Winter Cat Care
Because of space limitations or personal preference, some people choose to keep their cats outdoors. For outdoor cats, special care must be provided to protect them as much as possible.
Unfortunately, outdoor cats have a significantly shorter life span than those living indoors. They face increased exposure to contagious diseases, battles with other cats and outdoor animals, and traumatic accidents (such as being hit by a car).
It is a good idea to provide a safe and comfortable place for your cat to rest. A small cat house equipped with easy escape is recommended. The floor of the cat house can be covered in straw or a blanket to help the cat stay warm in the winter. If straw bedding is used, it will need to be periodically changed. The straw can become moldy creating a variety of skin and respiratory problems.
Longhaired outdoor cats will need periodic grooming. These cats are prone to mats and debris caught in their hair. Removing the mats, which may require periodic shaving, will help reduce skin trauma and help the cat maintain proper body temperature. Most shorthaired cats do not require consistent grooming.
In the winter, some communities use salt to help prevent slips and falls caused by slippery icy. When your cat walks on salt covered surfaces, some of the particles can become trapped in the fur on their feet. Routine grooming can then result in ingestion of the salt and gastrointestinal upset. Salt can also be caustic to the pads of the feet. Try to keep your cat's feet clean when ice and salt abound.
The outdoor cat is typically quite active. Offering adequate nutrition is essential. Make sure the food offered is a good quality cat food. Offer food at least twice daily. Be aware that you may end up feeding a number of other outdoor cats besides just yours. Always provide fresh clean water. Snow or ice are not proper alternatives for water sources.
Outdoor cats face a greater chance of traumatic injury. Being hit by a car, attacked by an animal or hurt by malicious people can result in serious injury or even death. It is very difficult to prevent these injuries. If your trashcan is not properly sealed, ingestion of trash can lead to gastrointestinal upset. Keep all automotive items away from your cat. Many people change antifreeze in the spring and fall; exposure to antifreeze can be deadly. Make sure all toxic or dangerous chemicals are safely stored away. Herbicides, fertilizers and other lawn and garden supplies can pose a health threat as well. Keep these products safely away from your cat.
In the winter, when you return home, your car's engine is quite warm and cats may find this a comfortable place to rest in the bitter cold. Serious injury occurs when the car is started while a cat is sleeping on the engine. To avoid this, honk your horn before starting your car, to give the cat a chance to escape.
Annual physical exams are very important to the health of the outdoor cat. Prompt diagnosis and treatment of illness is likewise vital. Make sure your outdoor cat is adequately protected from disease by vaccination. Have your cat checked for intestinal parasites and properly dewormed. Discuss flea and tick prevention alternatives with your veterinarian. Heartworm prevention is also very important in the outdoor cat. By being outdoors, his exposure to mosquitoes is great and the possibility of contracting heartworms is increased.