As you arrive home, a swirl of cold winter air announces your entry, waking your feline housemate. She does not share your motivation to leave the warm indoor comforts. She almost imperceptibly acknowledges your return, yawns, and resumes her nap, snuggled deeply in your favorite sweater.
Even for cats who normally savor the adventure of being outdoors, icy ground and single-digit temperatures generally dissuade all but the most-avid feline hunters. Inside, it’s warm and cozy. Cats adapt to indoor life by creating pastimes. A popular one is puppeteering you, the owner (who owns whom?) to present the “right” food. “Hmm. Tuna, chicken, salmon, rabbit, or liver?” “Shredded paté on dry kibble, please.” Cats in winter work up their appetites climbing screens, mauling pillows, cruising the kitchen counter for crumbs, and launching sneak attacks on your heels as you search for a midnight glass of water. It’s all in the hunt.
Cats are playful, intelligent, social creatures who thrive on mental and physical stimulation. These needs require your attention, whether winter finds kitty temporarily or permanently inside. Food-dispensing toys are great, either do-it-yourself, like a plastic container inside a plastic container, each with holes, or purchased from West Lebanon Supply. Kibble designed to minimize dental plaque make great treats for these games. Look for Tartar Shield Treats, Purina DM, Hills T/D, or Royal Canin Dental Prescription kibble. Another favorite toy is the Panic Mouse, a battery-operated chase/hunt game. Or place a ping-pong ball in an empty bathtub—more entertaining for you or the cat, who knows? Cats love to hunt; feed this desire by allowing your feline to hunt for food hidden in random nooks and crannies of your house.
If your cat is enjoying outdoor time during winter days, bring her inside before nightfall. Great horned owls, coyotes, foxes, fishers, bobcats, and even malicious people and automobiles pose nighttime threats. Given a choice, foxes are less likely to chase a nimble rabbit than to nab a docile and well-fed house cat—more calories earned for less energy expended. Beyond being odiferous, skunks, along with raccoons, foxes, and other active winter mammals, may also carry the rabies virus. These potential traumas, plus poisons such as antifreeze, frostbite, and infectious diseases, are very real concerns for cats who spend the night outside.
In addition to providing fun activities and shelter from the cold and predators, please feed kitty well. Cats thrive on canned food, though (being cats!) some felines insist on eating only crunchy kibble. Cats are true carnivores; the optimal diet is a commercial cat food high in protein and moisture. “Good to avoid” are colorful foods and treats made from cornmeal and red dye number 30. Though if you add green 55 and yellow 28, you may have Fruit Loops, which my kids think are yummy! Winter is a less active time, so be vigilant about overfeeding. Your veterinarian and local feed store are both happy to offer advice.
Whether your cat found you on a walk, at the Humane Society, through a friend, or was flown in from Russia (yes, this happens), he needs a bit of special care during these winter months. Even in winter watch for fleas; ours is on flea preventative year-round. Test annually for intestinal parasites, consult your vet to establish the best vaccination schedule, and examine kitty’s mouth for inflammation and bad breath, as cats are prone to dental disease.
One more thing—give them lots of love! Cats return it in spades.
By Dr. Jennifer Lesser, Norwich Regional Animal Hospital