You know it’s getting cold when your furry Persian won’t leave her perch beside the stove. While cats are never really underdressed—they sport their favorite furs year-round—Jack Frost’s nip can still give your kitty a painful bite.
Without protection from the elements, cats can develop frostbite or hypothermia—a potentially deadly condition that may occur if their body temp drops even a few degrees. At the very least they can be miserable and cold—or even have ice balls form between their tiny toes.
With a few simple precautions you can keep your kitty cozy no matter what winter throws your way—and even save her life should she accidentally spend too much time in the bitter cold.
Do a background check.
Pets, like humans, have varying levels of tolerance to cold climates. While some breeds, such as Labradors or sheepdogs, are naturally well-suited to outdoor activities even in chilly weather, others may be more susceptible to the cold due to their breed characteristics. Short-haired cats, for example, may not have the same level of insulation as their long-haired counterparts and can feel chilly even in relatively mild temperatures.
If you’re unsure about your cat’s ability to handle colder climates, it’s best to consult with your veterinarian. They can provide guidance based on your cat’s breed, health, and specific needs. Veterinarians are knowledgeable about breed-specific traits and can assess whether your cat is better suited for colder climates or if they may be more vulnerable to the cold.
If your cat is not adapted to colder climates, it’s essential to take measures to ensure their comfort and safety. Keeping them indoors in a warm and sheltered environment, such as your house, is usually the best option. Indoor conditions provide a controlled temperature that helps protect your cat from the elements and keeps them cozy and safe.
Remember, even if your cat is accustomed to colder climates, it’s crucial to provide them with appropriate cat shelter and access to warmth during extreme weather conditions. This can include providing insulated shelters or heated beds in outdoor areas, or creating safe and warm spaces indoors for them to retreat to.
By understanding your pet’s specific needs and taking appropriate precautions, you can ensure that your furry friend remains comfortable and protected from the cold, no matter their breed or tolerance level.
Stay on top of grooming. – During the winter months, some cats develop a thicker hair coat as a natural adaptation to cold weather. While this additional insulation helps them stay warm, it’s important to prevent the hair from becoming matted. Wet and matted hair can create an environment where dirt, debris, and moisture get trapped, potentially leading to skin diseases and discomfort for your cat.To avoid matting and maintain your cat’s coat health during winter, here are a few tips:
- Regular brushing: Brushing your cat’s fur on a routine basis helps to remove loose hair, prevent tangles, and minimize mat formation. Choose a brush or comb appropriate for your cat’s coat type, and establish a regular brushing routine. This is especially important for long-haired cats or those prone to matting.
- Focus on problem areas: Pay extra attention to areas where matting tends to occur more frequently, such as the armpits, belly, and behind the ears. These areas can easily accumulate moisture and become matted. Regularly comb through these areas to prevent mats from forming.
- Monitor moisture: Keep an eye on your cat’s exposure to moisture. Wet fur is more prone to matting, so try to prevent your cat from getting excessively wet. If your cat does get wet, gently towel dry them to remove excess moisture, and consider providing a warm and dry environment for them to dry off completely.
- Consider professional grooming: If your cat’s fur is prone to matting or if the mats have become difficult to manage, seeking professional grooming services may be beneficial. Professional groomers have the expertise and tools to safely and effectively remove mats without causing discomfort to your cat.
Remember, maintaining a healthy and mat-free coat is important for your cat’s overall well-being. Regular grooming practices and monitoring their coat condition can help prevent skin issues and ensure that your cat remains comfortable throughout the winter season.
Give time for adjustment.
Transitioning from the sunny seasons to winter can pose challenges for cats, as their coats may not be immediately prepared to handle the colder temperatures. It typically takes around three to six weeks for a cat’s winter coat to grow thick enough to provide adequate insulation against the chill. During this transition period, it’s important to allow your cat to gradually adapt to the environment.
To help your cat acclimate, you can introduce them to the outdoors in shorter sessions and gradually increase the duration over time. Start with just 15 minutes a day and monitor their comfort level. This progressive approach allows their body to adjust to the temperature changes and for their coat to grow thicker.
Keep a close eye on the weather conditions and avoid taking your cat outside during extreme cold, heavy rain, or snowstorms. Provide a warm and dry shelter or designated area protected from the elements for your cat when they are outdoors. Watch for signs of discomfort, such as shivering or seeking warmth, which may indicate that it’s time to bring them inside to warm up.
It’s important to note that not all cats will enjoy or tolerate outdoor time during winter. Some cats, especially those who are elderly, have health conditions, or are not accustomed to colder climates, may prefer to stay indoors. In such cases, provide alternative indoor enrichment activities to keep them mentally and physically stimulated.
Always prioritize your cat’s safety and well-being, and consult with your veterinarian if you have specific concerns about your cat’s outdoor time during winter. They can provide personalized advice based on your cat’s individual needs and health status.
Do your share when it comes to skin care.
During winter, the air tends to be drier, which can result in dry and itchy skin for cats, even if they spend all their time indoors. To prevent this discomfort, you can provide your pets with a B-complex vitamin that contains fatty acids.
B-complex vitamins, particularly those that include essential fatty acids, can help support the health of your cat’s skin and coat. These fatty acids, such as omega-3 and omega-6, are known to have moisturizing properties and can help prevent skin from becoming excessively dry.
It’s important to consult with your veterinarian before starting any supplements for your cat. They can provide guidance on the appropriate dosage and recommend a suitable B-complex vitamin that contains the necessary fatty acids for your cat’s specific needs. They can also assess your cat’s overall health and determine if additional measures are required to support their skin and coat during the winter season.
In addition to providing supplements, there are other steps you can take to help alleviate dry skin in cats during winter. These include:
- Maintain a proper indoor humidity level: Use a humidifier to add moisture to the air in your home, especially in areas where your cat spends a significant amount of time.
- Regular grooming: Brush your cat’s coat regularly to remove any loose or dead hair that may contribute to dryness and matting. This can also stimulate oil production in the skin, helping to keep it moisturized.
- Balanced diet: Ensure your cat is receiving a balanced and nutritious diet that supports their overall health, including the health of their skin and coat. Consult with your veterinarian to determine the best diet for your cat’s specific needs.
By providing appropriate supplements, maintaining a suitable indoor environment, and practicing regular grooming, you can help keep your cat’s skin moisturized and alleviate dryness during the winter months.
Provide shelter. If it’s going to be minus 20 degrees for the next week, even if you have an outdoor cat, make arrangements to bring him into the garage or some other warmer place for a few days. In fact, even hardy cats should have shelter once the temperature dips into the teens or single digits. Cats will be comfortable in a barn or other outbuilding. Just make sure there’s a way for them to get in and out.
Watch that windchill. Even if the thermometer reads a relatively comfy 25°, a breeze can make it feel much, much colder. With the windchill factor it could feel like 25 below, so be prepared to bring your cat in when it’s blowing.
Listen to her appetite. If your cat lives outdoors, he’ll burn up a lot more calories in the winter just trying to stay warm and you may need to up his calorie intake. Your pet needs those extra calories not only for energy demands but also to get a thicker coat.
Keep her water dish full—and fluid. When the temperature drops, water freezes, and a cat can go for only 20 hours without water before becoming dehydrated. Provide fresh water frequently throughout the day to keep the water bowl full. Or you can buy an electric warming device that will keep the water liquid on even the coldest days.
Turn up the heat.
If you notice ice balls forming between your cat’s toes during winter, it’s important to address this issue promptly to prevent discomfort and potential injury. Here’s a recommended approach to melt the ice balls safely using a hair dryer:
Prepare the hair dryer: Set the hair dryer to a low heat setting and ensure it is at least six inches away from your cat’s paws. Using a low heat setting helps prevent any accidental burns.
Keep the dryer moving: Start by directing the warm airflow towards the ice balls between your cat’s toes. Keep the hair dryer moving back and forth to evenly distribute the heat and melt the ice. Avoid concentrating the heat in one spot for too long to prevent discomfort or burns.
Observe your cat’s comfort level: Pay close attention to your cat’s reaction during the process. If your cat shows signs of discomfort or distress, such as pulling away, vocalizing, or displaying stress behaviors, stop using the hair dryer immediately. It’s essential to prioritize your cat’s safety and well-being throughout the process.
Monitor for any injuries: After melting the ice balls, inspect your cat’s paws for any signs of injuries or irritation caused by the ice. Look for redness, swelling, cuts, or abrasions. If you notice any concerns, consult with your veterinarian for appropriate care and treatment.
Remember, prevention is key to avoiding ice balls between your cat’s toes. Keep your cat’s paws well-groomed and trimmed, especially the fur between the toes. Regularly check their paws for ice accumulation during outdoor activities and wipe off any snow or ice immediately. Using pet-safe paw balm or applying petroleum jelly to the paw pads can also help reduce ice build-up.
If your cat frequently experiences ice ball formation or has difficulty walking due to snow and ice, it may be beneficial to consider using pet booties specifically designed to protect their paws from winter conditions.
Always prioritize your cat’s safety and comfort when addressing any winter-related issues, and consult with your veterinarian if you have specific concerns or if your cat experiences persistent discomfort or injuries.
Search for damage. While working on your pet-icure, check to see if ice has scraped or cut the pads. If it has, apply a little first aid ointment containing an antiseptic to help prevent infection. Then rub on a little hand lotion or aloe vera to keep the pads soft.
Do an engine check. During the cold months many outdoor cats will creep into the engine compartment of cars to take advantage of the “central heating”—and then get hurt when someone turns the key. Before starting the car in the morning, you may want to check under the hood for visitors, vets advise. It takes only a minute and could save your pet’s life.
When to See the Vet
If your cat has been outside too long and you suspect he has frostbite—symptoms commonly include flushing, swelling and itching of the affected part—rub him gently with a blanket or your hands to gradually raise the temperature of the frozen parts. Don’t do a lot of rubbing or you’ll cause more damage. Frostbite is serious, so you’ll want to get your kitty to the vet as soon as possible.
The same advice applies if you suspect your cat has developed hypothermia, or low body temperature, which can cause shallow breathing, a weak pulse or shivering muscles. (If he’s not shivering, however, it could mean that your kitty has suffered severe exposure to cold and that his metabolism isn’t capable of spontaneously increasing body temperature.) You need to bring him into a warm environment and slowly allow him to rewarm.
But avoid using the heat from lamps, heating pads or open ovens, because your cat could be burned. Instead, wrap him in a warm blanket and hold him close so your body temperature will help raise his. Then get him to the vet as soon as you can.