Tuesday 23 February 2021

Can domestic cats live outside in the winter?

Not sure why the question is being asked by someone because domestic cats are not meant to live outside in the winter! They are not designed to do that. They live with people inside their homes. That said the domestic cat is rugged and enduring but they will be hurt by some winters. It depends on what kind of winter it is which depends on where they are.

Siberian cat lost limbs through frostbite
Siberian cat lost limbs through frostbite (see link above). Image: PoC.

There are stories of domestic cats getting frostbite and losing their toes and part of their feet as a result. Horrible - see picture above for instance. I have read stories of domestic cats being frozen to the ground by ice. They have been injured by the cold. And sometimes ear flaps can suffer frostbite leading to amputations. You might have seen domestic cats with prosthetic legs. These are cats who've lost the ends of their legs to frostbite.

Domestic cats are very stoic and enduring. They will put up with very cold weather as the stories testify. But they'll be hurt sometimes and sometimes they will quietly die. We don't see stories about that. How many domestic, stray and feral cats died or were injured by the recent devastating Texas big freeze which claimed the lives of many people because of heating supply problems?

There are no hard and fast rules on whether domestic cats can live outside in the winter. No one's counting and no one has done a study on it. If a domestic cat is forced by unfortunate circumstance to live outside all winter and they live in Canada where it is bloody cold, it is distinctly possible that they will die of hypothermia particularly if their food supply is scarse and they become underfed.

Cats are good survivors but a relentless series of days when the temperature is below freezing will harm and kill domestic cats but it does, as mentioned, depend on the circumstances. In the urban environment there are opportunities to find some warmth and some sustenance.

Kind people feed stray cats. Some make individual shelters for ferals and strays out of cooler boxes for example. Some take the cats in and adopt them. There are food scaps around the place and many unwanted stray domestic cats make their way through cat flaps to 'steal' cat food inside homes. This is common actually. So, yes, when the circumstances are right a domestic cat can live outside in the winter. They'll gradually become feral.

They will lose their health and coiffed appearance. They'll become ragged and sometimes dirty. Their lifespan will be shortened but they might survive.

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