Just as we suffer more sniffles and colds in bad weather so can our feline friends. The chilly weather is a sap to the immune system that leaves two and four-leggers alike struggling to stay well.
Fair enough, most cats are heat-seeking devices at the best of times, and can detect a warm spot from ten paces. But if you have a kitten, or a sick or elderly cat then it’s best to provide ways for her to stay warm and reserve her energy to ensure she remains well.
Food for Warmth
It’s easy to forget that food is fuel. Indeed, calories are a measurement of energy, in this case the energy to stay warm. If your cat is thin or underweight, there’s a risk she’ll burn valuable body fat in cold weather. In this scenario, increase her food allowance a little and encourage her to eat by warming the food or offering ultra-tasty treats she doesn’t normally have.
Indeed, if you feed feral cats or those who live outside, consider warming the food before you put it outdoors. This provides ‘central heating’ for the cat and can also prevent the food from freezing. In severe cold weather a heated food bowl is a good idea.
Of course, if your cat is already a ‘cuddly’ size, there’s no need to increase her rations. Those layers of love already provide insulation and encouraging her to gain yet more weight could put her at risk of diabetes.
There’s a reason people used to wear fur coats in winter, because hair is a fabulous insulator. Help your cat to make the most of her assets, by combing and brushing her daily. Not only does this condition the coat by spreading natural oils over the surface (and making it more waterproof) but it prevents knots and tangles. A nice, soft fluffy coat that isn’t matted is a great insulator that traps the air more effectively, and simple coat care can make a big difference.
You don’t need to heat the entire house in order to keep your cat warm. Indeed, there’s a strong argument against doing this so that your cat acclimates better to cold weather extremes. Instead, provide cosy hot spots where your cat can curl up in comfort and conserve warmth and energy.
The most obvious solution is a radiator bed, the firm favourite of many felines. These hammock type beds simply hook over a radiator and allow Kitty to sleep up against the heat.
If you don’t have radiators then the premium alternative is a heated cat-bed. These are ultra-cosy as the fleece-lined beds have a pet-safe heating element that makes it the equivalent of sleeping wrapped in an electric blanket.
Your cat may already has a favourite spot and if you doubt she’ll adopt a bed, then consider a pet heat mat. Again pet-safe, these are often activated by the cat’s body weight, so you can slip it under a favourite cushion to provide gentle warmth when she curls up for a catnap.
For the older, arthritic cat the cold weather can aggravate sore joints. Applying gentle heat to the worst joints can stop your cat stiffening up and make a real difference. Try heating a wheat-bag in the microwave (until is is just warm) and then gently place it over the joint. Most cats learn to enjoy the soothing warmth and look forward to a bit of pampering.
Providing a hot water bottle wrapped up in a towel, or any of the number of microwaveable pet-warmers available on the market, will also give your cat a welcome source of warmth to cuddle up to.
On the subject of cosy catnaps, a cat-igloo or an insulated bed make a great refuge where your cat can curl up and conserve heat. If your cat turns her nose up then try placing an item of your clothing inside, so that your scent reassures her and makes it more welcoming. If that doesn’t do the trick then up the ante by spritzing it with Feliway, the feline “welcome” hormone that helps a cat feel safe and content.
It’s worth nothing too, that some bedding materials are better insulators than others. The synthetic sheepskin called Vetbed helps hold onto warmth and wicks moisture away. Also look for synthetic beds that are backed with foil, to conserve and reflect heat back up to the cat.
In the summer we welcome breezes because they cool, but for the same reason we avoid them in winter. Remember you cat lives mostly on floor level, so a draft whistling under a door will impact her more. Use draft excluders and insulate your home.
You can also lift the cat bed up off the floor and insulate underneath with newspapers and bubble wrap. This prevents loss of heat by conduction to the floor underneath.
A Special Mention for the Outdoor Cat
Being cold is one thing, but wet and cold is quite another. If your cat goes outside (or there are feral cats in the area) then provide a shelter from the rain. Face the entrance away from the prevailing winds, and if possible have a porch leading into the shelter so it keeps driving rain out.
Be wary of using bedding that could trap moisture, such as towels or blankets. Instead, a deep layer of straw is a good insulator that doesn’t ‘trap’ water. If your cat toilets outside, then consider erecting a shelter over the toilet spot, so that she doesn’t have to perform in the pouring rain (or snow.) Even better… provide the option of an indoor tray.
And finally, don’t forget that your lap is the ultimate cat-warmer, so take advantage of the colder weather to make settle down with a good book in one hand, a coffee mug in the other, and your cat on your lap.
How do you keep your cat warm during the cold winter months? Share your tips in the comments below.