Winterize Your Cat
They may have fur, but our four-legged friends still get cold when the temperature dips. Add snow, sleet, wind and rain to the mix, and our kitties, even with their natural fur coats, are bound to be shivering just like the rest of us. Prolonged exposure to the cold can lead to hypothermia—a dangerous drop in core body temperature—in cats just as it will in humans. Know what signs to watch for and how to “winterize” your outdoor cat.
Signs of cat hypothermia include prolonged and violent shivering, which speeds up a cat’s metabolism and thus serves as a short-term way for the body to warm itself up. But shivering takes a lot of energy, and if your cat is cold for too long, that energy will run out, and her body temperature will start to drop. Signs of more advanced hypothermia—weakness, disorientation and lethargy—will then start to show. If left untreated, these conditions will eventually lead to unconsciousness and even death.
It’s true that some animals are built to withstand frosty winter temps. But shorthaired or small animals just aren’t as up to the task. Neither are injured or sick cats or other small animals like rabbits. Older cats have a tougher time with the cold, too, especially those with arthritis, kidney ailments or respiratory problems. Here’s what you can do to help them cope–and keep warm.
Outdoor Cats Can’t Resist
Your cat insists on spending some time outdoors, but it’s cold out there. Fine. Just keep the outside jaunt short, depending on how cold it is and your kitty’s individual condition. For example, if Fluffy is 13 years old and weighs about 5 pounds, follow her around the yard for 5 to 10 minutes, then shoo her back inside.
Cat Shivering? Warm Her up Stat
If your cat shows signs of hypothermia, bring him indoors immediately. Wrap him in blankets, then crank up the heat a few degrees or let him curl up next to the fireplace. Stay with your cat until the signs begin to disappear. You’ll know that he’s warming up if he stops shivering, seems more alert and responsive, and his temperature reaches 100°F. When your cat is comfortable, give him some food and water. Fuel will help generate warmth and strength. If your cat’s condition does not improve, or if he loses consciousness, call your vet immediately.
When it’s Raining Cats and Dogs
Cats can easily end up with hypothermia if they get wet on a chilly, rainy day and don’t have a chance to dry off. For instance, if your cat spends a night outside in a cold rain, hypothermia is an all-too-likely result. If your cat gets wet and chilled, be sure to get her indoors to a warm room ASAP. Warm up a few bath towels in the dryer for several minutes, then wrap them around your kitty while they’re still warm. Be careful to wrap the warmth around your cat’s chest and abdomen and where the legs connect to the body. Keep rotating the towels between the dryer and cat until her condition improves. If it doesn’t improve, call the vet.
Cats in the Cold: Whatever You Do, Keep her Cozy
Even if you don’t have a dryer, wrap your cat in one or two large towels anyway and drape one or two more over a radiator, near a lit woodstove or fireplace, or in front of any other available heat source. Rotate the towels between heat source and cat, staying with your pet until she’s warm and dry. Then give her some food and water. If your cat’s condition does not improve, or if she loses consciousness, call the vet immediately.
Put Her on the Big Screen
If you’re concerned that your outdoor cat may roam too far during the colder months, consider making use of a screened porch or balcony. Let your cat outside in this enclosed area for 15 to 20 minutes—10 minutes if the temperature is, say, less than 20°F. She’ll get fresh air, survey her territory, and stretch her legs—all within a safe proximity to the warm house.