Perhaps one of the biggest misconceptions I have heard of is “this cat has so much fur, it can be outside in the winter”. Even though cats have much fur, their fur protects against excessive heat and not against the winter. It is therefore advised to keep cats warm in the winter.
Cats And Their Fur
Other times I hear “cats are animals of nature, they are used to the climate of Norway (but fill in any other country name that has some winter weather), they don’t need extra care, they will find themselves a safe place.
Unfortunately for the cats, they are creatures of a hot climate. Their fur is designed to transport heat away from their body, keeping them cool. As soon as their fur gets wet from snow or rain, they become more susceptible to hypothermia and frostbite. So cats should really be inside when the temperatures drop and the snow appears.
Keep Your Cat Inside
If you never have had your cat in, it is time to let the cat get used to being inside. Our cats generally do not go out as often when it is winter. Not that we don’t let them, they often enough say “hey I want to go out”. We then open the door and they just stand there, looking at the snow. “Oh.. snow.. never mind” it reads on their faces and their body language and then they turn around again to instead sleep on the sofa.
Make sure your cat(s) have a good place to sleep inside the house. Preferably away from floor level so that they don’t sit in a draft and are away from cold floors. A too dry area isn’t any good either, right underneath the heatpump or next to the fireplace isn’t really good for their fur either and their skin might get dry.
Screen your fireplace well enough so that no cinders or sparks reach their beautiful coat. Install cat beds and perhaps a cat tree to offer your cat higher places to stay warm.
Older cats might be more susceptible to stiffness in joints and muscles during the cold winter months due to arthritis or old age. Be careful that they jump correctly or that you adapt their environment for safe venturing between places.
An inside cat needs also an inside place to do their business, so add a litter box to your household and keep it properly clean.
If you however cannot have your cat inside at all, it is time to spend some time on building some sort of place to keep your cats warm. Perhaps your garage will suffice, or a garden house can be a safe haven for your cat(s). There are many designs on the internet for various catio’s and cat shelters. It is important to make it a warm and protected place away from possible predators and also away from direct wind.
The best thing to add to whatever shelter place you make for them, is a insulated shelter. This can be a container of some sort with a hole in it on the side big enough for your cat to get in and out of. The insulation part is really important to do it right. Never use news papers, towels or blankets. These absorb the humidity of the air and then that humidity freezes over, making the blanket/towel/newspaper hard and ice cold. It is way better to use straw as insulation material.
Big containers or hard plastic boxes can be a solution for a shelter, but also shelters made of wood can work out. One of the simplest shelter I have seen are the ones the RSPCA uses here in Norway: Polystyrene insulation boxes. This type of box is the type in which they transport shrimps or sliced salmon/fish.
I live in the country of fish (Norway) so it is easy to get these containers. The containers are about 1 meter in length and 40cm in width. They come with a lock of the same material. We usually lay straw or cedar material in the container before sealing the top and bottom part off with tape. On the side a hole is made big enough for cats to enter/exit. We use these containers for feral cats we didn’t manage to capture yet. We do the capturing mostly on day time, so on night time the traps are shut and the shelters are out and available for them.
While your cat adapts to the outside temperature, their fur grows thicker and the body starts to work on resistance. Outside cats need more food during winter, especially proteins. Make sure that your cat has access to clean and non-frozen water. Avoid using metal bowls as their tungs can stick to it when it is freezing outside. A dog house of our family has heating and insulation in the house and a water bowl with heating installed. They live in the mountains, so temperatures can drop to -35C in winter.
Hypothermia and Frostbite
Keep an eye on them, from day to day. Look at the signs for hypothermia or frostbite to recognize these. These conditions need to be treated by a veterinarian when you see it has happened to them.
When the condition of hypothermia progresses, your cat will have stiff muscles, your cats heart and breathing rate will slow down and will stop responding to stimuli. In any of these cases, you need to keep your cat warm and get to the veterinary clinic for help.
The other thing that can happen is frostbite. By frostbite we talk about tissue of the skin that gets damaged (frozen) by the cold temperatures. Remember to never rub frozen tissue. It is best to get to the veterinary clinic as soon as possible for extensive help. If that isn’t possible, you can warm up the area rapidly by immersing it in warm water (not hot!). As soon as the area is warm, you have to let it be. Still, a veterinary should have a look at it ultimately.
Long-haired cat owners: Keep your cat well groomed. An un-groomed fur won’t protect very well against the cold temperatures.
If you decide to keep your cat(s) in your garage, than make sure that your garage is clean and safe for cats. Toxic things like gasoline, oil and other toxic substances should be stored away. Even anti-freeze. They aren’t going to drink oil, but if their feet step in it and they lick it from their feet it can be hazardous.
I’ve never had a cat in a car engine, but it happens in some countries. So be careful in winter before you start driving, to check the car or the motor under the hood whether there is not a cat hiding there where the nice heat from the motor is coming from. I still believe this has to do with big pickup trucks. To be sure you can bang on your hood before you drive. Not a chance they can reach anything under the hood with our cars. This is also not a concern with electric cars.
If you are traveling with a cat, it is still not a good idea to leave him alone in a car. Just like with leaving animals unattended in a car during summer is bad, in winter temperatures can easily drop to a dangerous minus in the car, freezing your cat (dogs too, by the way).
But I do often check before driving generally, whether any cat is behind any of the four wheels, underneath the car etc. Because often cats (no matter whether its warm or cold weather) do hide here. Unfortunately I do have heard about people killing their own cats while driving off with their cars, so it is definitely a good idea to check for cats before you drive off.
Do you leave your cats inside or outside during the winter? Please share your comments below!