20 Essential Winter Safety Tips for Cats

Winter time can be a season of fun filled holiday events with family and friends, but it can also bring perilous times for cats. Whether indoor or outdoor pets, the cold of wintertime and the additional activities put your kitty at a heightened risk for harm or sickness. With the holidays landing in the middle of the winter months, activity in your home may increase and your schedule may be full to the brim. It’s important to remember that your cat depends on you to be mindful of his needs, because he cannot care for himself and he may innocently get into trouble if you haven’t made the winter preparations that will protect him from accidental harm. Here are 20 essential winter safety tips for your cats, to help keep them safe and warm when the weather outside is frightful.

1. Provide warm shelter for outdoor cats

There is a common myth that is circulating about cats raised outdoors. Some owners believe that they are resilient and can handle any type of weather that mother nature can dish out. The truth of the matter is that outdoor cats are at a greater risk for harm than the kitties who are raised indoors. They must often fend for themselves and they face the additional risk of avoiding predators who are looking for a quick meal. Fur can help but it has limitations. Winter fur thickens during the cold months. Although it does offer additional protection from the cold, it is still possible for your cat to sustain injury if left out in the cold too long. In extreme winter weather, temperatures can plummet suddenly. Strong winds can make things worse by adding a wind chill factor that can put outdoor cats at risk for hypothermia or frostbite. If your outdoor cat doesn’t have a warm place to get in out of the cold, it’s recommended that you bring them indoors when temperatures are below freezing. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

2. Make noise on your vehicle before starting the engine

When it is cold outside, cats will seek warm places to shelter. One of the more common places is near your car’s engine. Cats frequently climb up from under the wheel wells to elevate themselves off of the cold and freezing ground. When nestled inside of the car, they are sheltered from biting winds, and just after the car has been used, there is still warmth from the running of the motor. There have been multiple cases of cats being caught in the fan belt of a car and seriously injured or killed, so it’s best to make some type of commotion so they will know that you’re there. Check around to ensure that your cat is in view before you turn the key in the ignition. While this is a good habit to get into in all months of the year, it happens most often in cold weather.

3. Avoid overfeeding

Some pet owners increase the caloric intake of their pets during cold weather. While outdoor cats may require a boost in calories, indoor cats certainly will not. Overfeeding an inside kitty can lead to obesity and potentially, associated health problems down the road. For outdoor cats, increase the amount of lean protein to compensate for activity performed in the cold weather. Avoid adding unhealthy fats to the diet. For indoor cats, maintain the normal feeding regimen. When physical activity is increased, more protein rich food is fine, but not unless your cat becomes more active. In a temperate climate, there will be no undue stress on their metabolism, therefore no need to increase servings size. If you are in doubt about how much you should be feeding your cat during the winter time, it’s a good idea to ask the vet that you use regularly. Considerations include not only activity level, but also the size and weight of your cat.

4. Keep your cat hydrated

Kitties are just as likely to become dehydrated in the winter as they are in the warmer months. You may need to be more vigilant about their access to clean fresh water in the winter time. Indoor heating can cause an increase in the evaporation rate so you may need to fill the bowl more frequently. For outdoor cats, check often to ensure that the water has not frozen over. When it does, break the ice so the cat can access the water, or replace with unfrozen water frequently. Eating snow is not the same as drinking water. It can cause a lowering of your pet’s body temperature, which makes him more vulnerable to hypothermia. Dehydration can lead to severe kidney issues. Keep the water dish full so your cat doesn’t attempt to drink out of the toilet bowl.

5. Stay with your cat if he toilets outdoors

Your cat may be house trained to go outside instead of using a litter box. If this is the case it is best to make sure that he doesn’t get out of your site when you let him out. Cats are naturally curious, particularly when they are still kittens. He could wander off and get lost in the freezing cold. In addition to this, winter time brings a scarcity of food and there are predators who are actively looking for their next meal. Hawks and eagles have been known to swoop out of the sky and capture small animals. If you live in an area where there are foxes, coyotes, wolves or cougar, the risk is substantially higher. It is best to keep an eye on your cat and bring him in immediately after he has conducted his business.

6. Limit time outdoors for elderly cats and kittens

Kittens do not have a thick fat layer built up yet, nor is their coat heavy enough to protect them from the cold. If you let your kitten out to play or explore, limit the amount of time that is spent outdoors when the weather is wet, cold and windy. Elderly cats may have decreased circulation and this can make it more difficult for them to maintain their body heat. They will chill much quicker and outdoor time during adverse weather conditions should be limited for them as well.

7. Never leave your cat in the car

You may decide to combine a trip to the vet with taking care of some errands, but this isn’t a good idea. Even when left in a car for a quick trip inside of the market, the temperature can drop very quickly and your cat can become chilled, or even hypothermic. You should never leave your pet in the car with the engine running. Carbon monoxide fumes that are generated can be deadly and it doesn’t take long for your cat to be overcome by the fumes. The danger of this is much greater when your car is parked inside of a parking garage, or any other enclosed area. Plan visits to the vet to be solo excursions so you won’t run into this problem.

8. Keep antifreeze out of reach

Antifreeze is highly toxic for animals and humans. It is very thick and sweet. Pets are attracted to it and are likely to ingest it. It doesn’t take much to kill a cat. It is a deadly chemical and any pet that laps it up must be taken to a vet immediately. This type of poisoning requires aggressive treatment and even with immediate care, there are no guarantees of survival. If your cat walks through a pool of antifreeze and then licks his paws, he can ingest enough to kill him. The solution to this problem is to keep all antifreeze containers tightly capped and stored in a safe place. Inspect your driveway to ensure that there are no pools from leaky vehicles. If you see any spills, wipe them up immediately and dispose of the cleaning cloths in a sealed bag that is placed in a secure waste receptacle that your cat cannot get into.

9. Keep all holiday plants out of your cat’s reach

Cats are notorious for playing with household plants and for chewing on them. Certain holiday and other plants are extremely toxic and can make your cat sick, or worse. Holly leaves and berries, and mistletoe are poisonous plants. Bringing them into your home can put your cat at risk. Instead of using real plants, consider substituting them with silk or other artificial plants. If your kitty does happen to eat a plant that is questionable, call the Animal Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435 or contact your vet immediately. Some other household plants are also toxic including ficus and poinsettias to name a few.

10. Protect your pet from heat sources

Space heaters are a common heat source used during the winter months. They also present a danger for your kitty as well as for the rest of the household. Pets have been responsible for multiple instances of house fires from knocking over a space heater, or chewing on the electrical cord. The best course of action to take is to use alternate heat sources. If you must use a space heater, place it in a safe place and restrict your cat’s access to it. Prevent access to all electrical cords to prevent accidental electrocution from chewing. Fireplaces, baseboard heaters and radiators can also pose a burn hazard for your kitty. It’s best not to leave them along for long periods of time near heat sources. This is especially true if they generate enough heat to cause burns. If your cat gets cold, he may attempt to snuggle too close to a heater and burn himself.

11. Give your cat a warm place to sleep

Cats who sleep on the floor during the winter months can catch a chill. They should have a soft and warm surface to sleep on at night. A pillow, blanket or pet bed is ideal. Elevating the bed off of the floor can help to keep your pet warmer and more comfortable. Also, avoid placing your pet’s bed in drafty areas that are near doorways or drafty windows.

12. Wipe and inspect your cat’s paws after being outside

When snow and ice are present on porches, sidewalks and driveways, residents often use some type of ice melt to remove the ice and eliminate the dangers of slippery walkways. The chemicals used in rock salt and ice melt can be hazardous to the health of your cat. He may lick the residue off of his paws after returning indoors. These chemicals may cause skin irritation, or if ingested, they can make your cat sick. To keep your pet safe in the winter, wipe his paws and legs to make sure that there are no traces of ice melt on them. Inspect the paws while you’re at it, because walking over hard crusted snow and ice can cause cuts to the pads of his feet. In addition to this, snow can form balls in the fur in between the toes and cause irritation. This may make it difficult for your cat to walk without pain. By taking this preventative measure you are helping to keep your cat safer and healthier.

13. Remove snow and ice responsibly

Snow and ice can collect on rooftops. When the weather warms, large sheets of frozen debris can become dislodged and slide downwards. If your cat is sitting or standing underneath the eve when it slides, he can be seriously injured. Icicles that form along the eves and gutters are also a danger that should be safely removed.

14. Your cat still needs exercise

Even when the weather is cold, your cat needs to get exercise. If your cat is leash and harness trained, use this to take him out for walks when the weather permits. You can more easily keep an eye on him and prevent him from wandering away, or into areas where ice melt is present. Avoid tethering him out and leaving him alone. If you are getting cold and feel the need to retreat indoors, your pet is likely to feel the same way about it. Choose sunny days with little wind for outdoor excursions, whenever possible.

15. Special care is required for elderly cats

Older cats develop special care needs. Arthritis is a common health condition that develops with the aging process. It causes stiffness, discomfort and possibly pain in the joints that may be aggravated when the weather is cold and damp. Your cat may need to see a vet, or be placed on supplements that encourage natural lubrication of the joints to increase mobility and lessen discomfort. It may be difficult for him to walk up and down stairs so you may need to assist him. If his favorite resting place is in an elevated area, place a piece of furniture or other object that can serve as a step to help him avoid the need to jump. Keeping him out of cold winds and away from drafts is recommended. Poor circulation can cause your kitty to chill easily and he may have trouble keeping his body temperature up in colder weather.

16. Be familiar with the signs of hypothermia

You are the person that your cat depends on for food, shelter, love and care. It’s important that you become aware of the signs of potentially harmful conditions. Catching hypothermia in the early stages can help in preserving or saving your cat’s life. If your kitty has been out in the extreme cold for an extended period of time, watch for the following signs. Shivering, anxiety and crying. If your cat’s behavior is different or if he exhibits these symptoms, he may be in the early stages of hypothermia. Slowly warm his body by bringing him indoors, drying his fur and keeping him away from drafts. If he becomes lethargic or acts depressed, he may be in more advanced stages. Do not hesitate to call the vet if you suspect that your cat is hypothermic.

17. Know the symptoms of frostbite

Frostbite is not always immediately recognizable. When animals or humans are exposed to extremely cold temperatures, the body’s natural response is to direct the blood flow to the center of the body. This leaves the extremities more vulnerable to frostbite. With blood circulation decreased, the ears, nose, paws. legs and tail can more quickly freeze. When ice crystals form within the tissues, damage occurs. Signs of frostbitten areas are a pale appearance on the skin that may look gray in color. Frostbitten skin will eventually turn black and slough off. Gradual warming is recommended, but be prepared for what is to come. As the tissues begin to warm, your cat is likely to experience extreme pain in these areas. You should call your vet to discuss the symptoms which will likely trigger the need for a medical examination, depending on the severity for the frostbite.

18. Moisturize if your cat develops dry skin

Cats are not that different to people when it comes to the effects of winter weather on the skin. Artificial heat can dry out the air in your home and lessen the humidity. Skin becomes more prone to drying out. While drinking plenty of water can be helpful, it doesn’t always prevent the development of dry skin. If your cat develops itching or irritation of the skin, the likely cause is drying if they are otherwise healthy and free of fleas and other pests. A good solution for this problem is to give your cat a supplement of healthy oils that contain omega 3 fatty acids. You can also use a fragrance and preservative free moisturizer on your pet’s skin. If you are uncertain which kind to use, consult with your local veterinary for recommendations.

19. Provide a quiet warm place when guests arrive

Winter is the time that the holiday season rolls around. This could mean that there will be an increase of traffic in your home. Visiting friends and relatives can fill your house up quickly. While some pets adapt to this kind of change well, others don’t. Prepare a room for your pet to go that is private and quiet so he can get away from the noise and commotion when needed. Cats value their privacy and a houseful of people may cause them undue stress. A respite room gives your cat the freedom to choose when to mix with company and when to retreat to a more private area.

20. Keep holiday table scraps out of reach

Holidays often mean baking and preparation of food. This can also be a busy time for you, so it is important to be mindful to keep baking and cooking scraps up and away from your kitty. While the food may be delicious for humans, many of the foods that we enjoy are not healthy for cats. The best food for your kitty is the formula that was designed specifically for feline health. If you have company, instruct your guests, especially children, that they should not allow your cat to share the foods that they are eating. Sugar, chocolate, fatty foods, bones from meat products and other foods should be kept away from kitty. Alcoholic beverages should be kept out of reach because you cat is likely to drink out of any open containers left at floor level or on low counters.
Uncooked dough also presents a serious health hazard for your kitty. Prior to baking, the yeast in dough will continue to rise. This could cause extreme gastrointestinal issues or possibly even an intestinal blockage that may require surgical intervention. Dispose of all scraps in tightly wrapped bags, and take them out of the house to a secure garbage receptacle to help your kitty avoid the temptation.

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