Cats are generally really good at being able to manage their body heat and adapt to their surroundings, but there is such a thing as too cold even for felines.
This can be a particular concern for cat owners if they have an outdoor cat, especially if they like to stay out overnight.
Ideally, a cat should be kept inside when the weather is cold or inclement. Locking cat flaps and ensuring you have an indoor cat litter tray and plenty of toys to keep them occupied (as well as a comfy, appealing bed) should help encourage them to stay inside.
But there are steps which can be taken to ensure your cat is safe if they simply won’t accept being indoors throughout winter.
How Cold Is Too Cold?
As mentioned, cats have fur, body fat and the ability to curl up to keep warm, but there could get to a point when these factors are not as effective anymore.
When the temperatures dip below freezing, hypothermia and frostbite are possible, just as with humans. If your cat is cold, they will often go looking for a place they can hunker down and curl up to trap their body heat, which is why many cats like round, high-edge beds or sleeping right in the corner of the sofa.
Outdoor Cats And The Cold
But if they’re outside, it could be harder for them to find the right comfortable spot. If they have access to a garage or outbuilding this could be good, but problems can start to emerge if not. From walking into your neighbours shed through the open door just before they lock it to resting under a warm car, your cat could unwillingly be placing themselves in danger.
How To Help Your Cat In The Cold
The absolute best way to help cats deal with the cold is to keep them indoors and away from the elements, but some felines will flat-out refuse to be in the house for more than a few hours at a time, claiming they were being held against their will when they next see Milo and Tiger from across the road.
Dedicated cat outbuildings can be a great idea for many outdoor cats, and should be a must if they spend time outside in general. They provide shelter, and you can fill them with blankets, toys, safe heated areas and even some food and water for when they can’t (or won’t) make it into the house.
You don’t always need to have a dedicated shelter or to make one, either. Even a simple large cardboard box covered with plastic sheeting could do. If you have a garage or shed which you can keep partially open, this could be used – as long as it is safe for your kitty to go into and explore.
Any shelter should be big enough for them to stand up and turn around inside.
Water which is not fresh can be a peril for cats. While most will avoid it anyway, there is a chance that they could consume anti-freeze, oils or salt from water left outside for too long or water on the floor.
Always ensure your cat has fresh drinking water outside. Keep it largely covered so it can’t become polluted, and check on it regularly to ensure it hasn’t frozen over. Bear in mind that your cat may also not like sharing their water so if next doors moggy also has a sip, it could be worth leaving a few dishes dotted around.
To deal with the cold, your cat may need a boost in calories to help with the extra energy used keeping them warm. Some more food or treats may be the best idea, but don’t go overboard if they have had a decrease in activity levels.
Microchips, collars and ID tags are essential year-round but particularly in winter and bad weather. You don’t want a neighbour finding your cat in their garage and not knowing where to contact.
Cats in Snow
Many cats will not entertain the thought of going out in the snow. We have all seen pictures of two lone paw prints outside the door before they have presumably turned around and headed back to bed.
But if they do, the most vital thing to remember is that they may have picked up grit, salt and other anti-freezers on their paws and fur. It is vital you wipe this off before they groom themselves and preferably rub them with a towel or cat wipe to remove residue.
Snow can also impose a danger by blocking routes, creating heavy branches and the inevitable melting and flooding so if you live in a country area or have a lot of snow, keep them inside. Make sure it doesn’t block any catflaps or outdoor houses too.
But some cats will be very inquisitive and like the soft feel under their paws. It could be worth monitoring them if they want to explore or shut off an area which they can do so safely.
Elderly cats and those with joint issues can really be affected by the cold, and suffer from mobility issues as well as pain.
Cats over the age of 12 are most likely to develop arthritis, but they’re very good at masking the pain so you may not even realise they’re suffering. Signs can also be subtle, so watch out for changes in behaviour and grooming, reduced activity and a change in toilet habits.
Try to keep these cats indoors as much as possible and give them warm areas. Also, ensure they remain active by using toys so their joints are still moving and don’t seize up, and they don’t add on weight. You may wish to use some medicines or supplements.
With the cold often comes darker days and earlier nights. Should your cat still be going outside, it is important to get them a reflective collar and a bell so they can be heard.
Persian cats and the Norwegian Forest cat have lovely thick fur all year round. Siamese or Manx cats can struggle in the cold, though.
A coat or jumper could be really helpful here. It will help them keep warm, even if they are just indoor cats.
What To Do If You Find A Stray Cat
Cold weather can be particularly hard for those kitties who have nowhere to call home.
You should always check for identification and ownership first. If they do have an owner, contact them rather than feed the cat yourself, because you don’t want to risk them not returning.
But if there are no signs, provide them with a warm cardboard box and some old blankets and towels, along with food and water. They may allow you to go near them but if not, leave them to their own devices to find the box.
Contact the RSPCA for further advice, who may wish to take the cat in. You can also contact local vets in case they have information about any lost cats or where to take the cat to keep it inside.
If they will come into your home and you’re happy to have them there then it could be a great way to keep them sheltered, but always follow the above steps first. Remember that adopting and even fostering a cat also comes with a lot of responsibility.