Caring for your cat in the snow

Cats can be uncertain when it comes to snow, with some being more curious than others. Whether your cat likes to play in it, or they’d rather stay indoors, making sure they’re kept warm, safe and dry is key.

Cat out in the snow

Keep cats warm, dry and safe

Keeping your cat warm and dry is the best way to make sure they’re happy when the snow falls. Just like us, cats can suffer hypothermia and frostbite, so helping their body temperature stay at a comfortable level is key.

Many cats dislike snow, preferring to stay in the warm, so you may not need to worry about them getting too cold. However, if yours is the type to be adventurous in all weathers, you’ll need to keep an eye on them during snowy weather and limit the amount of time they spend outside. Always provide a warm, comfortable place for them to return home to with plenty of fresh water to keep them hydrated.

If your cat normally goes to the toilet outside, provide an indoor litter tray in a private corner to reduce the number of times they need to venture out. Don’t forget to change their litter every day and clean it out with cat-friendly disinfectant once a week.

Snowstorms can result in reduced visibility and less grip on icy roads for drivers, putting adventurous cats at risk. Stop your cat from going out during snowfall, and keep them inside overnight when temperatures can drop dramatically. Make sure they have plenty of toys and a scratching post to keep them occupied and satisfy their need to play and exercise.

Cats tend to seek warm refuge in a variety of areas, including garden sheds and garages. If possible, leave doors ajar and double-check before you close up to avoid locking your cat inside – it’s a good idea to ask your neighbours to do the same. Similarly, warm, parked cars can be irresistible to cold cats, who usually curl up under the engine or in the wheel arch. Make sure you check these areas and make plenty of loud noises to give them time to escape before you start the car.

Cat flaps can easily freeze up or become blocked by snow; check them regularly to make sure your cat can come back in whenever they need to.


Protect your cat's paws

Snowy, icy weather can wreak havoc on your cat’s delicate paws.

Rock salt is often used in combination with sand or gravel to grit icy roads and pavements, but it can damage paw pads. In fact, prolonged contact can lead to chemical burns, dryness and painful cracking. Not only that, but rock salt is also toxic to pets if swallowed, so always wash their paws as soon as they return home to prevent them from licking it off themselves.

If your cat’s paws are looking chapped and sore, applying a small amount of cat-friendly paw balm can help alleviate the pain, promote healing and protect against grit.

Long-haired breeds often have excess fur around their paws and belly that can become clogged with hard ice balls, causing pain and discomfort for your cat. Remember to regularly clip around the paws, legs and belly to prevent build-up.


Hypothermia in cats

Hypothermia occurs when your cat’s body heat drops to extremely low levels, usually after being exposed to frigid temperatures or as a result of having wet fur in cold, windy weather.

Symptoms include shivering (although this will suddenly stop when their temperature reaches dangerously low levels), pale lips and gums, low energy and a loss of coordination. Hypothermia is an emergency, so if you spot any of these symptoms, contact your vet straight away.

To prevent hypothermia in a cold snap, make sure your pet has somewhere warm and dry to go after they’ve been out of the house. If it’s particularly cold, you may also want to limit their time spent outdoors. Providing an indoor litter tray means they also don’t need to ‘go’ outside in freezing temperatures.


Frostbite in cats

Frostbite can occur in very low temperatures which can freeze their extremities (the tips of their ears, tail and toes). Although not usually life-threatening, it can lead to hypothermia which can be fatal.

Skin can become very pale with a blue-white hue, due to the lack of blood flow, and ice can even form around the area. To prevent it from progressing and putting the local tissue at risk, apply a warm towel to the affected area. Don’t use a hairdryer or radiator to directly warm them up; this can cause burns and blistering. Instead, use tepid water to warm the area gradually and speak to your vet to check no additional treatment is required.


Antifreeze risk for cats

Containing the toxin ethylene glycol, antifreeze can have a devastating effect on cats when swallowed. Leaky car radiators can leave puddles of sweet-tasting antifreeze on driveways and just one tablespoon can be fatal to cats. Don’t forget that public fountains and water features can also contain antifreeze to stop them from freezing over.

Sadly, antifreeze poisoning is often fatal, but the quicker your cat receives veterinary treatment, the better their chances of survival. The first signs of antifreeze poisoning include staggering, excessive thirst and vomiting; these are soon followed by loss of appetite, diarrhoea, seizures, and ultimately, kidney failure. If you spot any of these signs in your cat, take them to your nearest vet immediately.

Try to avoid using antifreeze, but if you have to, look for the type that contains propylene glycol which is much safer for pets. Keep containers securely closed and always clean up leaks and spills as soon as possible.


Consider very young and very old cats

Just like humans, cats that are particularly young or old can suffer more in sub-zero temperatures. The same goes for those with ongoing health issues, as their immune system is less effective in fighting off potential illness as a result of the cold weather. If yours falls into one of these categories, pay extra attention to their welfare over the snowy period and always make sure they have a warm, dry space to sleep and rest in.

Cat warming up

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For more helpful advice on caring for your cat in the snow, speak to your local Medivet practice.

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