Cold temperatures can be difficult even for the healthiest of pets. Prolonged expose to the cold for a cat can result in frost bite, hypothermia, and possibly even death. Additionally, the stress on the body caused by prolonged exposure to the cold will reduces the life expectancy of a cat living in the outdoors. Some people are fooled into thinking that just because a cat has a thick fur coat they will be safe from the effect of prolonged cold temperatures. But their fur coat is simply not enough to keep them sufficiently warm during winter temperatures. The overall best practice is to just keep your cat inside during the winter. But, if the situation is such that the cat you are trying to protect is completely outside, here are a few suggestions and practices that will help.
Dry, warm shelter is paramount. If a human were left outside in the cold to survive for an extended period of time, one of the first things he would need to find in order to survive would be dry, warm shelter. The same is true for a cat trying to survive cold temperatures. Providing the cat full-time access to a garage, shed or barn is a great start. If this is not possible than providing an insulated cat house placed in a nook away from the weather elements is another good option. The house should be small in size, i.e., just large enough for perhaps two to three cats to go inside and turn around. The small size will help to conserve body heat. The house should also utilize insulation with a high R-value sandwiched in the walls, roof and floor. It is suggested that the interior seams of the house also be sealed so that moisture does not find its way in. The door of the house should be oriented away from the elements such as wind, rain, snow and sleet. A clear path should always be kept to avoid the cat becoming potentially snow bound.
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But no matter the shelter that you choose to provide, the cat will also need to be supplied with ample bedding in order to stay warm. A thick bedding of cedar chips or straw can suffice. Blankets and towels are definitely not recommended since once they are wet; they become cold and very difficult to dry. The best option for outdoor shelter venues whether it is a garage, covered porch, barn, shed or cat house is an outdoor heated cat bed. These beds are made of soft PVC and do not absorb water, always providing comfortable warmth even in below freezing temperatures. They also use very low wattage and are efficient. A heated cat bed not only can give you some piece of mind, but it will become your kitty's favorite spot, knowing it will have warmth and comfort from those harsh winter temperatures. It will become their haven, their rescue from an inhospitable temperature environment.
Provide and maintain plenty of water. A constant supply of clean, unfrozen water is very important to minimize the risk of dehydration. . The water source should be protected from the elements or heated to prevent freezing. Low-wattage heated bowls work very well as a solution in making certain unfrozen water is always available. As a lower budget option, you can use spray foam insulation on the underside of a deep plastic water bowl. This will help slow the freezing process, but will not eliminate it. So make sure warm water is placed in the bowl regularly.
Provide plenty of food. As with any physically body, whether it is human or animal, high levels of calories are burned by the body in just keeping itself warm. So make sure an ample supply of nutritious food is provided. Cats that spend time outside simply need more to eat. Feeding on a regular schedule is also important. Your cat will come to expect the food and will be waiting for it; therefore the food will spend less time in the cold. Ideally, you can provide your cat with a simple feeding station that includes a roof and sides so that your cat will be protected from the elements while it dines.
Cats need protection from the dangers of winter temperatures. Of course, keeping your cat indoors is always the safest and most effective way to promote their good health. But if your cat is going to have prolonged exposure to the cold it is imperative to provide dry shelter and a constant source of warmth which is best provided by a heated pet bed. Keep in mind that if the weather is too cold for you to comfortably spend long period of time outside, then it is probably too cold for your cat as well.