Cold Weather Mistakes To Avoid With Your Cat

Barri J. Morrison, DVM
By Barri J. Morrison, DVM on Dec. 11, 2023
A pet parent holds her cat on a cold day.

In This Article

Cats and Cold Weather

As the winter months approach, making sure your pets are safe and comfortable in the cold weather is very important.

But just how cold is too cold for cats?

Luckily, cats have great natural instincts and survival skills to keep themselves warm, but taking that extra step can really help them when it gets chilly. Although most cats can fend for themselves, they can get very cold due to their small size and often not having a thick coat for warmth.

There are several things to consider when trying to keep your fur baby safe from winter weather.

Cats and Cold Weather

Cats that spend most—if not all—of their time outside are most vulnerable to the cold weather. Not only are cats sensitive to the cold temperatures, but wind, snow, and ice can expose them to several health concerns.

If you need to put on a coat to go outside, your cat should stay indoors. If there’s a community cat around you, start preparing their shelter and sustenance for a few months of frigid temperatures, depending upon where you live.

Kittens are certainly more vulnerable to the cold weather due to their small body frames and having less instinct to stay safe. A senior cat with an existing health issue is also at risk for sickness, as they might not have the energy to cope with the chillier days outside.

Common Cold Weather Mistakes

Letting Your Cat Outside in the Cold

The best way to keep your cat protected from the cold is simple: keep them inside.

Even if your cat is begging to go out, if it’s less than 45 degrees Fahrenheit, don’t allow them outside. If you only let your cat out for short periods of time, they can still wander off and get lost, leaving them unprotected outside.

When cats get overly cold, they are prone to frostbite and hypothermia (low body temperature), which will slow down their metabolism and make them less active.

This leaves your cat defenseless against predators. Cats that get wet outside in the cold are also at very high risk of hypothermia because they cannot regulate their body temperatures as well.

Cats should not sleep outside in the winter.

Another thing to consider is that cats are very curious creatures. This can lead them to eat or drink the snow, or ice melt, which can be loaded with deicing salt used to maintain safe roads in snowy weather. It’s toxic to cats and can lead to vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, coma, and even death.

Lack of Proper Grooming

If your cat’s coat is matted, their coat is not efficiently keeping heat in their body. This can  expose your cat to illnesses from the colder temperatures.

If your cat’s coat gets matted often, it can be a sign they are not grooming themselves as much, which can be a sign of illness and should be checked by your veterinarian.

Lack of Proper Sleeping Area

Making sure a community cat has plenty of warm shelter and a safe environment is essential. Consider a heated cat house, which provides an outdoor cat with warmth and safety from the elements and predators.

While a nice warm blanket is a good idea to help your cat stay warm, making sure they are safe while doing so is a must. Blankets should never be weighted and should be of a breathable material in case the cat gets stuck underneath. Blankets also come in waterproof material to help protect a cat from getting very wet. Making sure a cat’s shelter is away from as much wind, snow, or ice as possible also makes them less at risk for hypothermia and frostbite. A slightly elevated shelter will also help keep them from getting wet and cold.

When a cat gets cold, their instincts are to find a warm shelter, and this can often lead them to unsafe habitats.

Cats often find warmth under the hood of a car, which is very dangerous. If there are community cats in your neighborhood, honk your car horn before your drive away.

Cats under car hoods or those that seek shelter inside a garage are susceptible to many toxic substances, most commonly antifreeze (ethylene glycol). If ingested, antifreeze can cause kidney failure very quickly, with signs developing within 30 minutes.

If you think your cat may have ingested antifreeze, get them to the vet as soon as possible and consider calling the Pet Poison Helpline at 855-764-7661 for guidance.    

Lack of Senior Care

Senior cats fare worse than any other age group when it comes to cold weather. Arthritis and other mobility issues can leave them vulnerable to prey and will also prevent them from seeking shelter.

An older cat’s skin is also thinner and more delicate, which makes it much easier for them to feel the effects of unfavorable weather. If your older kitty is prone to getting chilly or lives outdoors, make sure they have a light sweater to wear or a safe, warm blanket. Be very cautious with electric blankets as they can pose a fire hazard for your curious pet. Keeping a gate in front of your fireplace is also important, so your pets all stay safe.

Lack of Available Food and Water

Cats should always have access to ample food and water. If you’re feeding a community cat,  keeping the food and water bowls elevated off the floor is recommended so their contents don’t freeze.

Community cats may also want to eat more than normal to help maintain their health and body temperature. Be prepared to buy extra bags of cat food in the winter. Make sure they have plenty of safe water to drink, as it will deter them from drinking contaminated water that may contain salt or antifreeze.

Unsafe Holiday Decorations

During the winter, many people decorate their home and yard for the holidays. Mistletoe, poinsettia plants, holly, and lilies are potentially very dangerous if ingested, and are best avoided if you have a cat.

Christmas trees can also pose a threat, more so with swallowing decorations such as tinsel, which is a “stringy-and-shiny thing” that will pique their curiosity.

Make sure your garbage is kept in a secure spot that a cat can’t get into, especially in the winter and after holiday gatherings. If cats smell food and try to get into your trash, they are prone to ingest toxins likes onionsgarlic, or chocolate.

How To Keep Your Cat Warm and Safe in Winter

The only way to truly keep your cat safe from the cold in the winter is to keep them indoors.

Make sure they have enough food or water to last them a while, especially when you are going out of town or when a storm is about to hit.

Keeping your cat indoors will allow for a safe and comfortable winter for you and your fur baby.

Featured Image: Linda Raymond/iStock / Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

Barri J. Morrison, DVM


Barri J. Morrison, DVM


Barri Morrison was born and raised and currently resides in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. She went to University of Florida for her...

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