Winter…whether we love it or hate it, we can all admit that living through it requires a bit of extra care and attention. Partaking in our ordinary daily routines whilst trying to stay warm and dry, adapting to the short days and long nights, takes that much more effort. Whilst it becomes a natural part of life for us, what are some of the things we need to think about for our senior cats over the colder, darker months to ensure they stay well?
Table of contents
Monitor their weight
Older cats can be a little awkward when it comes to their weight as they get older; with the propensity to be too overweight, or underweight. Sedentary, indoor lifestyles in the winter months coupled with decreasing mobility as they age, can result in weight gain; predisposing them to numerous health issues such as diabetes and arthritis. On the other end of the scale, there are certain disease processes that can cause them to lose a startling amount of weight, like hyperthyroidism, kidney disease and heart disease. It is important to get your cat checked out by your vet if you notice any changes to their weight, as it can signal an underlying medical disorder.
Ensure they have litter trays in the house
Cats are incredibly sensitive to their environment and can become stressed easily. Ensuring that they have an adequate number of bathroom spaces indoors is important. Even if they normally go to the toilet outside, provide them with the option of being able to go inside; especially when it is snowy, frosty, and the days venture into sub-zero temperatures.
Cats benefit from having multiple litter trays to choose from, in quiet, private areas of the house. They can be fussy with the type of litter they like to use, and similarly the tray proffered. So you may need to experiment a little to find one to your cat’s preference. If they do prefer going outside, you can even put a little dirt or grass in the tray to mimic their outdoor surroundings.
Monitor for signs of pain or stiffness
Feline arthritis is a lot more prevalent than you might think. Cats are incredibly good at masking pain. It is thought by researchers that 45% of all cats, and 90% over ten years old, are affected by degenerative joint disease, or arthritis.
Cold weather can exacerbate the symptoms of pain and discomfort associated with arthritis. So it is important to monitor your cat for signs of disease. This includes stiffness while walking, difficulty getting up, being unable to jump onto countertops or furniture, difficulty going up and down stairs, being more vocal, lameness and so forth. Ensuring your cat is on a high-quality senior diet that includes joint care, and possibly joint supplements, may help them through the colder months. As will keeping the house warm and comfortable. And if they seem “stiff” or “tired” or “off colour”, getting them checked out by your vet means we can get on top of the problem early, rather than leaving them in unnecessary pain.
Ensuring that they have a warm place to sleep goes without saying. Perhaps put their bed beside a sunny window, or close to a heater. Encourage outdoor cats to come inside. You can put hot water bottles in their beds too. But make sure to remove them when the cat is sleeping in their bed, as it may result in burns, or their claws may puncture the lining!
Grooming and coat care
Especially if they venture outdoors for toileting, ensure that their paws and the underside of their belly is free of ice and snow clumps; this can be painful and cause damage to their skin. Daily grooming is always beneficial for longer haired coats. Although it may be a difficult introduction if they have never been brushed before! It is also a good habit to get into as senior cats may have a little more trouble keeping themselves clean and tangle free as their joints become creakier, and they can no longer bend in the ways they once could. It also allows you to perhaps find a problem quicker than you would if you didn’t have the daily grooming habit (weight changes, lumps and bump, external trauma et cetera).
Beware of winter toxins: antifreeze
Antifreeze contains ethylene glycol, which is incredibly toxic to dogs and cats. It causes severe kidney damage and is fatal, often even with early treatment. Signs include vomiting, weakness, lethargy, difficulty breathing and seizures. It is important to have safe practices with antifreeze and to keep it in a secure place that your cat cannot get to, and to check your cars and driveways regularly for leaks. Keeping your cat indoors will eliminate the risk.
Remember that cats are designed to hide signs of illness. So if you have any concerns at all, please phone your vet to get them checked.