Naturally it’s safest to keep your cat indoors and generally recommended, but some cats just prefer the outdoors. If you have an outdoor kitty, the winter can bring additional dangers to your feline friend. Here’s some tips to help keep your outdoor feline friend stay safe:
- Be aware that in cold weather, your cat’s caloric needs may change. In their efforts to keep warm, your cat will burn additional calories regardless of its activity level. Also if you feed your cat outdoors, use plastic bowls to keep their tongues from sticking/freezing to the sides of the bowl. Make sure they have fresh water available that’s not frozen and keep the bowls clean to avoid any skin conditions on the chin.
- Check your car’s engine and tires before starting it. Many outdoor cats will hide in the warm engine of a car or get out of the damp by sitting on top of its tires. To give any hidden kitties a warning, bang the top of your hood a couple of times and check your tires before you start the car.
- Do not leave your cat alone in the car, even for a few minutes. We all know about the dangers of leaving a pet unattended in the car on a hot day, but we may be unaware that the risks are the same when the weather is cold. A car can quickly turn into a deadly refrigerator when its engine is off, so never leave your kitty inside without a heat source.
- Watch out for antifreeze. Antifreeze has a taste that many household pets find irresistible, but its sweet flavor hides deadly toxins. To avoid an inadvertent poising, make sure to keep any bottles out of your cat’s reach (remembering that said reach is considerable!) and to clean up any spills or leaks quickly and thoroughly. That even includes drips and dribbles that end up on the ground when you refill your car’s tank.
- Wipe your kitty’s paws after it comes in from the cold. Unfortunately, many of the salts and other chemicals used to melt snow and ice in the winter can irritate the delicate pads on your cat’s paws. To keep painful ulcers and lesions from developing, give your kitty’s paws a quick wipe with a damp cloth or sensitive skin baby wipe whenever it comes back in the house. Also use pet-friendly substances on your own driveway and front walk/steps instead of traditional rock salt.
- Keep your house properly humidified. As we humans know from experience, cold air tends to be dry and can easily cause skin to become itchy, flaky and chapped. Not surprisingly, the same thing can happen to the tender skin on your feline friend’s paw pads. You can help minimize this by using a humidifier to keep the air in your house less dry, which benefits your pets and you!
- Check regularly for signs of frostbite. Whenever your cat goes outside on a particularly cold day, give it a quick exam to make sure that it does not have frostbite when it returns. Though its fur coat should keep its torso, legs and tail properly insulated, the skin on its ears, nose and paws is more exposed and should be checked closely. If you see evidence of frost bite, take your cat to the vet immediately. Do not try to warm the skin yourself!
- Encourage elderly cats to stay indoors. Older cats that are more inactive, have lost muscle tone or have lost weight will struggle to stay warm in cold weather and should probably not go outside in the winter if it can be avoided. Those with arthritis will usually find that the cold makes their joints stiffer and more painful. Elderly cats may also get disoriented or lost in the snow, which could have disastrous consequences. So if your kitty is getting on in years, talk to your vet about how and when to transition it to an indoor lifestyle.
- Make extremely cold days “indoor only.” If it’s too cold outside for you, then it’s too cold for your kitty too. And most of the time, your feline friend will figure that out as soon as it gets a blast of frigid air in its face when the door opens. Keep an eye on the weather report, though, as temperatures can dip fairly quickly from hour to hour. If you plan to be away from home during a day with an unpredictable weather forecast, it’s probably better to leave your kitty indoors (no matter how much it protests).
- Speak out if you see a pet left in the cold. Policing other people’s cats can be a dicey proposition. No one likes to have their parenting skills questioned! But we all have a moral duty to make sure that our feline friends are not endangered unnecessarily. So if you encounter a cat left out in the cold, politely let the owner know that you’re concerned. It’s possible that he or she is unaware of the situation and will correct it immediately. Document what you see, though, in case the problem persists. Make a note of the date, time, exact location and type of cat. If possible, take videos and/or photos. If you continue to see the cat in serious danger, contact your local animal control agency or county sheriff’s office to present the evidence and ask them to remedy the situation.
- Provide an outdoor insulated shelter for cats. These can be beneficial for your own outdoor cat if you’re ever not able to find them or stuck away from home longer than expected. Additionally it can provide a safe space that’s warm for other outdoor cats in your neighborhood or even ferals. Just make sure to keep the house clean and dry especially if you have an active feral colony in your neighborhood.