Cold-Weather Solutions for Cats

Cat and dog owners are urged to act now in winterizing their pets and homes.

Posted: December 12 2007 2 a.m. EDT

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Your cat’s winter coat is not enough to shelter it from the cold. According to the California Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA), pets can be extremely vulnerable in the winter months if they are exposed to cold weather and potentially dangerous elements found in and around their owners' homes. Additionally, as pets vary in size, age and health status, you need to discuss your pet's individual needs with your veterinarian.

"Cars, antifreeze, heaters and wood stoves can be death traps for animals if pet owners are not careful," Dr. Jeff Smith, president of the CVMA, said. "Even inside a house or apartment, though it may be warmer, dangers are present. Anything with an electrical cord or heat source, which may provide extra warmth for humans in the winter, may be dangerous to the average pet."

The CVMA asks that cat owners heed these warnings when it comes to protecting their pets from a cold environment:

  • Keep antifreeze away from pets. Cats and dogs like the sweet taste and smell of the chemical, but ethanol glycol-based antifreeze is highly poisonous. That's why some states have required that a bittering agent be added to antifreeze to make it taste unpleasant.
  • Bang on your car before starting the engine. Outdoor cats often will curl up into the wheel wells and engine compartments for warmth, and they could get trapped.
  • Don't play near frozen lakes, rivers or ponds. Your dog could slip in and drown.
  • Protect animals from wood stoves and portable heaters. Cats can jump on top of them, causing burns to their paws.
  • Keep nails clipped. Shorter nails allow for better traction on icy surfaces.
  • Provide plenty of fresh water. Your cat is just as likely to get dehydrated in the winter as in the summer. Snow is not a substitute for water.
  • Wind chill makes days colder than what the actual temperature might show, so you should limit your pet's time outdoors.

Veterinarians say that, if at all possible, it's best to keep pets inside and ensure that they stay warm, especially at night. If an animal must be kept outside during the day, make sure it is given proper shelter, food and water. That means:

  • Providing a doghouse large enough to allow a dog to sit and lie down comfortably, but small enough to hold its body heat.
    Positioning the doghouse out of the wind or placing it on a raised platform for warmth.
  • Covering the floor with cedar shavings or straw and changing the bedding regularly. Blankets are not recommended as they will just get wet and freeze.
  • Giving outdoor pets more food because they will need more energy to stay warm.
  • Using plastic food and water bowls rather than metal to keep containers from freezing. Darker colors are recommended as they will absorb more heat.

    The CVMA cautions that in the wintertime, pets can be more susceptible to illness. Frostbite can be a hazard, especially for animals not offered proper housing. The tips of the ears, tail and feet are particularly susceptible. If a pet owner suspects his or her pet has been exposed to a poisonous substance or is experiencing a sudden drop in body temperature, call a veterinarian immediately.

Winter can pose special risks to many household animals, and consulting your veterinarian about a pet's needs early on can keep everyone safe and healthy during the holiday season.

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Reader Comments

shelia    london, KY

12/11/2009 12:20:23 PM

There is a lot of straycats that live outside my apt. bldg. It's wintertime and I worry about them being in the cold. My neighbors and I look out for them the best we can. We have made a shelter for them out of an old tvstand, plus a cardboard box that I have taped plastic inside the walls and put them for them to lay on. Do you think they will survive winter living in these conditions? We feed them good. There is about 4 that stays in the wood tv stand&1 in box. All this is placed under the breezeway under the stairs. They seem like their comfortable when they are there. I wish we could keep them inside our apts. but we're not allowed. Your articles gave me a lot of good tips on taking better care of them. Thanks alot.

gord    kirkland lake, ON

1/3/2009 12:36:24 PM

um, I had a cat that lived to be 19 years old. It loved the outdoors but, she knew her limits. When it was time to come back in, trust me, she let us know!

Marielle    Mississauga, ON

12/12/2007 12:18:37 PM

Two of my cats really don't like the cold weather, so they are happy to stay inside in the wintertime. One of them just loves to go outside in any weather, so I take her outside and I watch for salt and other hazards. If she goes somewhere where there could be salt, I wash her feet when we go back inside. I also have to keep checking on her to find out when she is getting cold so I should take her back inside. This winter so far she's let me know when she had enough of the cold. Previous winters, she just used to sit and start shivering. I have booties for her so when she wears them she stay warmer longer and I don't have to worry about the salt, but she doesn't like wearing them so much :-)

Jessi    Hanover, VA

12/12/2007 9:04:26 AM

I knew most of these tips, but it never hurts to get a quick refresher course! It's important to keep these things in mind especially now, when we are busy going shopping or to parties/events. Our pets rely on us, and we have to give them the best!

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