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. Not all pets are equally at home in a cold climate. While a Labrador or sheepdog might be comfortable outside on all but the coldest days, a short-haired cat might get chilly even when it’s balmy. Check with your vet if you’re not sure if your cat is bred for chilly climates. If she’s not, you’ll want to keep her where it’s warm—in the house.
Stay on top of grooming. If your cat grows a thick hair coat for the winter, you want to make sure it doesn’t get matted. Wet, matted hair can lead to diseases of the skin because the dead hair traps dirt and debris.
Give time for adjustment. After spending a nice sunny season warming himself in the yard, your cat may not be prepared for winter’s chill. It usually takes between three and six weeks after the temperature drops before your kitty’s winter coat gets thick enough to stave off winter’s chill. Allow the cat to slowly adapt to the environment by giving him progressive periods outside, starting with 15 minutes a day.
Do your share when it comes to skin care. Winter air can be extremely drying, and even cats that never set a paw outdoors can get dry, itchy skin. To prevent this, give all pets a B-complex vitamin that contains fatty acids, which will help keep their skin from drying out.
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 your cat has ice balls between his toes, you can melt them quickly with a hair dryer. Hold the dryer about six inches away and keep it moving until all the ice is melted. Just keep it on a low setting so you don’t burn them.
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.
As the winter chill sets in, it’s crucial to ensure the well-being of our beloved feline companions. Cats are susceptible to the cold, and without proper protection, they can experience frostbite, hypothermia, and other health issues. By taking a few simple precautions and providing them with the care they need, we can keep our cats warm, comfortable, and safe throughout the winter season.
Understanding your cat’s breed and susceptibility to cold weather is essential. While some breeds are naturally more adapted to colder climates, short-haired cats may struggle to stay warm even in milder conditions. Consulting with your veterinarian can help determine if your cat is suitable for colder climates. If they are not, it is best to keep them indoors where they can be shielded from the cold.
Maintaining proper grooming is crucial during the winter months. If your cat develops a thick winter coat, regular brushing is necessary to prevent matting. Mats can trap moisture and dirt, leading to skin diseases and discomfort. By regularly grooming your cat, you can help them maintain a healthy and well-insulated coat.
Allowing for a gradual adjustment to the colder environment is beneficial for cats who spend time outdoors. It takes time for their winter coat to thicken and provide adequate insulation. Start with short supervised outdoor sessions and gradually increase their exposure over several weeks. This gradual acclimation will help them adjust to the changing temperatures and minimize any discomfort.
Winter air can be dry, leading to itchy skin in both indoor and outdoor cats. Providing a B-complex vitamin supplement that contains fatty acids can help keep their skin moisturized and prevent dryness and irritation.
For outdoor cats, providing suitable shelter is essential. In severe weather conditions, such as freezing temperatures, strong winds, or snowstorms, it is advisable to bring your cat indoors or provide them with a warm and insulated space, such as a heated garage or a well-insulated outdoor shelter. Ensuring their shelter is dry, protected from the elements, and equipped with cozy bedding will help keep them safe and warm.
Monitoring the windchill is crucial as it can significantly impact the perceived temperature. Even if the ambient temperature seems bearable, the windchill factor can make it much colder and more uncomfortable for your cat. When strong winds are present, it is wise to keep your cat indoors.
Proper hydration is essential during winter. Fresh water should be readily available throughout the day, as water can freeze quickly in low temperatures. Consider using an electric water bowl or warming devices to prevent water from freezing and ensure your cat stays hydrated.
In case your cat does experience ice balls between their toes, gently melting the ice with a hairdryer on a low setting can provide immediate relief. Take care to keep the dryer at a safe distance to prevent burns. It is also advisable to inspect your cat’s paw pads for any cuts or scrapes caused by ice, applying antiseptic ointment to prevent infection.
When starting your car in the morning, be cautious of outdoor cats seeking warmth under the hood. Before turning the key, give a quick check to ensure no cats have sought shelter in the engine compartment, as this can result in serious injury. Taking this simple precaution can prevent potential harm to your cat.
If you suspect your cat has developed frostbite or hypothermia, immediate action is necessary. Gradually warming your cat using blankets or your body heat is advised, but avoid using direct heat sources like lamps or heating pads, as they can cause burns. Seek veterinary attention promptly to ensure proper treatment and care for your cat’s well-being.
By following these guidelines and providing extra care during the winter months, you can help safeguard your cat from the dangers of cold weather. Remember, your cat’s safety and comfort are paramount