Caring for your cat during winter

Abby Stassen

Both outdoor and indoor cats need a little extra attention during winter.

Cats seem like self-sufficient pets at first glance: they groom themselves, they don't need to go on long walks, and they sleep for 12 to 16 hours a day. However, anyone who loves their feline friend will tell you that cats require just as much attention and care as dogs, especially during the coldest months of the year.

Winter weather affects both outdoor and indoor cats. Outdoor cats may need help accessing water that isn't frozen and avoiding frostbite on their ears and tails, while indoor cats might need special considerations for drier winter skin and maintaining a warmer temperature that's comfortable for them. Here are some tips for taking care of your indoor or outdoor cat during winter.

Keep your kitty warm and toasty

The first order of business with winter cat care is helping your four-legged buddy maintain a comfortable body temperature on chilly days. To make the transition easier on your outdoor cat, you should encourage them to spend as much time outside as possible in the fall so that their body adapts to dropping temperatures and grows a thicker coat for winter.

Outdoor cats are great judges of what temperatures they can tolerate, and they're experts at finding safe places to warm up. However, you might want to consider installing a heated outdoor shelter that's lifted off the ground to give your cat a place to warm up on particularly frigid days. If your cat has a thinner coat (and is agreeable enough to allow this), adding a knitted kitty sweater or jacket to their wardrobe will warm them right up.

Indoor cats have far more protection from the elements, but they might still need a few extra degrees to stay comfortable. Cooler temperatures can aggravate stiff joints or arthritis, particularly in older cats, and a warming mat gives your cat a soft, toasty place to snooze. Place it on a chair, couch, or another surface off the ground to avoid drafts.

Winterize your cat's food and water

Outdoor cats face challenges when it comes to staying properly hydrated and fed. Below-freezing temps can turn their water bowl into a block of ice, and their dry food might become hard, inedible blocks after lengthy exposure to dry, cool air. A heated food and water bowl (placed on a raised surface away from intruders like squirrels or raccoons) guarantees they'll always have something to eat.

If you have an indoor cat, you'll have a different issue to tackle. Your cat's coat grows in thicker in winter, and dry winter air can dehydrate your cat and lead to itchy skin. More fur and uncomfortable itching will encourage more frequent grooming, putting them your cat at a higher risk for hairballs.

You'll want to consider adding or increasing wet food during the winter months, or switching to an anti-hairball formula to prevent digestive problems. A deshedding tool will remove your cat's undercoat, reducing the amount of hair they swallow and mitigating the hairball risk.

Cat-proof your home from the inside out

Feline friends are notorious for seeking out mischief, but winter conditions can turn their adorable shenanigans into real dangers. If your outdoor cat loves exploring nooks and crannies in your garage, you'll want to double-check that there's nothing leaking out of your parked car--antifreeze tastes sweet to cats. If you've added it to your car's engine for winter, you'll want to keep an eye on any leaks and store the bottle in a closed shelf or box.

You'll also want to be careful when you're starting your car. Cats can scurry under the hood of your car and sleep on top of the engine (which provides protection from wind and may still be warm from your last drive). Checking under the hood before you leave the house solves this problem.

Indoor cats might be protected from the elements, but that doesn't mean they're out of the woods in terms of winter safety. Holiday plants like poinsettias, pine needles from your Christmas tree, holly, and mistletoe are all poisonous to cats. Place them carefully in your home--away from where your cat can reach--if you choose to buy them. Better yet, purchase fake versions to show your holiday spirit without putting your pet at risk.

Some kitties like to nibble on strings of Christmas lights or check out your space heater's electrical cord. An inexpensive package of cord protectors provides a barrier of protection between your cat's teeth and a dangerous electric shock.


These tips and tricks will help keep your cat safe and healthy until spring. And remember, nothing helps chase the winter blues away (for you and your cat) like a furry cuddle session on chilly winter nights.


Abby Stassen is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.

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