Because of space limitations or personal preference, some people choose to keep their cats outdoors. But, for outdoor cats, special care must be provided to protect them as much as possible. Winter cat safety is a serious issue.
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.
Normal body temperature for cats is 100.5 to 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit. Hypothermia is a medical term used to describe a body temperature that is below normal. The most common cause of hypothermia is prolonged exposure to cold environmental temperatures. If left untreated, affected animals may develop signs of frostbite or may even die.
In addition to prolonged exposure to cold weather, impaired ability to regulate body temperature can also lead to hypothermia. This is most often associated with newborn kittens and older debilitated cats. Certain illnesses, such as hypothyroidism, and impaired behavioral responses can also be a factor in the body’s inability to maintain adequate temperature. Signs of hypothermia range from mild to severe, depending on the severity of the low body temperature.
What to Watch For:
- Muscle stiffness
- Low heart and respiratory rates
- Difficulty breathing
- Fixed and dilated pupils
Signs of Sadness
Many of us get the winter blues while waiting for warmer temperatures and sunny skies to return. Some of us mope around the house, whining and making a nuisance of ourselves with our restlessness.
Others get seriously depressed to the point where daily activities are difficult to perform. If these feelings are deep enough, the condition is called “seasonal affective disorder” or “SAD.”
SAD is a disorder different from “the blues,” those moments when we feel generally down. Although not fully understood, SAD is though to be caused by a lack of bright light affecting hormonal balances. Affected people may have bouts of unexplained crying, desire for sweets, excessive fatigue, lethargy, depression, anxiety, and mood swings.
Do our cats suffer from the same malaise? Probably not. While they do get depressed, cats aren’t known to suffer from SAD. More likely, your cat is mirroring your own feelings.
Cats do have a hormonal response to the change in seasons but generally it is quite minimal, especially for indoor only cats that see a minimum change in the seasons. Cats that no longer have an open window or are allowed to go on a screened in porch may miss the opportunity during the winter months but not so much so that they seem “depressed.”
Winter Cat Safety for Paws and Skin
Winter weather can cause cats to have dry skin and/or damaged paws. Winter means different things in different parts of the country. Temperatures may drop, but the severity of the lower temperatures varies. Along with this, some areas of the country also have low humidity during the colder months of the years. This decrease in humidity and people’s methods of dealing with snow and ice accumulation can cause some problems in our cats.
In winter, low humidity is common, and cats are typically kept indoors, exposed to dry heat from furnaces as well as dry environment conditions. Without enough moisture in the air, skin problems can occur. The most common skin problem in the wintertime is dry flaking skin.