Cold weather can be hard on cats, just like it can be hard on people. When the thermometer dips below freezing, it is important to protect your cats from the cold spell. The most important is to keep your cat indoors. Probably the best prescription for winter's woes is to keep your cat inside with you and your family. Being outdoors, unattended does nothing to improve the quality of your cat’s life.
Cold weather problems
Sometimes cat parents forget that their pets are just as accustomed to the warm shelter of the indoors as they are. Some people will leave their cats outside for extended periods of time, thinking that they will adapt to life outdoors. This can, however, put pets in danger of serious illness.
Hypothermia, or a body temperature that is below normal, is a condition that occurs when the cats are not able to keep their body temperature from falling below normal. It happens when they spend too much time in cold temperatures, or when cats with poor health or circulation are exposed to cold. In mild cases, your cat will shiver and show signs of depression, lethargy and weakness. As the condition progresses, her muscles will stiffen, her heart and breathing rates will slow down, and she will stop responding to stimuli. If you notice these symptoms, you need to get your cat warm and take her to your veterinarian.
Another cold-related problem is frostbite. Sometimes your cat may accidentally be left outside or become lost during a heavy snowstorm. The result could be frostbite. If this happens, remember - frozen tissue should never be rubbed. This causes additional tissue damage. Prompt veterinary treatment is needed. If this is not possible, warm the affected area rapidly by immersing in warm, never hot, water or by using warm, moist towels that are changed frequently. As soon as the affected tissues become flushed, discontinue warming. Gently dry the affected area and lightly cover with a clean, dry, non-adhesive bandage. If frostbite is in the later stages, gangrene may set in and cause all kinds of infections. So, if you suspect your cat has frostbite, take her to the veterinarian.
How to deal with cold weather?
As winter weather really sets in, don't forget to help keep your cats warm and safe. Help your cats remain healthy during the colder months by following these simple guidelines.
- The winter season can be harsh on cats, so you should fortify their coat. Supplementing their diet with essential fatty acids that will cause the coat to grow a bit thicker for the cold months. Vegetable oils such as canola oil, safflower oil, soybean oil, butter and fish oils are high in these fatty acids. They can be added to the food. Cats do have a preference for the fish oils!
- Increase your cat’s supply of food, particularly protein, to keep her fur thick and healthy through the winter months. So long as your cat does not have a weight problem, give her extra food and treats during the winter months to help her keep warm.
- Give your cat vitamins E and B-complex that will strengthen the tissues and make cats more resistant to cold weather. Be careful, though, because providing additional vitamins can actually cause imbalances in diet and medical problems.
- Be particularly gentle with elderly and arthritic cats during the winter. The cold can leave their joints extremely stiff and tender, and they may become more awkward than usual. Stay directly below these cats when they are climbing stairs or jumping onto furniture. Consider modifying their environment to make it easier for them to get around. Make sure they have a thick, soft bed in a warm room for chilly nights.
- Make sure your cat has a warm place to sleep far away from all outside drifts and preferably off the floor - such as a basket or a cardboard box with a warm blanket in it. If your cat normally sleeps on the floor, provide her with a warm and comfortable mat or a cat bed.
- Keep fireplaces screened. Cats luxuriate in its warmth. However, if they lie too close to the fire, they are in danger of hot cinders or sparks. Fireplace heat also contributes to dry skin. Fumes from the fireplace may cause respiratory problems in some cats.
- If you have to take your cat to the vet, put a hot water bottle in the carrier. You can also put the cat's bed in the dryer for a few minutes before putting it into the carrier. A cover or towel on the carrier is good for blocking draughts.
- Keep your pet's coat well-groomed. Matted fur won't properly protect your pet from the cold.
Cats are social animals that crave human companionship, so your animal companions deserve to live indoors with you and your family. But if you permit your cat to go outdoors or live outside completely, here are some tips that will keep them in good condition:
- Keep your cat outside as the weather starts getting colder so she can adapt. She or he needs to physically adjust to the temperature change, grow a thicker coat and build up a resistance to the weather.
- Cats that spend a lot of time outdoors need more food in the winter because keeping warm depletes energy. So cat owners may also have to change the eating habits of their pets during the winter.
- Check food and water often to make certain they are fresh and not frozen. Don't use metal bowls outside during the winter. Your cat's tongue may accidentally stick to the bowl. Sometimes the cat owners don't realize that a water bowl has frozen and their cats can't get anything to drink. The cats that don't have access to clean, unfrozen water are more likely to drink out of puddles or gutters, which can be polluted with oil, antifreeze, household cleaners and other chemicals.
- Especially important for every outdoor cat is to have a safe shelter for the cold winter nights and an insulated outdoor cat house would be a good idea. The house should be large enough for turning around, yet small enough to conserve body heat. The floor should be raised a few inches off the ground and covered with cedar shavings or straw. The house should be turned away from the wind, and its doorway should be covered with waterproof burlap or heavy plastic.
- Never use newspapers, towels or blankets inside a cat's shelter. They will retain the cold and become stiff and hard. Instead, use a straw.
- During the winter, cats sometimes sleep under the hood of your cars or in the garage where it is warm and comfortable. You should be aware that the antifreeze is of particular concern, as it can be deadly for cats that lick it from garage floors. If your cat sleeps under the hood of your car, when you start the motor she could get stuck or flung about by the fan belt, causing serious injury or even death. To prevent this, bang loudly on the hood and sides of your car before turning on the ignition to give the cat a chance to escape.