cold, they can suffer from frostbite and hypothermia and even die.

A tuxedo cat in the snow
Image By: ivabalik, Pixabay

How Cold Is Too Cold for a Cat?

Surprisingly enough, if temperatures drop below 45 degrees Fahrenheit (7 degrees Celsius), it’s too cold for a cat to be outdoors. This might astonish you, seeing as how cats run around at all times of the year, even in snowy and frosty temperatures.

Another big factor in the weather being too cold is the wind chill. Keep in mind that temperatures may be near freezing, but with the wind chill, it could feel like it’s in the teens outside. If you have feral cats around, try to give them wind-free, insulated shelters so they can stay safe throughout these treacherous months. It doesn’t take much to toss together a warm, inviting place where cats can come warm up—that’s not a vehicle, of course!

Maintaining a stable temperature is more important for kittens, older cats, and those weighing less than 4.4 pounds (2 kilograms), as they are more susceptible to suffering serious consequences when exposed to cold weather.

What Is Hypothermia?

Hypothermia is when the body loses temperature, dropping below 98°F (36.6°C). The normal body temperature of a cat runs approximately between 101°F and 102.2°F (38.3–39°C), so you can see how dropping nearly 4 degrees would be alarming. Hypothermia can be life threatening and medical attention is absolutely required.

Common signs of hypothermia include lethargy, shivering, curling up, puffed-up fur, seeking warmer spots, and slow breathing. A vet can easily determine hypothermia by checking the basal temperature of your cat. The treatment for hypothermia is to provide gradual warming supportive care until they start generating their own heat again. As long as the cat receives prompt and adequate treatment, they should be able to recover with no problem.

However, if the cat is outside in less than favorable conditions, a person might not get to them in enough time to make a difference. Untreated, hypothermia is generally fatal.

Why Do Cats Get on Cars?

Believe it or not, cats get on cars very frequently. Many cats are hit, injured, or transported to places other than home—and never make their way back. It’s a real problem every winter—and one folks should be very diligent about.

A red cat sits on the hood of a car
Image By: Serrgey75, Shutterstock

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Why Cats Choose Automobiles as a Sanctuary


One of the most obvious reasons that a cat would get in a car in the cold weather is to keep warm! Instead of being out there in the blistering cold, they can seek refuge in an unused vehicle.

If your vehicle just drove all the way home, the internal components will be nice and toasty by the time you pull into your driveway. It’s an obvious spot for any cold animal to want to be. Since cats gravitate toward populated areas where they can get food and shelter, it is a spectacular improvement for below-freezing temperatures.


Another reason that cats will seek refuge in or on cars is simply to find shelter. Temperatures can get very frigid, and weather can be rolling mercilessly around them. It is imperative that they find a spot where they can seek safety out of the blistering wind.

Being inside a car’s engine area feels safe and secluded—and they don’t have to worry about whipping winds, icy grounds, and bitter snow. Even a tire protects from the elements to a certain degree.

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How to Keep Cats Off of Cars and Safe From the Cold

Here are some tips for protecting cats in the cold. It is imperative to give your cat shelter if you own them, and it is kind to do so even if they are not yours.

Check Your Car Over

To be on the safe side, make sure to check your car over completely before taking off in the morning. When you park your car, it’s all nice and warmed up. If cats are around and can sense the heat, they’ll likely gravitate toward it and can even get inside of it.

So, not only could they be hiding in the car’s internal components, but they could also be underneath, on tires, or even on top. Be mindful.

Keep Your Cats Inside

Depending on which part of the globe you live, it’s best to keep your cat inside all winter long. The weather can change drastically and your cats can be impacted. So, if possible, keep your precious purring pals indoors.

If you see feral or homeless cats outside, you can even offer them the warmth of your garage or outdoor spaces. This way, they can stop in to get warmed up and maybe even have a bite to eat before heading back out to the great outdoors.

Turkish Angora White cat sitting near a window
Image Credit: Aymara Herrera, Shutterstock

Make a Cat Box

There are plenty of ways you can make a cat box for cheap or even free. Many feral, homeless, and outdoor cats need a place to stay cozy when it’s just too cold outside. With the right materials, you can probably whip up a nice shelter in just an hour.

If you’re interested in creating a nice DIY shelter for cats, there are many sites with multiple ideas and tutorials, but we also have some tips!

  1. If you use a tote, make sure to insulate or double-line the inside. Totes, while strong, aren’t the warmest and will require extra protection to keep them warm. Often, folks use a big tote and a smaller tote for the inside and line in between with insulation.
  2. Straw is cheap, and it makes an impeccable insulator—it’s not just for barn animals! You can buy a bale of straw at local outdoor supply stores and private feed stores that carry farm animal products.
  3. Make sure drafts are kept from getting through. If the cats are getting a draft, it can defeat the whole purpose of having the shelter. It can even be dangerous, especially if they have fallen asleep!
  4. Build a big enough shelter to house your cat and a few friends. If you live in a residential neighborhood, plenty of other cold cats are likely hanging around that could use a little spot to get some shut-eye and not be completely miserable.

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So, now you understand a little more about why cats gravitate toward cars in winter. These poor little kitties just want to stay warm and often get lost or hit instead. It’s no one person’s fault, per se, but we can band together as cat lovers to make sure no furry felines are under the hood or on the tires.

If you have local outdoor cats in frigid temperatures, we implore you to create a safe space where they can seek refuge. It will only take a few dollars out of pocket, and they will be forever grateful for it!

Remember—keep your pet kitties inside this winter to keep them the safest.

Featured Image Credit: Naletova Elena, Shutterstock

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