As the days start becoming shorter and the mornings colder, something changes in my household: my normally independent cat, Trader, starts using me as his own personal heating device. Days off transition from yard work and bike rides to sedentary Downton Abbey marathons and copious cocoa consumption. I put on some pudge. So do Trader and Frankie. (Well, just between us, Frankie is always pudgy.)
Transitioning cats that go outside–like Trader–to cold weather takes some preparation that is best undertaken while the weather is still clement. All cats without free access into your home (i.e. a cat door) need to have the following accommodations made:
1. A protected rain-proof area, which can take the form of a cat or dog house with an impermeable roof, a covered patio, or a garage. One clever client recently told me she uses a large plastic storage tote turned on its side, with the open side facing her front door to avoid rain intrusion.
2. A soft sleeping substrate, preferably with insulation. Old wool blankets work very well as insulation and are easily acquired second hand. A collection of old sweaters or several old towels also work well. Your insulation should be placed under the layers of material. Hay from the feed store is cheap and effective; old bubble wrap also works as a great insulator and makes a cushy bed. Remember that insulation works best when it’s left “fluffy” rather than compact, as the air pockets in the insulation retain warmth from the body.
3. A cat-safe heating source should also be provided for all cats once the temperature drops below about 45 degrees. Geriatric outdoor cats (cats over 14), arthritic cats, and cats with poor fat and muscle retention should have a heat source to lay on once the temperature drops below about 65 degrees. The Cat Hospital sells an excellent “extreme weather kitty pad” that is inexpensive to operate and is calibrated to the normal body temperature of the cat. I do not recommend using a human heating pad as these have a tendency to become too hot, and heat unevenly across the pad.
4. Provide fresh water that will not freeze, and two canned food meals per day plus access to a measured amount of dry food based on what your vet feels your cat’s metabolic needs are. Heated water bowls are inexpensive and readily available.
5. Quality, topical flea control every month. Even in winter, fleas are abundant! Remember that fleas live on your warm pet and in your warm home; no amount of hard freezing will eliminate fleas. Ideally, outdoor cats should be on a topical flea preventative with comprehensive parasite coverage for intestinal worms, heart worms, ear mites, and lice as well. My favorite is Revolution. Advantage Multi also provides comprehensive coverage.
Don’t forget that outdoor cats still need periodic hair coat and nail evaluations at home. (See previous blog post: Kitty Cat Pat Down.) Also be aware that seasonal weather changes cause some cats to relapse with mild respiratory symptoms related to feline herpesvirus. These symptoms can include sneezing, congestion, or a runny eye. Please call Cat Hospital of Portland if your cat seems not to feel well. And lastly, remember that hydration is just as important in winter as in summer–in fact, we tend to drink *less* well when we’re cold, so do not forget the importance of moist foods!