An opinionated feline in Edmonton, Canada who lived with a retired cat behaviourist, Greyce provided behavioral advice to cats in need until her death in July 2014. Because her entries are useful even today, the blog remains posted.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Winter Tips for Cats Who Go Outdoors – Even for A Minute!

Here is my long-overdue advice for outdoor cats:
A most important tip
Plus 3 must-have accessories AND 3 items to avoid.

Don’t get me wrong, on a decent day I still like to go outdoors for a bit of sun – but only after Themselves have swept the deck and walks clear of snow. (As you may know, I have a cat-fenced-in backyard and front yard privileges for leash and harness walks.)

When I’m out and about, I see all the cats in the neighbourhood who get to roam (in spite of the anti-roaming bylaw) and I worry about them. I worry because they are often outside on too-cold days without shelter. I don’t advocate spending lots of time outside – especially on very cold days and at night when the temperatures plunge. Oh I could go on and on.

I don’t want to get into the ‘don’t ever go outside OR stay inside all winter’ arguments. I figure it is a losing battle especially for some cats and for even a great number of their humans. It is what it is.

But if you are a cat who takes lots of forays outside during the winter I have some advice for you.

The Most Important Tip: Choose Your Home Carefully

Choose your home carefully. Three criteria to ponder:

1. Choose to live with folks who make sure you only go outside for short periods.

2. Choose to live with folks who make sure you are inside the house before they leave the house – to go to work, to go shopping, or to party.

3. Choose to live with folks who make sure you are inside before they go to bed at night. Don’t think that’s important? Well then be prepared for frost-bitten ears (yes, the tips will fall off), having angry people throw some water at you and freezing your fur to the point of severe chill, and/or freezing your paw pads to the point where there is nerve damage that keeps you in pain and affects your ability to keep your balance.

Yes, I know that many of you live with folks who think you wear a watch and are mindful of the time. “If Fluffy wants to come in, she knows she should be at the door before I go to bed,” they say. As if.

I’d love to turn the tables and purr, “If Himself wants to eat, he could chase that vole who lives under the brush pile and have some great protein.” As if.

Of course, some people think that because we are smart we will think like humans (many of whom are not that smart, in fact). These are the kind of people who let their six-year-olds leave the house without a jacket in winter – on the grounds that it is a good way to teach the kid about how not to get cold. (And yes, I have met some of these people.)

3 Must-Have Accessories

A Timer: Make sure that your purrson sets the oven timer (or reasonable facsimile thereof) for a SHORT amount of time, each and every time you go out. That way your purrson will be sure to be at the door in time to let you in from the cold.

Outdoor Shelter: An insulated cat house (general info. here) located in an accessible and safe part of your yard is a must-have. Yes it does exist, complete with raised floor and a see-through cat flap. And accessible means that you can get to it easily – not have to wade through piles of snow. Feral cat shelters might just do the trick for you! Just make sure your purrsons are really savvy about heat sources. Recently some dog's human was charged with animal abuse, having installed a radiant outdoor heater over a plastic dog shelter; the shelter melted and burned the dog, badly. So frankly unless you have very savvy, very careful humans, stick to a well-insulated shelter and call it a day.
Water: A heated water bowl is important too. The kind used for dogs in winter weather outdoors is fine. We can’t eat ice or snow and if we did the calories used to melt it in our bodies would be so great we’d start to lose weight. Not a good idea in the winter.

3 Items to Avoid

De-icers: Advocate that Themselves use pet-safe sidewalk de-icers so that your paws don’t get burned or infected by the nasty stuff. And it is a kindness to dogs, too.

Beware of Anti-Freeze: Encourage your folks to keep the anti-freeze safely stored and to wipe up any spills of it immediately. For some reason, many of us are really attracted to the stuff and let’s face it, it kills!

Cars: Of course if you are on the streets you already know about avoiding oncoming cars. But when we are cold, some of us seek the heat of a turned-off car engine. We climb inside (from underneath) and when someone starts the car up we get badly burned and sliced. Responsible neighbours will thump the hood of the car before they start it up, to give you a warning so you can escape.

Enticing You Inside

Okay, so you bring this entry to the attention of Themselves and they shake their heads. “Easy for her to say,” they retort. “They should just try getting you inside at night!” Well I have news for them. If they saved a portion of your food so you are on the hungry side (especially the tastiest bit, not just the regular kibble but a VERY NICE treat, and only fed it to you when you came in the for night, what are the chances that you’d run to the door? Especially if they set up a system like tapping a spoon against the side of a metal bowl when they called you at the door. Think about it.

Keeping You In At Night

And if you are the type who simply cannot stand staying home all night, then get some help from Themselves. They should be prepared for rousing interactive games (just press the ‘play’ category on my labels list) to keep you away from the door.

Here's to a safe winter!

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