How to Help Outdoor Cats This Winter

While there are some pleasant things about winter, it is also quite inconvenient—especially for homeowners who have to shovel and worry about frozen pipes, or for drivers who have to clean snow off their vehicles and deal with icy road conditions. But for any poor soul that has to live outside during the colder months—including cats—winter can be downright dangerous. Yes, felines have “nine lives,” but that ancient proverb only goes so far up against Mother Nature.

According to Alley Cat Allies, here are four easy ways that we humans can making living outdoors more comfortable for cats when temperatures plummet during the winter:

1. Provide Shelter to Protect from the Cold

Provide shelters to keep cats warm. 
These can be easy and inexpensive to build yourself, or can be purchased pre-made online.

Insulate shelters with straw. Not only is straw less expensive and easy to come by (just check your local pet supply store or garden center), but straw also repels moisture. Avoid using fabric blankets or towels because they absorb moisture and can make the interior colder.

Remove snow from all shelter entrances and exits. It’s important to keep cats from getting snowed in.

2. Provide Food and Water – Increase Portions and Check Often 

Increase food portions to help cats conserve energy and stay warm. Canned or wet food, which takes less energy to digest, should be in insulated containers. Dry food, which will not freeze, also works.

Keep water from freezing to prevent dehydration. To keep water drinkable, use ceramic (crock) or plastic bowls that are deep rather than wide and place them in a sunny spot. Or use heated electric bowls. Avoid using metal bowls.

3. Remember Safety – Precautions Can Save Lives

Do not use antifreeze, which is deadly, in an area accessible to cats. Keep antifreeze out of reach and clean up spills. Most antifreeze brands use ethylene glycol as the main ingredient, so be sure to switch to a brand made with propylene glycol because it is less toxic.

Refrain from using salt and chemicals to melt snow. These can be lethal when licked off paws or ingested from melting puddles. They also hurt a cat’s paw pads. Alternatively, pet-friendly deicers are available at most pet stores.

Tap the hood before you drive. Give the hood of your car a few taps before starting it to make sure that a cat has not hidden underneath the car or inside the engine for warmth. Also, always check between your tires and wheel wells.

4. Spay and Neuter – Improve Cats’ Health 

Spaying and neutering improves a cat’s overall health, and healthier cats are better equipped for the cold elements once winter arrives. However, if you’re conducting Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) — widely considered the only humane and effective approach to stabilize community cat populations — in the winter, follow these safety tips:

Check the traps frequently and provide a warm holding area, pre- and post-surgery. If it’s too cold for you, then it’s probably too cold for cats to be in traps, exposed to the elements, for extended periods of time. Keep traps covered and secured in a temperature-controlled vehicle or building.

Ask your veterinarian to shave only a small area for the cat’s spay or neuter surgery. This will help the cat stay warm by maintaining maximum fur coverage.

Additional winter weather tips for outdoor cats can be found here.