How to take care of cats in winter: your essential checklist

From keeping cats warm in the colder months to enjoying a feline-friendly Christmas, this is our handy guide to keeping your pets safe and happy all winter long.

Winter is a wonderful season to spend some quality time with our cats and enjoy snuggles on the sofa, indoor games and plenty of cosy companionship. But the colder weather, dark nights and Christmas festivities also pose certain risks to our feline friends. Here’s how to take care of cats in winter, and keep your pet safe from seasonal hazards.

Keep your cat cosy indoors

Is your cat warm enough?

As it gets colder, your cat may naturally want to spend more time indoors, especially if she is old, very young, or has health issues. Consider keeping her in on bitter nights. Keep her warm and dry by providing cosy beds to snuggle in and towelling her off after wet excursions.

Know the signs of hypothermia

Cats are pretty resilient in the cold, but if they’re out in freezing temperatures too long, they could develop frostbite or even hypothermia. Signs of the latter include shivering, lack of mental alertness, seeming weak or tired, rigid muscles and breathing difficulties. If you’re worried, take your cat to your vet.

Offer a litter tray

Even if your cat is used to toileting outside, providing an indoor litter tray could encourage her to stay indoors on bitterly cold days – and might be appreciated by senior cats.

Keep an eye on the cat flap

If your cat does venture out, make sure she can get back in again easily. Check regularly that the cat flap doesn’t freeze shut or get blocked by snow.

Look after her paws

When your cat returns from excursions on cold days, use a damp cloth to remove any snow, ice or grit from between her toes. Compacted snow can turn into painful ice balls.

Supervise any open flames

Cats like to snuggle up close to heat sources, but make sure they don’t get close enough to be harmed. Use a screen with fires and don’t leave your cat alone around open flames, including candles.

Provide more indoor stimulation

If your cat is spending more time indoors, she’ll benefit from stimulating cat toys and indoor activities that keep her mentally and physically active and encourage natural behaviours.

Make sure your cat is safe outside

Provide outdoor shelter

If your cat likes being outdoors in winter, consider providing some shelter to help her stay dry and warm while enjoying the outside. You could give her access to your garden shed or greenhouse by installing a cat flap – or offer her a cat house or cat snug.

Remember the dangers of antifreeze

Store antifreeze products securely and wipe up any spills immediately, as these are highly toxic to animals – but unluckily, taste sweet to cats! If you suspect a cat has consumed antifreeze (symptoms include nausea, vomiting, muscle spasms, walking unsteadily, increased urination and shallow breathing), take her straight to the vet.

Check the car

In cold temperatures, cats may curl up beneath car bonnets or under wheel arches to soak up engine and tyre heat. Before starting up your car engine, tap loudly on the bonnet – or better yet, open it to look inside – and check around the car.

Don’t let drinking bowls freeze

Ensure your cat always has fresh water available, and don’t let outdoor drinking bowls freeze over. Provide bowls both inside and outside, and regularly check if they need a top-up.

Think about a cat safety collar

Winter’s longer, darker nights sadly lead to increased traffic collisions involving cats. Consider getting a high-visibility collar for your cat and keeping her inside at night. It is important that any collar you get fits well and has a quick-release or ‘breakaway’ feature so that your cat is able to break free if she gets stuck among the branches of a tree or in another awkward spot.

Make sure she’s microchipped

If your cat does roam away from home, ensuring your up-to-date contact details are stored on her microchip means she’ll easily be traced back to you.

Have a cat-friendly Christmas

Secure Christmas trees

If your cat likes to climb up the tree, get one with a sturdy base, or secure it so it doesn’t topple over and injure her. Keep delicate baubles as high as possible and regularly clear up fallen needles – they can upset her tummy if ingested.

Watch out for toxic festive plants

Mistletoe berries, holly, ivy, lilies, amaryllis, dumb cane, leopard lily, poinsettia and Christmas cherry can all harm your cat if ingested. If you do keep festive plants indoors, place them out of pets’ reach.

Give festive treats in moderation

Don’t overdo it with festive treats or Christmas leftovers for your cat – too much rich food may make her ill. And don’t leave leftovers lying around, as some human foods are bad news for cats – including cooked poultry bones, onions, garlic, raisins (in mince pies) and chocolate.

What are your top tips for taking care of cats in winter? We’d love to hear. Share them with the tag #PethoodStories on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.

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