Winter is coming- which means that your cat is considerably less likely to want to go outside and explore. As the colder months settle in, you might notice that you cat- just like us humans- wants to simply settle down in front of a fire and partially hibernate until the warmer months arrive. Unfortunately (and also just like us humans), this means that your cat is likely to become overweight, lazy and a little worse-for-wear as the weeks roll on.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with a little over-indulgence, especially as the weather worsens- but as good animal owners, we do of course want the best for our pets. Thus, we’ll discuss with you the best ways to keep your cat fit and healthy through the winter, as well as pointing you in the direction of the best cat toys around to help your furry friend burn off those extra calories.
How to Care for a Cat in Winter
While most of the fundamental aspects of cat care in winter stays the same, such as keeping your cat fed, hydrated, well-loved and mentally stimulated, there are a few things that need to be tweaked, introduced or cut out.
First, you’ll need to cut out the anti-freeze. It should be OK to use in your car or any place that’s sealed away- yet if you’re using any anti-freeze in a garden fountain or water features, you’ll need to cut that out, straight away. Cats are strangely drawn to the taste but, once ingested, this household chemical can kill your purr-y pal.
Cats also have a bad habit of getting themselves into sticky situations and winter does nothing to quell their curiosity. Before getting in your car, bang on the hood. Some cats like to curl up inside the engines, which can lead to some terrible repercussions. They don’t know any better but us humans do, so please always be sure to give your, or your neighbor’s, cat a heads-up when you’re about to turn the key.
If there’s been snow, ice or the roads have had grit thrown on them, be sure to regularly check your cats paws, if they head outside. These can all get stuck between the pads of your cat’s paw, which can be painful for the poor things. This is especially true for longer-haired cats, who are more likely to pick up small bits and pieces as they walk. They might not be too happy with you grabbing their paws, but it’s much better than some ice or grit getting stuck, causing them pain and ending up breaking their skin and becoming infected.
You probably already have one but make sure there’s a litter box available for your cat in cold weather. Making your cat go outside to do their business in the freezing wind and rain is not a nice experience for your cat. Be sure to check your litter trays more regularly, if you have a cat that usually does their business out in the world. They’ll be less inclined to go for a wander and you might find their litter tray becomes dirtier, faster.
Naturally, you should keep your cat warm and dry- this is especially true for senior felines. These guys can struggle in the cold with slower joints and even arthritis. Give them somewhere warm to snuggle up. If your cat insists on being outdoors, be sure to create a space that gives them shelter from the wind, rain and cold, as much as you can. This will give them somewhere to curl up and recuperate, without leading them to somewhere unknown and possibly dangerous.
Finally, be sure to get your cat microchipped, or ensure your details are kept up-to-date. Given the cold, cats are more likely to have a wander, seeking somewhere warm and they can sometimes get lost. The cold also affects the way they can smell, so you might find they struggle finding their way home more than your cat usually would. Having a microchip and ensuring your details correct can make the difference between your cat being lost forever or returned to you in good condition.
How do You Mentally Stimulate a Cat?
Despite their generally aloof nature and determination to maintain independence at all times, cats are actually very sociable creatures and can even be trained! Training can take longer than it might with dogs but, if you use the same principles of rewarding good behavior and ignoring bad behavior, a cat will soon pick up on what you want them to do and behave accordingly (for a prize, of course!).
Naturally, cats make incredible hunters and they use all of their available energy into seeking out and catching the right prey. Have you ever made a slight scratching noise around a cat? Watch the way their ears turn to the sound naturally, their pupils dilate, and their body-movement becomes stealthy. Their brain is working overtime to catch the critter! Utilise this natural instinct to grab their attention and get their mind going.
4 Ways to Keep a Cat Active This Winter
With cats naturally becoming lazier during the colder months and wanting to stay inside much more often, you’ll notice that there’s much less activity from your cat in winter. The best way to combat this is to be proactive. Use some of the ideas below to keep your cat active when it’s cold.
- Do some aerobics
Cats are made to run, jump and catch. So, if you’ve noticed your four-legged friend has been lazing about of late, it might be time to grab her attention and play with your cat. As much as we love the fact that cats require very little maintenance around the house, taking some time out of your day to make sure your cat is up-and-running can help keep her happy and healthy. A great way of doing this is to play fetch!
Not all cats are keen, I should warn you. However, if you find the right material (the best ones I have found are pipe cleaners and rolled up or foam balls), your cat will gain an interest and quickly pick up on the fact that they need to return their item to you, in order to continue playing. This is especially true if you use the training basics of praise, love and attention when she completes the task.
- Hunter gatherer
Another great way of grabbing your cat’s attention is to get something fluffy or feathery, which should definitely get them interested, and flapping it around a little. The idea is that you’re using your cat toy to mimic a bird or small creature, which increases their interest in catching it, since you’re playing on their instinct to hunt.
Most cat don’t just like to grab it and kill it though- they enjoy the hunt. Get your cat into stalking mode by wiggling the fluff/feathers on the ground, then have it disappear from their line of sight. Your cat should immediately start searching as soon as they’ve noticed the pretend-animal has run off. Keep the toy just in range of her pounce but keep slowly moving it away. Eventually she’ll give in to her instinct and go in for the kill. At this point, it’s usually a great idea to pretend the animal you’re controlling is trying to run away- this should get him or her moving along quite nicely!
- Make them work for it
Cats, like most of us, are very motivated by good food. You may have noticed this when you open the cupboard that their treats in- just a creak of that door and suddenly you have a new shadow! Therefore, it’s reasonable to assume that treat toys are definitely going to keep your attention for more than a few minutes.
Treat toys are a great way of getting your cat to work for their food. All you need to do is pop some of their favorites into the toy and get your cat’s attention. When they come over to see what you have and what’s going on, give the toy a shake or roll to show them that a treat has come out! Intrigued, they may then go on to sniff the toy and the rest is up to them. A curious cat will almost always go straight in with a few biffs and bats to try to access their favorite food- and, once they’ve figured out the trick, they’ll be busy for hours, trying to get their mitts on the next treat.
- Fun with boxes
It’s no secret that cats are in love with boxes. Just take a look online- the internet is filled with “cat traps”, i.e. boxes laid out with the intention of a cat going in for a catnap. There are a few theories floating around about why cats love their boxes so much, but the generally accepted view is that they’re safe, they’re warm and they’re fun. Not to mention they can have a good scratch of the material and nobody tells them off!
One of the best ways to use a box to play with your cat, is to cut a few holes out of the sides. Once your cat steps in, get her attention through one of the holes- you’ll need to be fast for this one, as she or he will give you a good biff and it can get pretty painful if your reflexes aren’t quite honed!
You can also use a smaller box in the same way as a treat toy- in that you can place cat treats into the box and only allow access to the inside through a series of small holes (small enough that your cat can’t squeeze in and have a long munch, as opposed to working for her meal). Sit back and enjoy watching your cat use their sharp minds to get at those treats.
Related Post: Best Cat Treats
Exercise Toys for Cats
Cat trees play to your cat’s natural instinct to want to be higher than everyone else, while being able to see everything that is going on in the room and still being close to their loved ones. Cats love the feeling of being in a tree but, unlike the outdoor trees, there’s no harm of your cat getting stuck in these.
Grab a cat tree with plenty of height and added extras and you’ll find they will spend all day up there, once they’re used to it! They also come with the added benefit of including scratching posts, which kills two birds with one stone, if your cat is prone to attacking furniture around the house.
As mentioned above, treat toys are a great way to get your get up and about, using their favorite motivation- food. These can come fairly cheap from most shops but, if you’ve noticed your cat isn’t too fussed by them, try these tips.
- Give the toy a wash, then leave to dry. Once dry, freeze the toy and THEN stuff it with treats- the frozen ball will be less likely to distract your cat’s sense of smell, versus an unfrozen one, which may smell of plastic and cover the scent of the treats, themselves.
- As above, use a small box and cut out holes. Cat’s are naturally attracted to boxes and are much more likely to come and have a nosy. Once they’ve figured out that there are treats inside, they won’t hesitate to use the box as a treat toy and try to grab those tasty goodies, inside!
One of the most popular cat toys around, feather teasers help your cat create the illusion of chasing a bird or small, fluffy animal. Let your cat stalk, pounce and kick to their hearts content using only a rod, a piece of string and some brightly-coloured feathers.
All of the above are great ways to keep your cat active in winter, but if your cat isn’t that interested try not to worry. As you know, they all have their own personalities, and as long as they seem healthy and happy, don’t force them to play if they don’t want to.
Finally, if you notice your cat adding a little extra tub, don’t forget to cut down their food a little. Remember, if your cat is moving less, their metabolism will be down and they’re much more likely to have their weight increase. Keeping tabs on their food is a great way to combat this!