The classic image of the cat by the fireplace represents many of the facets of feline fascination. How can they sit so close? What are they thinking about? Will she purr when I pat her?
Although very few modern homes have the old fashioned fireplace, the cat still gets the warmest spot! A visitor can always tell where the draught is least and the warmth is greatest by the feline heat-seeking instinct. Sit next to a cat and you will be comfortable!
How can a cat sit so close to the fire?
One of the interesting things about cats is their LACK of sensitivity to heat. They cannot feel heat on their footpads (which is why many a kitten is burnt jumping on the cooking hob – they don’t get off until their feet are burnt). They can detect heat with their nose leather (for the purposes of testing food temperature one assumes).
As far as sitting by the fire goes, the feline coat is an excellent insulator, with the ‘air in their hair’ preventing rapid changes of temperature and protecting them from heat and cold. Their skin will actually tolerate a heat of up to 54° C, while we humans move on at about 42°C. That is why the cat can sit so close and feel so warm to the touch!
Food for warmth
So how do we poor modern souls try to pamper our cats through the winter months? There are many and varied ways to keep your cat comfortable. The oldest method is feeding – horse people say a good feed is better than a rug, and certainly for cats who have to live out in the elements, food is the best ‘warmer up’ there is.
For the more leisured cat, there are heating mats that run on a few watts of power, so they don’t overheat. These can really make a difference to an older cat or one with arthritis. Many a venerable feline has improved just with a warming bed to sleep 23 hours a day away. Veterinarians commonly use them for animals recovering from surgery or illness. If you think your cat would benefit from a heating pad your vet can organise one for you.
There are also variations on the theme, such as ‘thermo-reflecting cushions’ that have a silvery reflective lining (like the ones ambulances use for hypothermic people).
Cushions and ‘igloos’
Furry or fleecy cushions and ‘igloos’ are also very popular. These come as natural wool, or synthetic wool and both are washable.
Snooza makes a pure wool futon mattress that keeps pets warm in winter and cool in summer. They are great for using inside, in the car, on the back verandah or for taking on holidays and a removable calico cover means they are easily washed.
Cats will fight for their place on a nice soft cushion (or two), especially in a warm or sunny spot. Washable inserts and removable covers make care easy, as well as allowing for a change in style if your cat chooses. Perhaps a faux fur leopard or cowhide print? Vet chic!
All cats love to hide and find a cosy ‘cave’ to snuggle in. The Snooza Igloo ensures they can do it comfortably and in style, with a range of tartan or luxury faux fur prints covering comfy foam in an ‘igloo’ design. These really get the thumbs up from cats!
It’s the position that counts
Of course, you can never predict what a cat will like, and some cats ignore the most fabulous offerings in favour of a cardboard box and towel! Or the owner’s bed! Sometimes it is the ‘newness’ of the bed that is the deterrent – remember that glues, packing materials and plastics smell strongly to cats, and sometimes what is needed to make the new bed smell like home is for a resident (preferred) human to sit on it for a day or two, just to get some of that friendly house smell started.
Quite often after that, it is the position of the bed that counts rather than the material. Cats like to be high enough to view the scenery (see picture) and send messages of demand with their meows or messages of love with their purrs.
Always let your cat tell you what she wants and be willing to experiment.
About the Author
Dr. Kim Kendall, BVSc MANZCVS (Cat Medicine and Animal Behaviour) is one of the best known feline vets and behaviourists in Australia and the world.
Since 1994 her dedicated cat-only veterinary, boarding and grooming centre, The Chatswood Cat Palace has been based on Sydney’s North Shore.
Dr. Kim has a passion for improving feline health, and wants the best emotional and physical wellbeing for all cats at home. She achieves this by incorporating real science to back up clinical judgement.
She is also a pioneering expert in the field of Feline Friendly Care at home and at the vet clinic and has written extensively on the subject.