As winter arrives in the Northern hemisphere, temperatures drop and just like for humans, the lifestyles of cats change. Cold weather can have a negative impact on the well-being of cats in a number of ways, but luckily there are steps that you can take to mitigate these effects.
Winter impacts cats that spend any appreciable amount of time outside the most, and the combination of low temperatures, wind, and snow/ice can predispose cats to hypothermia and frostbite. The best way to avoid these problems is to keep cats indoors at all times. For those cats that cannot be kept indoors, it is important to provide shelter from the cold, wind, and precipitation by either providing access to purpose-built shelters or to indoor environments with adequate bedding (straw is a good choice, avoid newspaper, cloth, and hay), food, and water. Measures should be taken to prevent the water from freezing (i.e. solar water heater, using thick plastic bowls rather than shallow ceramic bowls), and if possible, the shelter should be raised off the ground to avoid body heat loss into the ground. Its also important to realize that cats burn more calories to stay warm in the winter, so feeding them a bit more than during the warm weather months will help them avoid losing weight.
Another issue to consider is automotive hazards that cold weather may expose cats to. Since car engines generate heat and outdoor cats are constantly seeking warmth, cats can be injured when they seek warmth in the wheel wells and/or engine compartment of cars and owners unknowingly start their cars and drive away. It’s a good idea to check the wheel wells of your car and to either honk your horn or bang on the hood of your vehicle before starting it, to prompt any cats that may be seeking shelter in the engine compartment to leave.
Finally, winterizing cars with antifreeze places cats at risk, because antifreeze is extremely toxic to cats if ingested, and its taste is attractive to cats. To minimize this risk, be sure to keep all antifreeze well contained and out of reach of cats and to clean up any antifreeze spills and leaks promptly.
By taking these simple steps, you can help cats experience a better quality of life during cold weather.