Cats and cold weather – why winter can be a risky time of year for felines

The chilly, dim days and long dark nights of winter can present quite a few dangers to our feline friends, so it’s important to do everything you can to help them stay safe, particularly if they’re an outdoor cat that likes to spend time outside in all weathers. We’ve lots of top tips…
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6th November 2020

The chilly, dim days and long dark nights of winter can present quite a few dangers to our feline friends, so it’s important to do everything you can to help them stay safe, particularly if they’re an outdoor cat that likes to spend time outside in all weathers. We’ve lots of top tips...

While some cats are homebodies who seldom stray far from their cosiest indoor sleeping spots, there are others who love to spend time outdoors exploring, whatever the weather. So, while it’s important to let these intrepid felines enjoy some outside stimulation and adventure, there are things that devoted cat guardians can do to help them stay safe.

Feline experts at Cats Protection have some really useful tips:

  • If your cat has access to the outdoors, provide them with an outdoor cat house or cat shelter to ensure they are safe. Even something as simple as a sturdy cardboard box covered in plastic sheeting can do the trick.
  • If you’ve got a cat flap, make sure your cat can get easily in and out. A heavy snowfall or icy patch might result in the cat flap becoming stuck or blocked. 
  • Always make sure your cat comes inside at night, locking the cat flap once they are inside. Provide them with warm, comfortable and safe places to sleep.
  • Ensure that your cat has plenty of fresh water indoors, in case outside sources freeze.
  • Regularly check sheds, outhouses and garages to ensure your cat hasn’t strolled in and is locked inside. Cats Protection even has a handy ‘Look before you lock’ door hanger  to remind you.
  • Make sure your cat is microchipped and the details are up to date. If they do wander off in search of a warm place, they can easily be traced back to your address.


Cats have a highly developed reflective area in the back of their eyes, which is what makes them appear to glow at night when caught in the light.

Cars and cats

Cars are a real and present danger for cats. Here’s what to be aware of:

  • Cats that are outdoors may crawl into a warm car engine to get warm. Check your car before you start up the engine to avoid your cat getting injured.
  • Avoid using anti-freeze to clear your car windscreen of ice. De-icers, screen washes and some car radiators all use ethylene glycol. Some cats are attracted to the sweet taste of this chemical and it can prove deadly if it gets on your cat’s feet or fur as they are likely to ingest it when they’re grooming. If you suspect your cat may have ingested a poisonous substance, seek veterinary advice immediately, even if they appear well. Delaying for just a few minutes may endanger their life.
  • As the evenings get darker, reduced visibility makes traffic conditions riskier for wandering cats. There is an increased chance of road accidents after nightfall, so it’s best to keep your cat indoors overnight. Their eyes do not adjust as quickly as ours to changes in light intensity, so sudden bright headlights can be dazzling and disorientating. Timing meals to coincide with rush hour may also help to keep your cat away from busy roads. Choosing a fluorescent collar can help your cat to be more visible. Always choose a ‘quick release’ or snap opening collar, rather than an elasticated one. This means that your cat is less likely to be trapped if the collar gets snagged.

Warm bodies and cosy toes

Warm, comfortable and draught-free places are ideal for your cat to snuggle down safely.

  • If your cat has come in from the snow, wipe off any road grit, salt, or anything that might stick to their paws and fur.
  • Provide a litter tray somewhere private indoors (one per cat) so that your favourite feline won’t have to brave the cold outside. 
  • Open fireplaces are a lovely focal point in winter but can be a risk to cats. If you have one, screen it off and, if you light a fire, always supervise your cat.

Perilous plants warning

Cats looking for something to do indoors may explore and nibble on any plants you may have on display. However, a number of indoor plants can be lethal to felines. Cats can even be poisoned by brushing against certain plants and then licking the pollen from their fur. Common plants that are toxic to cats include:

  • All types of Lily
  • Lily of the Valley
  • Foxglove
  • Cyclamen
  • Ivy
  • Azalea

The feline welfare charity International Cat Care has a comprehensive list of plants that cat owners should be aware of. Put any offending greenery well away from places your cat can get to. To bring a bit of the outdoors in, why not invest in some cat grasses? In fact, International Cat Care advises that all cats should be provided with grass either from an outdoor or indoor source (grown in a pot) to enable them to exhibit their natural grass-eating behaviour, while preventing them from ingesting unsuitable potentially toxic greenery. Find out more.

Let me entertain you

If you do have a cat that becomes restless when kept indoors, it’s important to give them things to do. Enrichment toys and puzzle feeders will keep them entertained and, importantly, exercised.

  • For cats, the best games are those that make the most of their natural repertoire of behaviours – stalking, pouncing, chasing and batting objects with a paw, exploring, climbing, jumping and patrolling. These ‘hunting’ skills, replicated by pursuing or swiping at a toy, release feel-good hormones called endorphins, which boost feline feelings of wellbeing.
  • As sensual animals for whom scent plays a big part in understanding the world, adding some toys filled with dried catnip, will heighten their pleasure. About 50% of felines will respond to the active but harmless chemical in this herb, by going into raptures of rolling around and meowing. Scented toys can be particularly beneficial for blind cats.
  • Cats love to climb and hide, so getting a cat activity centre could be a good investment – although some cats will have endless fun playing in a selection of cardboard boxes.
  • In the wild, cats have to work for their food, which exercises their bodies and stimulates their minds. And, according to the world’s leading feline experts, providing domestic cats with the opportunity to put some effort into getting their paws on the edible prize, could have a big effect on their health and wellbeing. All manner of cat food puzzles are available to buy, or you can make your own from everyday items such as shoe boxes, yoghurt pots and plastic bottles. International Cat Care has lots of info to help you out. You could end up having as much fun making your own food puzzle creations as your cat will have playing with them!

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