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Tips on Winter Preparation for Cats — Indoor as Well as Outdoor

Adequate heat, food, entrances, and shelters are among the things to consider in cold weather.

Catherine Holm  |  Mar 3rd 2015


If you live in a cold weather climate, you know the feeling of excitement (laced with possible dread) over the fact that winter is coming. It seems there is so much to do, but make sure you’ve made plans for your kitties, too, whether they’re indoor, outdoor, or a combination of both.

My household cats don’t go outside. We live in the woods and it’s safer to keep the cats in the house. But I know that many readers care for cats indoors and out; tame, feral, or free-roaming.

Here are some things I’ve thought about to prepare cats for winter.

Here’s Zorro before we helped him become an indoor cat. I think he wanted to come in, even though I couldn’t get close to him.

Cold weather tips for indoor cats

Indoor kitties are lucky in a place with a harsh environment (although some still get cabin fever during winter). My cats have been inside for so long that they really don’t seem to miss it outside at all, even Zorro, who was an outdoor cat only several months ago. But there are still things you can do to make sure your indoor kitties are ready for cold times.

  • Make sure your entrances and exits are secure and kitty-proof. You don’t want your indoor cat slipping out in the dead of winter. I have a friend who had a loose screen in her window that she was unaware of, and her rescued cat escaped. They were never able to find him.
  • Make sure your heat is dependable. Indoor kitties have it pretty good, but they appreciate being warm, too. If you have to travel, make sure that you have warm places for the cats to snuggle in case the heat does go out (sleeping bags, blankets, cat beds, etc.).
  • Stock up on cat food, in case the weather is so bad that you can’t go out to get any. Where we live now, ice storms are a pretty regular occurrence in the winter. Sure, you can order food online, but what if no one is delivering because the roads are terrible? Plan ahead.

Kieran (left) was rescued on a very cold day. His paws and the tip of one ear were frostbitten.

Cold weather tips for outdoor cats

I always worry about these guys in the winter, particularly when they show up and start living in our garage. I’ve had a few feral cats show up who didn’t make it, even though I fed them and tried to keep them safe. And I’ve had some success, too. Here is what I’ve done to try and keep these cats safe in the winter.

  • Provide shelter. Outdoor cats can make it over the winter if they have food, water, and shelter from the elements. I’ve been amazed at some of the temperatures these cats have lived through, provided they can get in from the wind. Of course, this also depends on the hardiness and the size of the cat. I had a whole (terrible) winter to observe Zorro. He survived in a large, unheated garage, but he was smart enough to go to the back, out of the wind, and he is a stocky, long-haired cat. I watched him sunbathe in minus 18 temperatures. We gave him a sled with straw in it so that he could lay in the sun and not get frostbite. He was always smart enough to go inside when the sun went away or if the wind picked up.
  • Provide a bed and or feral cat shelter. Make your feral cat shelters now, while you still have time and before the cold hits. Get straw while it’s available. A smart Catster commenter pointed out that straw is better than material in the bottom of feral shelters, since cats will drag snow into the shelters with their feet and it will freeze to cloth. If your cat won’t use the feral shelter (Zorro didn’t), improvise another bed. We put straw in a large rubber tub. He seemed to prefer this setup.
  • Provide food and water. Warm water is particularly important and will help these cats keep warm. Some folks use those outdoor-pet water-warmers.
  • TNR when you’re able. If you are able to live trap and successfully TNR the outdoor cat, you’ve done a great favor to future generations of kittens that would have to struggle in these harsh elements.

Karma showed up in November, outside and quite frightened of the increasing wind and cold.

Cold weather tips for indoor/outdoor cats

All of the above applies to cats who freely go inside and out. If you have such cats, consider keeping them exclusively inside during the winter. There are many risks they run outside in the wintertime — frostbitten paws and ears, predation, seeking out the underside of cars as a source of warmth (danger!), and antifreeze exposure, to name a few. If your cats must go in and out, make sure that they are always able to get in, whether that means a working cat door, or your awareness and attention.

How do you provide for your cats in cold climates? What have I missed here? Share your experience in the comments!

Read more about cats and cold weather:

About Catherine Holm: Cat Holm loves writing about, working for, and living with cats. She is the author of The Great Purr (cat fantasy novel out June 1), 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 two short story collections. She loves to dance, be outside whenever possible, read, play with cats, make music, do and teach yoga, and write.