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'Cats have nine lives'; 'cats always land on their feet' – we’ve all heard those sayings. Unfortunately, the truth is that they don’t have nine lives and they don’t always land on their feet. In fact, they are a little more delicate than we’d like to believe. When it comes to feeling the cold – most cats are actually pretty good at dealing with poor weather conditions, most of the time. However, if temperature falls below 7°C for an extended period, it is considered too cold for cats. Granted, this doesn’t happen too often here in Ireland, but with the climate change making the weather as topsy-turvy as it has been in recent years, it would probably be wise to follow the saying ‘better safe than sorry’.

Of course, a lot depends on the kind of cat you have, too. Whether he/she has long or short hair (the latter makes cats more prone to cold damage in general; completely hairless cats should never be outside in winter, e.g.); older or very young cats and cats with medical conditions are more vulnerable.

 Some things you can do to help your cat cope with the winter chills.

  • When the weather gets cold, cats, too, can be prone to catching the cold. Look out for any signs of the cold – watery eyes, sniffly nose, fatigue. Kittens are especially vulnerable to cat flu.

    • We encourage vaccinating cats against the flu (if they’re at an appropriate age, we get them fully vaccinated before they are adopted).

    • To keep protecting your cat through life, keep his/her vaccines boosted annually.

  • It’s very important for your cat to stay dry. A wet coat in very cold conditions can lead to hypothermia. When your cat comes in soaking wet, use a towel to dry him/her thoroughly and make sure he/she has access to a warm room/bed.

    • Providing your cat with a few extra cosy places to snuggle up and sleep around the house during winter is a good idea.

  • If your cat lives outdoors, make sure he/she has constant access to appropriate shelter.

    • The shelter should be protected from the rain and wind and well insulated (straw is good, as long as you change it regularly; however, do not use towels or blankets, as they tend to draw out the cat’s body heat and make them feel colder rather than warmer).

    • The shelter's doorway should only be big enough for a cat.

  • Before you drive anywhere, give your car bonnet a tap and check around the wheels. As temperatures drop, cats seek out warm recesses, and car engines and wheel arches often seem like a good fit to them.

  • During a cold spell, check your cat’s paws for any signs of frostbite or cracking.

    • If the weather gets really cold and your cat has been outside for a while, there’s a chance that he/she may get frostbitten. Check your cat’s ear tips and other extremities for any changes. If you’re concerned, please wrap your cat up warmly and contact your vet for assistance.

Bent ear tips can be one of the signs of frostbite in cats.

  • Make sure your cat has easy access to an indoor litter tray. Even if your cat usually does his/her business outdoors, it’s a good idea to furnish them with a toilet indoors for the winter.

    • This is especially recommended for older cats, or cats with disabilities or other medical conditions.

  • If your cat is used to moving freely between indoors and outdoors, try to make him/her come and stay inside overnight in winter.

    • If your house has a cat flap, it’s advisable to keep it locked overnight once your cat’s come in, as an extra precaution.

  • Make sure your cat has access to fresh water constantly. Staying hydrated is very important in cold weather.

    • Keep an eye on your cat’s eating habits, too. They tend to eat a little more in winter for insulation and extra energy, but make sure it doesn’t get out of hand.

  • As your cat is spending more time indoors, make sure that he/she has plenty of entertainment available. Toys, puzzles, game of fetch, whatever your cat is into.

  • Caring for stray or feral cats in winter:

    • Provide them with extra food and water (use plastic containers).

    • Wet food is easiest to digest, which means that the cats will have more energy left over to fight the cold.

    • You can even warm up the food before giving it to the cats, if the temperatures fall really low.

    • If you are providing a shelter for stray or feral cats, remember that straw is the best material to use for insulation (and as their bedding).

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