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Outdoor & Cold Weather Safety Tips for Cats
Veterinary & Aquatic Services Department, Drs. Foster & Smith
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Hypothermia is a major concern during cold weather. Inadequate shelter, insufficient calories, or becoming wet can make a pet much more susceptible to this condition. There are additional indoor and outdoor hazards associated with cold weather. We hope this article will help you become more aware of how you can keep your cat comfortable and safe during the cold weather season.

Outdoor housing

If your cat is an outside cat, make a small warm area, preferably a crate or box, in a sheltered place away from the wind, such as the garage. Line it with warm blankets or a cat bed. If the sleeping area is too large it will not provide proper insulation to keep your cat warm and frostbite on tails and tips of ears can occur in severely cold weather.

Pets who are outside in cold weather will need extra calories to keep warm. When the temperature is below freezing, you may need to increase calories by as much as 30%, depending on the pet and housing conditions.

Shivering is a sign your pet is too cold and indicates the start of hypothermia. A shivering pet should be slowly warmed until signs of hypothermia are gone.

Provide your pet with fresh, unfrozen water available at all times. Avoid stainless steel or metal bowls; instead, use heated buckets or bowls.

Walking a cat outsideWalking in the cold

Sidewalk ice melters like salt, magnesium, or calcium chloride can cause irritation to paws and are toxic when ingested causing stomach upsets, and if enough is ingested, nerve damage. To prevent salt from hurting your pet's feet, we recommend using dog boots and a non-toxic ice melter like Safe Paws for your own sidewalk. If your pet has walked on a salty area, wipe off his paws with a moist towel.

Snowballs can be fun unless they are between the toes. Snow collecting between the toes of cats and dogs can be very painful, and if large enough, obstruct blood flow to the toes.

Thin ice on lakes is hazardous for people and animals. Keep your pet away from lakes or other bodies of water which may have thin ice.

In the northern United States, remember that snowmobile trails can be dangerous places. Be sure to keep your pets off of the trails. One of the most seriously injured dogs I have cared for was hit by a snowmobile.

Keeping warm

As in people, cold can increase the discomfort of arthritis. Providing an orthopedic bed in a warm part of the house can help arthritic pets be more comfortable.

Warm vehicles can attract cats who may jump up into the engine compartment to get closer to the heat. This can be fatal if a person starts the vehicle, unaware of the presence of the cat. It is a good idea to knock on the hood of the vehicle or blow the horn (if it is not too disruptive to the neighborhood) before starting your car or truck.

During the cold winter months, many people use space heaters and woodburning stoves. Do not allow unsupervised pets in areas with space heaters which could be bumped over by the pet. Wood burning stoves are especially dangerous for cats who may try to jump up on them. Train kitty to stay away from the stove by using a squirt bottle of water or throwing a pop can filled with coins near the stove when the cat approaches it. (Please have a good aim and do not hit the cat!) Placing 'Scat mats' on the floor may also be helpful in keeping pets away from stoves and heaters.


Antifreeze should be out of pet's reach. Antifreeze, which contains ethylene glycol, is extremely poisonous; a few teaspoons can be lethal. Its sweet taste attracts pets, and ingesting even a tiny amount causes fatal kidney toxicity. In the body, ethylene glycol is metabolized into 3 major compounds. Some cause central nervous system (CNS) and respiratory depression, others cause metabolic acidosis, and oxalate which combines with calcium to form crystals, causes blockage of the tubules in the kidneys. So, when tuning up your car for that holiday trip, make sure your pet does not have access to antifreeze containers and clean up any spills immediately. Better yet, use the new types of antifreeze such as Prestone LowTox and Sierra Antifreeze Coolant that are not poisonous. If you think your pet has consumed antifreeze, contact your veterinarian immediately. Time is of the essence.

Boarding and Traveling

If traveling with your pet for the holidays, be sure to make the necessary plans early.

kitten in a cat carrier Pet carriers and crates are the best way to restrain your cat while traveling. Check the condition of your pet's crate, and if traveling on public transportation, be sure the crate meets the carrier's requirements.

Clip your pet's nails so they will not become caught in the crate door or other openings.

Reservations with airlines and hotels should be booked early. Be sure they know you are bringing your pet so they can advise you of any special requirements.

A health check-up for your pet and up-to-date vaccinations are important. An interstate health certificate and a copy of the vaccination records may be necessary in some cases.

Pack your pet's medications and special diets where they are easily accessible. Be sure your pet has water available.

Pet ID TagPlace a harness on your cat and always have a pet identification tag attached to it. Make sure the address and phone number are current. Include a phone number that can be reached when you are away from home.

Some pets are afraid of traveling and others may have motion sickness. See our article Car Sickness and Fear of Riding in Cars for help with these issues.

If heading South, remember it will be warmer and make allowances for your pet. Protect your pet against fleas and heartworms, too.

If you are traveling during the holidays, and need to leave your pet(s) at home, start to make accommodations for your pet(s) early. Many boarding facilities fill up very fast. Responsible pet sitters are a good alternative. If they are unfamiliar with your house or pet(s) have them come over and get acquainted before you leave.

Wherever you may be with your pet this winter, we hope it will be a happy and beautiful season for you.
Click here for a pdf version of this article.  See related products at Pet Supplies  
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