By Katherine Tolford
Cats are resourceful creatures with good survival skills. But when the cold chill of winter sets in they are vulnerable to a host of hazards. Dr. Jessica Trimble from fuzzy.com, an in-home veterinary preventative care service, has a list of cold weather mistakes to avoid that will help keep your kitty comfortable throughout the winter months.
Letting your cat outside when it’s cold
“If you can’t go outside in a regular jacket then your cat shouldn’t. Rain, not just snow, can cause illness and hypothermia. Your cat's fur coat only really works when it's dry. If your cat’s fur gets matted from being wet or snowy it can’t trap heat among the hair filters like it should,” Trimble says.
You can try using a hair dryer to dry her off quickly but since most cats won’t tolerate that Trimble says a nice rub down with a warm towel may be a better alternative.
Inspect your cat when she returns home
If your cat does spend time outdoors make a habit of looking her over when she comes in.
Examine her ear tips, nose and toes for a change in color, which could mean frostbite. If you do notice a change give her a warm bath and wrap her up in a warm towel and call your vet.
Check her paws to make sure there isn’t rock salt stuck in between her toes which can be toxic or for bits of sharp ice which can cause cuts. Then wipe down her fur and feet.
Cats have an undercoat of soft fluffy fur and a topcoat of coarser fur which helps to fend off wind and rain. “If you bathe your kitty too much in the winter or shave her she loses the natural oils in her fur that help repel moisture,” Trimble says.
Longhair cats are prone to getting snowballs on their bellies and the long fur between their toes can cause discomfort and slow them down. Regular brushing can help keep their fur from matting and redistribute their natural oils which help keep their coat shiny and healthy. Keep the patches of fur in between your cat’s toes well trimmed. Rock salt, which can be poisonous, can get lodged in these areas and your cat will try to lick the area clean.
A small doghouse or even a Rubbermaid type container that’s small enough to trap heat but big enough for your kitty to get inside it will do. Tailor it to your kitty by cutting a hole big enough to fit her.
“Make sure it’s a water tight container. Also regularly check it to see if feral cats or raccoons have moved in,” Trimble says.
In cold weather it’s easy for cats to lose the scent back home. If your cat wears a safety collar it could come apart so make sure he’s micro chipped with up-to-date information. During the holidays indoor cats have a higher chance of escaping if there’s a lot of foot traffic in your house. So keep a watchful eye on the door to see who is coming and going.
Not paying attention to your cat’s behavior
While signs of hypothermia such as an abrupt change in behavior, moving slowly or in a sluggish manner or non-responsiveness are obvious, Trimble says cats are also good at masquerading their discomfort.
“Humans are wimps compared to cats. They hide their symptoms. Cats may stay outside longer than they should or hide their pain. Keep a close eye on them so you don’t miss the chance to catch any potential health issues early on.”
Proper senior care
Older cats with issues such as arthritis may have a hard time tolerating colder weather especially if they have achy joins. Trimble says an extra soft bed can bring them some comfort as well as a sweater if they will tolerate it. Senior felines also get more disoriented. So keep a close eye on them.
Not providing a reliable water source
Cats can get dehydrated in the winter just as they do in the summer. It’s important to regularly replenish a clean adequate source of water so she won’t be tempted to look for other sources that may be contaminated. “Have a reliable water source that won’t freeze. Consider using electric or solar powered bowls that don’t allow ice to form,” Trimble says.
Indoor cats don't usually need more calories in the winter. But if they spend time outside it may be a good idea to increase their food intake to compensate for the extra calories they burn to keep warm. But consult with your vet before changing your cat's diet.
Not taking proper precautions in rural and hillside areas
Trimble says it’s harder for wild animals such as coyotes to find adequate food sources in the colder months. “Your cat could end up being a meal for predators. Keep her indoors and supervised.”
Not caring for your cat’s dry skin
Although staying indoors is best for your cat the dry heat that keeps our homes warm can also dry out her skin and coat. Adding omega-3 fatty acids, which can be found in fish oil to her diet, will help keep her skin and coat shiny and healthy. Talk to your vet about formulas and a recommended dosage.
Not safety proofing your home
Cats are known for their dexterous ability to squeeze into small spaces to keep warm and cozy. But some of the spaces they’re drawn can be dangerous such as fireplaces and window nooks. Keep fireplaces screened off and seal up windows. Cats are also drawn to the warmth of space heaters so purchase models that have an automatic shutoff option in case it gets knocked over. Trimble advises owners not to leave candles unattended. Cats like to play with anything that moves, including a flame. It’s easy for them to get singed.”
Trimble also recommends that you make a habit of banging on the hood of your car before starting it up. “Kitties love enclosed warm places to sleep. A warm engine fits the bill. They also like to hide in wheel wells.”
Clean up puddles of antifreeze and rock salt in and around your home. The chemicals used for de-icing and desalting the sidewalks are poisonous to cats. Make sure any containers you store are clearly marked and out of your cat’s reach and away from her environment. Inspect your car for any leaks.
If your kitty ingests even a small amount it could cause kidney failure and even death so get her to the vet right away.
Holiday mistakes To Watch Out For
Not giving your cat her own space
Cats are not known for being the life of the party. So they’re not likely to support your Martha Stewart tendencies during the holidays.
“When guests arrive a cat’s stress and anxiety levels often increase. Cats don’t usually do well with noise and large groups of people,” Trimble says.
Give your kitty the option of having a quiet place to hang out in a small room or an area away from the action. Trimble also recommends using a pheromone product such as Feliway which mimics the natural facial pheromones cats produce when they’re happy. It’s available in a diffuser, spray or wipe formula.
Cats can while away a whole afternoon chewing on your favorite houseplant. But many are poisonous, especially holiday varieties such as holly bows, evergreen trees, lilies and poinsettias. Keep them out of reach.
Just the smell of turkey can drive your kitty crazy. But Trimble says cats can’t tolerate a lot of “people” food. “It’s not a good idea to feed your pets turkey skin and other bits from holiday meals. Cats are prone to stomach issues. I also see an increase in cats with pancreatitis during the holidays.”
Since cats are hunters by nature don’t tempt them by leaving plates with enticing bits of turkey or ham within sight or reach. Clean up after meals and instruct your guests to resist slipping your kitty a treat.
Trimble has a few suggestions if you want to give your cat something special for the holidays
“It’s okay to give your cat plain cooked turkey. But no skin, bones or gravy. Canned pumpkin, green beans, peas and carrots are also okay. But only give your cat its regular portion size or smaller, especially if they’re getting their normal meal that day.”