Cats in winter, like humans, are affected by the change of temperature. Dr Maria Grazia Calore, veterinary doctor and expert in pet behaviour, explains the physical and behavioural changes that we could see in our domestic feline when the cold weather sets in.
Some breeds of cats have a naturally thicker coat in winter as their undercoat (an additional substrate under the fur of the animals) increases. A cat that lives outside will also grow a fuller, fluffier coat in winter to help maintain body temperature.
To care for our cats in cold weather, attention should be paid to small cats and older cats as they do not tolerate the cold very well: the former have a less efficient thermoregulation while the latter may suffer from age-related diseases such as arthritis, a drop in immune function or decreased muscle mass.
With the arrival of winter, cats only venture out sporadically and briefly. They prefer to find warm places to sleep, like a cosy bed near the radiator. The fondness cats have for warm bedding has been known for years by farmers who, observing the location or duration of sleep in front of the stove, foresaw the arrival of snow or frost.
A cat accustomed to living outside will seek sheltered “small” places to sleep in the classic “donut” position, which is useful for maintaining body heat. If there are small feline groups where harmony reigns, cats will sleep close together to keep warm.
Moreover, among a cat’s favourite hiding places in the winter are cars: the little ones will squeeze in to the engine compartment while the larger cats will sleep above the wheels. We should remember, therefore, to make some loud noises before starting the car, to give them a chance to get out!
If we have a kitten, we can protect it from the cold by keeping it indoors. To accommodate their “love” for warm places, we could also put a chair or a cat hammock near a source of heat. We should also provide them with games and stimuli, planning ad hoc activities to make their stay indoors pleasant. To take care of outdoor cats (barn, stray or a colony) we should provide them with a dry, sheltered place to sleep. For example, we could line a cardboard box with rainproof nylon on the outside and polystyrene to insulate it on the inside, then fill it with blankets. The latter must be changed often to prevent them getting damp and the entrance to the box should be made as small as possible to keep the heat inside. Finally, we should provide them with food and water, changing it often to prevent freezing.