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Tips to Keeping Your Cat Happy and Occupied in a Long Winter

Here are ways to tend to your cat's health and behavior during a big seasonal transition.

 |  Nov 6th 2013  |   13 Contributions


Winter is coming. And for some of us, not to mention our cats, this seasonal transition is life-changing. It can feel like a very busy time: getting plants inside, winterizing your home, hauling out the heavier clothes. Then, after all the business is over, you have the long, cold winter. It's an art in survival just to get through it. But what about your cats? What can we do to prepare them for winter and keep them happy and occupied? I'm a veteran of long winters, and here's what I've found.

Some cats are thrilled to be out in that fluffy white stuff. Fluffy cat running on the snow by Shutterstock.com

Play with them -- lots

Playing is always good for your cat. It seems to make them happy, burn off excess energy, exercise them, and allow them to use their predatory instincts. Then, they sleep better, and so do you. Without sounding too sappy, I think an energy of happiness comes over the house after a good play session with the cats, and that is very important during the winter. Do everything you can to raise the energy and keep the cats -- and yourself -- happy.

Provide window space and light

Just because it looks like there's nothing but white outside (if you live in a snow climate) doesn't mean your cats don't love looking out the window -- even in winter. I swear they can see things that I can't and perhaps are seeing things like small prey (mice, voles, etc.) in the snow. My cats will stare out the windows for hours, fascinated, any time of the year. Make it easy for them to look out the windows and work with what you have. In my case we have a few window sills, and one glass door that the cats love looking out.

Karma snuggles over Chester to stay warm, but Norton would rather just be cute.

Keep them inside, or provide shelter if they have to go out

People differ on this, but personally, I feel sorry for any cat who has to be outside during a Minnesota winter! I can keep my cats plenty happy inside and not worry about whether they are going to get too cold or get into trouble outside. (I worry enough about the feral who is living in our garage.) If your cat must go outside and you live in a warm climate, provide them an easy way in and out. One friend of mine has a good solution. She has two indoor/outdoor cats who are free to roam outside but have a cat door to get in and out of a heated garage. She keeps the garage clean and free of poisons. This is not my solution; I personally want my house cats and tame cats in the house. But it's her choice and so far, the cats are smart, stay close to the garage, and stay in it completely when it's really cold. I personally am not sure what temperatures cats can survive at with shelter. This is something to talk to your climate-specific veterinarian about, and chances are that even these answers will differ.

Provide heat inside

Indoor cats LOVE heat sources. The fireplace is the preferred mode of heat in our house; the cats will lay for hours by the wood stove and fight over the small rug in front of it. If the wood stove's not on, we have baseboard heat. I've often found a cat deliberately sitting in a window just to be above a baseboard heating unit. My beautiful white cat Tigger used to like to snuggle against the heaters; I could never figure out why her fur was getting singed until I noticed this one day.

Allow lots of cuddling time

The cats' favorite heat source, next to the wood stove, is quite possibly our laps. They'll sit for hours in a lap. Give them every opportunity!

Keep transportation in working order

Keeping your cat happy and healthy in the winter means making sure you can get to the vet! Make sure that your car is ready to go in an emergency, unless you're lucky enough to be able to walk to the vet or use other transportation. Driving with cats in the wintertime is very stressful to me. I always worry about breaking down. Do things to ensure that this won't happen, and drive safely.

Stock up with plenty of cat food

Your cats don't want to go hungry in the winter, just because you can't get to the store in a snowstorm. So always have a little extra cat food around.

Stock up on Netflix!

Winter is Netflix season here. We don't have time to watch movies in the summer. We're way too busy outside, trying to get everything done before winter. But in the winter, when it gets dark at 6:30, is the perfect time to watch a good movie.

Three cats and a Netflix movie is a good recipe for winter contentment.

Netflix time is the best time in our household, especially for the cats! It's one of the few times when we are both sitting down (we don't have the internet speed to stream, so we get the DVDs in the mail). Movie time is a cat magnet, and instantly, several cats are on our laps, watching movies with us, and reluctant to let us up when the movie is over.

Come to think of it, winter may be my cats' favorite season, just because they get so much attention.

Do you have a long winter? How do you keep your cats occupied and happy? Share stories in comments!

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About Catherine Holm: Told that she is funny but doesn’t know it, accused of being an unintentional con artist by her husband, quiet, with frequent unannounced bursts into dancing liveliness, Cat Holm loves writing about, working for, and living with cats. She is the author of the cat-themed memoir Driving with Cats: Ours for a Short Time, the creator of Ann Catanzaro cat fantasy story gift books, and the author of a short story collection about people and place. She loves to dance, be outside whenever possible, read, play with cats, make music, do and teach yoga, and write. Cat lives in the woods, which she loves as much as really dark chocolate, and gets regular inspiration shots along with her double espresso shots from the city.

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