By Barbara George
Each cat is unique and will deal with winter based on a number of factors; their age and state of health, sufficient food and clean water, adequate shelter, their environment and the number of hours of daylight. These factors can change rapidly at any time.
Cats instinctively adapt to the change in seasons by adjusting their behaviour and feeding patterns. As with most animals, they live ‘in the moment’ – considering what has to be done now in order to survive in the best possible way. While we know that cats do experience emotions, these are not wasted on factors they cannot change, like the weather. Their bodies are designed to withstand heat and cold, within reason, if they are healthy and have the necessary resources.
Indoor cats will deal with winter differently to those who live outside. They have access to a more stable environment and a predictable source of food and warmth.
That super winter coat
As the weather cools and days grow shorter, cats will begin to grow a thicker undercoat as a protection against the cold. For indoor-only cats this may not be as noticeable since their need for extra warmth and protection is far less than that of the outdoor cat.
The fluffy undercoat traps air around the body. The outer coat protects the undercoat, and the air it contains, from the outside temperature. This means cats have the ability to keep their body temperature steady in cold and hot conditions. Wind and rain are more of a problem than the cold; wind will blow the warm air out of the undercoat and fill it with cold air, while rain will soak the undercoat and leave the cat cold and wet.
The importance of a winter nap
They will look for warm and sheltered places to rest so as to minimise the loss of heat. These places may be different to those chosen in warmer months, partly for the shelter offered and partly due to a different variety of prey to be caught.
It is important for cats to keep their bodies warm as this allows them to be instantly active in the event they need to move; either to catch prey or to escape from danger. Shorter hours of natural light also trigger an instinctive reflex to seek more food. They will eat to store fat for warmth and to act as reserves if they are unable to catch prey.
Retaining flexibility and mental alertness
Cats may appear to behave differently in cooler weather. Really they are just adapting to less daylight and conserving energy that may be required to find food. Outdoors there is less happening, so generally less stimulation; this is Nature’s way of helping them to conserve energy.
Depending on their metabolism and available resources, cats can be more or less energetic during colder weather. They may need to use different tactics to catch prey, or feel the need to conserve their bodies. Indoor cats may need to work off the extra energy gained by eating more food. It is important for all cats to keep mobile in order to retain their flexibility and level of mental alertness.
Cats most vulnerable in winter
Kittens, young and old cats, and those with injuries and illnesses are most at risk during cold weather. If outdoors, they may need assistance with shelter and food.
The best way to help your cat through winter is to keep him dry, provide a number of sheltered warm places to sleep, have sufficient appropriate food available, and keep him mobile.
About Barbara George
Barbara qualified with a Best Practice Certificate in Advanced Cat Behaviour from the Ethology Academy in 2008, and as a TTouch Practitioner 1 for companion animals in 2009. The focus of her work are cats and animals who are ill or injured and she visits clients in their own homes or wherever an animal is recovering.
Barbara can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org or on 082 491 2309 and 021 531 6612.