Published by: Ingrid King. Last Updated on: May 5, 2023 by Crystal Uys
Written by Beverly Matoney
Colder temperatures bring challenges to both outdoor and indoor/outdoor cats. From toxic chemicals and frostbite to holiday décor and parties, winter comes with its own set of potential calamities for your feline family members.
Read on for a list of cold-weather dangers and how to safeguard against them:
Take care when adding antifreeze to your vehicle. If you do spill, or if you notice a puddle that has leaked from your car, clean it up immediately. The sweet smell and taste of antifreeze is irresistible to cats, and once the liquid is ingested, the toxin (ethylene glycol) will quickly begin to shut down your cat’s kidneys.
If you notice that your cat appears drunk, begins vomiting or loses coordination, take her to the veterinarian immediately. Ethylene glycol poisoning can be fatal.
Ice melt and salt
When your cat walks outside on areas that have been treated with salt or other ice melting compounds, her paws may get chemical burns. Use sand rather than chemicals or use pet safe ice melt products (affiliate link*) to keep sidewalks and driveways clear of ice and snow.
Wash your cat’s paws with a warm cloth when she comes inside after a winter outing so she won’t accidentally ingest salt or other chemicals.
Cold Winter Temperatures
Warm, soft kitty fur is wonderful to pet, but it’s not a perfect insulator against frosty winter temperatures. Once a cat’s coat becomes wet, she can quickly lose body heat, and hypothermia can set in.
Watch for violent shivering, lethargy, muscle stiffness or lack of appetite. These are just a few of the signs your cat’s body temperature has dropped to dangerous levels.
If you see grey or shriveled skin, or skin that stays cold to the touch, this could be an indication of frostbite.
Both of these situations require immediate veterinary attention.
Beware the Vehicles
If you have to take your cat in your car, don’t leave her unattended. Just as a vehicle can become dangerously warm in the summer, the interior temperature can also drop to a hazardous level in the winter.
Outdoor cats may seek warmth under car hoods. Make sure to knock sharply on your hood and honk your horn before starting your engine to give cats time to vacate.
With less sunlight as the days grow shorter, there is an increased risk of traffic accidents involving cats. Bring your indoor/outdoor cats inside well before dark, or make sure they are wearing reflective collars.
Bring Cats Inside
Even if your cat enjoys frolicking in the snow, he should be tucked inside well before an approaching winter storm threatens. Keep an eye on forecasts and plan ahead if you know your cat tends to hide when it’s time to come home.
With patience, you can even transition outdoor cats indoors for the cold season. Tempt them with treats and offer food inside, but give skittish cats an exit until they are comfortable with the new routine.
Plan For Food, Water and Shelter for Outdoor Cats
If you are caring for community cats, provide outdoor housing for them. The best location for an outdoor shelter is in a covered location, such as a shed or open garage. Line the box or other cozy enclosure with blankets or hay, but check every day to make sure the bedding isn’t wet. If it becomes damp or dirty, change it out.
Another option is to make a heated bed or mat available, but only use heated beds designed for pets (affiliate link*) These also work well in closed garages and basements to protect cats from cold floors, and even inside if you tend to keep the temperature in your home fairly low.
If you feed outdoor cats, protect food and treats from foraging wildlife, and be sure water is available and not frozen. Using a heated water dish (affiliate link*) can help.
Winter Calorie Adjustments
Cats that spend time outdoors in the winter will use more calories just to keep warm. Increase the amount you feed accordingly.
If the weather is too nasty to allow your cat a visit outside, stave off boredom with a few new toys set aside just for yucky winter days, and be sure to spend some extra time playing with her.
Winter holidays bring numerous situations that could cause your cat problems, including disruptions in routines, new visitors, a buffet of dangerous foods and toxic plants.
A cat underfoot can be injured, or in the case of young children, can be roughly handled. It’s easy to become distracted welcoming guests and ferrying food back and forth. Try to give your feline an easy escape route when the festivities become overwhelming.
Various foods yummy for people are toxic to cats and should be kept well out of reach, and some items on the feast table are choking hazards. Be wary of the following:
• Chocolate, especially dark baking chocolate
• Alcohol, including wine and beer
• Onions, leeks and garlic
• Nuts, especially walnuts
• Meats with small bones
Holiday plants carry their own hidden dangers. Flowers are new and interesting, and cats are curious. Colorful blooms and waving leaves are irresistible and warrant investigating.
If you use a real tree, be aware that pine needles and sap can cause gastric distress if eaten. To keep the needles on the tree, make sure the tree stand has plenty of water and include a barrier to prevent your cat from sneaking a drink. In addition to sap accumulating in the tree water, mold and bacteria can grow if the water is not changed out regularly, and these can also pose threats to thirsty felines.
Whether your tree is live or artificial, all those shiny objects will attract the attention of the curious kitties in the house. Tinsel and broken ornaments are choking hazards. Tinsel, if ingested, can led to a life-threatening intestinal obstruction. Lights and electric cords pose the danger of shock. An unbalanced tree can topple over if an ambitious cat decides to head up the trunk for a better view.
With a little preparation and awareness, weathering the winter months can be a breeze for you and your feline family members, and you can look forward to plenty of cuddles and snuggles during the long, cozy nights.
Beverly Matoney is a freelance copywriter and former homeschooling mom. She lives on a farm near Atlanta with her husband, two college-age kids, three dogs and an impressive collection of rescued cats. You can find Beverly at Homeschool Coprywriter and Beverly Matoney Copywriting.
*The Conscious Cat is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. This means that if you decide to purchase through any of our links, we get a small commission. We only spread the word about products and services we’ve either used or would use ourselves.
About the author
Ingrid King is an award-winning author, former veterinary hospital manager, and veterinary journalist who is passionate about cats.