Even domestic cats that are pets may spend a majority of their time outside. This may be due to the cat's preference or the owner's necessity. Whatever the case, it is not healthy for cats to spend all of their time outdoors during the winter. When you look at a cat's fluffy coat, you may assume that it would be impervious to all sorts of weather. Nevertheless, cats are susceptible to cold temperatures, not to mention conditions of snow and rain that are common during the winter as well. These conditions can be dangerous for your cat and even if they are not, they may still make her miserable. If you are responsible for an outdoor cat, here are some things you can do to keep her comfortable and safe during the winter.
Bring the Cat Inside if Possible
While it may not always be possible, the best thing to do for a cat during the winter is to bring him inside and keep him there as much as possible. In particular, you should bring your cat indoors at night and whenever the temperature is expected to be colder than normal. Even if you cannot bring your cat into the house, you can at least provide shelter in the garage if it is clean with no puddles of leaking antifreeze or oil. Do not leave your cat in an area where these chemicals are present as the cat could poison himself by licking up the chemicals.
Provide Shelter Outside
Even if your cat comes inside at night and spends most of the day outdoors, she should have some sort of outside shelter. The shelter doesn't necessarily have to be elaborate, but it should be well insulated. This can be accomplished by covering it with an old tarp or blanket or by attaching carpet remnants or heavy fabric to the top of the shelter. Note that these should not be used for bedding inside. The floor should be elevated off the ground by several inches to protect the cat from the cold. Avoid mold growth by adding ventilation slits and prevent snow from accumulating on the roof by slanting it.
The entrance should face away from drafts or prevailing winds. If the shelter is in a sunny spot, such as on the south side of your house, it will warm up naturally during the day. Cats are motivated to seek their own comfort, so if she gets too cold and there is a shelter available, she will probably use it.
Furnish Dry Bedding
The inside of the shelter should have some bedding to help insulate it and hold in body heat. Cats love to curl up in blankets or on sunny spots on the carpet, so you may think that these would make ideal bedding material. However, they are not good to furnish a shelter for an outdoor cat because he might track in moisture from the outside. Absorbent materials such as rugs or blankets may retain the water and promote mold growth. You need bedding material that can hold heat and insulate well but not retain moisture. You can use straw or shavings of hardwood, but don't use cedar or pine.
Provide Fresh Water
Dehydration is a real danger for outdoor cats during the winter. Their water dishes can freeze, and then they have no way of drinking the water. While they may eat snow, this does not provide adequate amounts of water to meet their bodies' needs, nor does the fluid in wet cat food. Therefore, when the temperature outside is below freezing, you should frequently check your cat's water dish and replace it with fresh water if necessary. If you have a spare outlet outside, it may help to use a pet fountain rather than a traditional water dish because water that is moving may be less likely to freeze. However, you still need to check frequently that this is still working, so a traditional water dish may be better. Choose a water dish for your outdoor cat that is made of ceramic or plastic rather than metal. Your cat's tongue could freeze to the surface of a metal water dish and get stuck.
Consider Changing Your Cat's Diet
Maintaining body temperature in the cold is hard work that takes a lot of energy. Most outdoor cats do not have reserves of body fat from which to draw, and rapid weight loss is unhealthy for kitties. If your cat is pregnant or very young, she may have special needs.
Therefore, you may want to consider changing your cat's food during the winter to something higher in protein and calories. Cold air can also dry out your cat's skin and coat, but adding a supplement such as vegetable oil may help to prevent this. However, before making any changes to your cat's diet, you should check with your veterinarian to make sure that you don't do more harm than good.
Protect Your Cat From Pests
Anytime your cat spends time outdoors, he is vulnerable to parasites. You may think that your cat would be safe from fleas and ticks in winter, but that depends on where you live. If you are in an area where the ground freezes completely, your cat may be safe from pests during the winter. However, if you do not experience a complete freeze, these pests may remain active and thrive in the warmth of your cat's fur. Even if you are not sure your cat would benefit from flea preventive during the winter, it doesn't hurt to use it anyway.
Winter can be dangerous for cats, but if you take some precautions, you should be able to leave her outside where she is happiest without too much worry.