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How to Protect Pets and Community Cats from the Winter Elements


1. Prevent Dry and Itchy Skin

  • Keep a towel by the door and always dry your pet when they come in from the outside.
  • Bathe as little as possible so your pet maintains their coat’s natural oils, and when you do bathe, use a moisturizing shampoo or rinse.
  • Talk to your vet about a special shampoo or treatment for irritated skin.

2. Safeguard Pets from Chemicals

  • Use pet-friendly ice melts whenever possible.
  • Clean any spills from your vehicle thoroughly – antifreeze is fatally poisonous for dogs and cats.

3. Keep Pets Warm and Cozy

  • Never shave your pet down to their skin in the winter as their coat provides much-needed warmth.
  • If your dog is long-haired, trim their fur to prevent clinging ice or snow clumps, and for shorter-haired pets, cozy them into a jacket or sweater.
  • It’s okay to feed pets a little extra in the winter as colder temperatures cause their bodies to burn energy faster.
  • Keep their beds away from drafty areas and, if the floor is cold, make sure they have a place to sleep off the floor.

4. Protect those Paws

  • Before going outside, massage petroleum jelly or another paw protectant into paw pads.
  • Booties provide extra warmth as well as extra protection from salt or ice becoming lodged between bare toes.
  • After walks, wash and dry your pet’s paws and stomach to remove ice, salt, and chemicals.


Community Cats

1. Build or Buy a Shelter

  • While many outdoor cats can find shelter on their own, it is very helpful to provide a warm, dry shelter where they can secure protection from harsh elements. You can always buy a heated cat shelter on Amazon, or you can build one yourself. Take a waterproof foam cooler, drill a tiny hole in one of the bottom corners, and cut a small opening in the side for the doorway. Line the cooler with a thick layer of straw and place the lid on the cooler. (Be sure to use straw, which will insulate the shelter and repel moisture, and not hay, which will become cold, soggy, and can grow mold quickly.) Place the shelter outside and raised off the ground with wood boards. Also be sure to angle the shelter on a slight slant so any water that comes inside can drain out through the hole you drilled and so that snow cannot pile on top of the shelter. You can find instructions and tips for creating a community cat shelter online through the ASPCA or Alley Cat Allies! 

2. Offer Plenty of Food and Water

  • All animals, especially those who live outdoors, need extra food and water during the winter months to maintain their bodies’ energy and stay warm and hydrated. Wet food is great because it requires less energy from the cat to digest, but it should be served out of plastic containers to decrease the chance of freezing.
  • To keep food and water from freezing, use bowls that are deep rather than wide, place them in the sun, spray insulation on the underside of dishes, use heated bowls, or create a feeding station just as you would create a shelter.

3. Keep Up with TNR

  • Most kittens are born in late winter and early spring, and continuing TNR efforts over the winter is the best way to prevent these litters. To accommodate for winter trapping, insulate your traps, bait cats with oil-based food, and be sure the holding area is warm and dry, both pre- and post-surgery.
  • Do not leave traps unattended, and do not trap if dangerous weather is in the forecast.