Winter Tips for Pets Outdoors

black cat wit colored lights
Mimi remembers the days of wandering around in snow and frozen sidewalks, and thoroughly enjoys the sunny windowsill.

First, get a windowsill. When Mimi lived mostly outdoors I would see her trotting quickly down icy sidewalks or trying to plow her way through a snowdrift. I winced to think of her tiny paws on ice and rock salt and seeing her petite little self nearly be lost in the snow and many was the time I wanted to just go and get her and bring her inside. She was skittish and would run, but I was always glad to see that she had survived another day, another winter with all her extremities intact. Unfortunately, also, her uterus, but that’s another story entirely, and likely one of the driving forces that kept her roaming, even in winter.

black cat on snowy deck
Mimi heads back toward the door.

Now she takes advantage of every sunny windowsill and warm soft spot, and while she joins me on the deck when it’s warmer, now that it’s cold with ice and snow she stays inside and simply watches me go out to feed the birds, probably getting an extra measure of appreciation for where she is remembering the feeling of ice under her paws.

Don’t take for granted that animals can survive outdoors. Simply because other animals live in the outdoors without human intervention doesn’t mean that our pets can—and it doesn’t always mean that those animals whose habitats are outdoors live well or even survive the winter. Wild animals also need and find adequate shelter and food and water if they don’t hibernate, and if they don’t find these things they don’t survive.

tortoiseshell cat on snowy deck
“Can’t you fix this?” Cookie asks.

Cats may tolerate cold for a while, but their small bodies lose heat quickly and extremities like tails and ears can easily be lost to frostbite. Small breed dogs like a Chihuahua with short, thin fur or a delicate Italian Greyhound with no body fat obviously don’t have the resources of a squirrel who’s doubled his fur and fattened up on nuts and fruits (and my bird seed and suet). Puppies and kittens are likewise less tolerant of cold than adults, likewise older pets. Cookie went outside with me every single day no matter the temperature and bravely walked on whatever had fallen from the sky, but as she grew older I would only let her wander for shorter times than she preferred, much to her consternation and protest. If pets go outside at all, they shouldn’t be outside without protection for very long.

Aside from cold is also the risk of poisoning, either from leaking anti-freeze, always a risk but moreso when animals take refuge beneath a warm car on a cold day, and from products used to melt ice and snow. Fluids and oils from vehicles also tend to persist in snow and on wet pavement, so you should always wipe down your pet when they come inside, and wash off any sticky or oily substances on their fur. Remember that you also track these things indoors on your shoes, so be careful to place wet boots and shoes where your pets can’t get to them, wipe them down as soon as possible (this is good for your boots and shoes anyway), and clean up the floor before someone licks up a puddle.

25 cat shelters
25 cat shelters made by volunteers for the Homeless Cat Management Team!

If you have a pet that lives outdoors most or all of the time, you should make some arrangements to bring them inside in some way during the most intense cold and always make sure they have edible food and water that is not frozen or covered with snow or ice.

And if you’re caring for cats who live outdoors, they should have shelters of some sort at any time but especially at this time of the year. Shelters come in many forms and shapes, but they should be insulated by a solid material like styrofoam and filled with straw, not blankets which hold moisture and can develop mold and mildew. Many times there is no chance for electricity to keep food and water from freezing, so either a few extra trips to refill dishes or possibly a non-electric warming pad would help. At right are the shelters made a few weeks at by volunteers to the Homeless Cat Management Team for cats , they have been delivering these and making more

As for cute little coats, they may be more than just cute and actually provide needed insulation for cats and dogs, but you can be the judge if your pet will wear one! Below are links to articles that will give you more detail on preparing your indoor-outdoor pets for the cold.

Alley Cat Allies Winter Weather Tips for Colony Cats and ideas for building shelters

Cold Weather Tips from the ASPCA

Pet Winter Safety: Prepping Your Pet for Winter Weather from WebMD/Pets

14 Winter Safety Tips For Pets from Pawnation

Mimi is happy to say that this is as close as her children have come to experiencing snow—leaning out the window while feeding the birds!

black cat with snow
“What is this wonderful stuff?!”
black cat with snow
Bean gets snow in his face.

Read more articles about Health and Safety and Veterinary Medicine.

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cats for adoption

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8 thoughts on “Winter Tips for Pets Outdoors

  • January 6, 2014 at 12:38 pm

    there just can’t be enough reminders about this! we worry about our feral girl- we provide food and shelter and everything, but it breaks mom’s heart to see her out there.

    • January 6, 2014 at 12:59 pm

      I know–and if I was ever on the fence about bringing a cat in for rescue, this was when I fell off the fence and caught the cat. But we sometimes even have to talk to people one by one to let them know how important this is.

  • January 3, 2014 at 11:28 pm

    God bless any kitties that have to be out in this cold..I wish I could bring them all in and warm and love them..Stay warm Bernadette and family!

    • January 5, 2014 at 7:35 pm

      Nancy, in the years I was rescuing this was often when I brought kitties in who I’d been keeping an eye on.

  • January 3, 2014 at 3:38 pm

    ewe guys tried ta hide de burd werd in yur post again huh !!! hay, heerz two a grate week oh end !!

    • January 3, 2014 at 6:02 pm

      Better stay away tomorrow, Tabbies–there will be another burd article, just like last Saturday!

  • January 3, 2014 at 10:03 am

    I get the coats for some dogs, but I’m ambivalent about putting them on cats. Cats climb and sneak through small spaces, and it would be so easy for a coat to get hung up on something. Have you put a coat on a cat before?

    • January 3, 2014 at 10:57 am

      I agree about the dangers of getting caught up on something, Rumpydog, and outdoors they’d have to be some sort of polar fleece or insulated material that didn’t absorb moisture or it could just become like a big ice cube.wrapped around them. Believe it or not, I have never tried to dress a cat in a sweater or coat even though I’ve had cats for so many hears and I make these things!


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