Are Cats Warm Blooded? – Catmart
Biology

Are Cats Warm Blooded?

You might know everything there is to know about cats as pets; but how is your cat knowledge when it comes to biology?

Are cats warm blooded? They are. Cats are mammals, and all mammals are warm blooded. Being warm blooded means that an animal warms itself by burning some of the caloric energy it takes in. Simple sugars are sent to cells in the cat’s body, where they’re broken down for the energy they hold. The point is to keep the internal organs warm, because organs don’t work unless they’re kept warm. Cats are good at surviving the cold, but long-haired breeds can get too warm in the summer and experience heat stress. Other than that, the fact that cats are warm blooded doesn’t change how you care for them.

The guide below is a quick one! It first looks at the difference between a cold blooded animal and a warm blooded one, then looks at cats specifically.

What Does Warm Blooded Mean?

The term ‘warm blooded’ doesn’t just mean that an animal has warm blood. Cold blooded animals can have warm blood too. The difference is actually in how warm blooded and cold blooded animals make themselves warm.

Warm Blooded vs. Cold Blooded

Warm blooded animals generate their own heat, while cold blooded animals rely on the environment for warmth.

The core difference is this: warm blooded animals create their own body heat, while cold blooded animals rely on heat from the environment. There are distinct advantages and disadvantages to each approach.

Warm blooded animals stay warm by burning energy in cells for the purpose of generating heat. This energy comes from the food that the animal eats. It’s converted into simple sugars, sent to cells, and broken down to release energy/heat. This happens throughout the body, but is most important in the central regions as opposed to the outer limbs. That’s because it’s more important that the liver, kidneys and other organs stay warm rather than the hands and feet. Either way, the blood that travels to these organs is made warm by this energy-burning, and that warmth is passed on to all parts of the body anyway.

Cold blooded animals can’t do this, but they still need their organs to be warm to function properly. So, instead, they rely on the warmth of the sun! They find a sunny spot, often on a rocky outcrop, and sit there for a while. They’ll then hide away at night somewhere they can avoid the worst of the elements.

Warm bloodedness and cold bloodedness tends to be consistent in families of animals (large groupings of species). That means you don’t get one kind of rodent, for example, which is cold blooded and one which is warm blooded. Rather, it applies to classes, which are large groupings of families: classes are groups like Mammals or Reptiles.

Are Cats Warm Blooded Or Cold Blooded?

Cats are warm blooded. They can produce their own body heat, and do so in the way described above. That applies to every single housecat without exception, as well as all species of cat.

Are Cats Mammals?

Cats are mammals, and all mammals are warm blooded.

Contrary to what you might think, warm bloodedness hasn’t been around since the start of life. It has long been thought that warm blooded animals first evolved around 270 million years ago, which is long after the first advent of life (probably about 4.5 billion years ago). But according to EarthArchives.org:

Traditionally, scientists believed that the first true warm-blooded animals were mammal ancestors that appeared around 270 million years ago. Birds would evolve from non-avian dinosaurs a bit later, independently evolving a similar metabolism. An ancient relative of the famous sail-backed Dimetrodon has challenged this assumption, suggesting that a warm-blooded metabolism evolved much earlier in the mammal lineage.

Of course, it’s not possible to directly measure the body temperature of long-extinct animals, but having a warm-blooded metabolism leaves clues in an animal’s skeleton that can be used by paleontologists to determine whether they were closer to reptiles or mammals in terms of metabolism. … Ophiacodon lived 300 million years ago, during the Carboniferous period. That was at least 30 million years before the appearance of the first true known mammals, indicating that the furry creatures did not invent warm-bloodedness but rather inherited it from their more reptile-like forefathers.

Whatever the case, even the most ancient ancestors of mammals were warm blooded; today’s mammals haven’t evolved away from that trait yet. It’s reptiles, fish and other animals more closely related to their ancient ancestors that tend to be cold blooded.

Are All Cats Warm Blooded?

All members of the cat family are warm blooded, without exception. That includes wild cats like lions and tigers, as well as the wild ancestors of your cat, and your cat itself. Cats diverged from other mammals about 50-30 million years ago, which is long after warm-bloodedness evolved; cats therefore kept this trait even as they evolved to look different and behave differently to the other mammals.

Advantages of Being Warm Blooded Or Cold Blooded

The advantages of being warm blooded are obvious. Being warm blooded means that:

  • You can live in cold, snowy places and generate heat wherever you are
  • You don’t have to bask to keep warm, meaning you’re less vulnerable to predators
  • You can huddle together in groups so that you all keep warm (like penguins do)
  • When you have an infection, your body can generate high temperatures (a fever), which can help defeat the bacteria/virus

There are disadvantages to being warm blooded, though. Otherwise almost all animals would have become warm blooded by now. Generating warmth is very energy intensive, especially when you need to create a lot of heat, e.g. when shivering. Mammals therefore have to eat food more often than cold blooded animals like snakes. It’s thought that warm blooded animals need somewhere around 5 to 10 times the amount of food by body mass.

Does This Change How You Care For Cats?

If you were already caring for your cat properly, don’t worry. You don’t need to change a thing.

The fact that your cat is warm blooded means that it can more easily survive in the cold. But by the same token, cats (especially those of certain breeds) struggle to cool down in the summer. This is something you have to account for, as long-haired breeds can easily experience heat stroke if you’re not careful. Grooming your cat, trimming its coat, providing it with cool water and treats, and giving it somewhere shady to sit can all help.

But other than that—no. You don’t have to change the way you care for your cat just because it’s warm blooded.

It would be the other way round if your cat were cold blooded. Cold blooded animals require completely different care to common pets like cats. They need to be kept in temperature-controlled tanks, change their behaviors based on the seasons, and can easily pass away if not cared for properly. That’s fortunately not the case for your cat.

Hi! My name is Jamie Fallon. I run Catmart, an online cat health and cat behavior resource. If I'm not sat in front of my PC—and I usually am—then I'm either spending time with my cats or my other half... Whoever jumps on me or asks me for food first!

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