While a feline’s thick fur acts as a wonderful insulator when dry, once it gets wet it loses that ability and becomes a soggy, freezing mat against your cat’s skin. Hence, why cats typically don’t like being wet.
In Vail’s single-digit January temperatures, cats can develop hypothermia very quickly. Just as with humans, once hypothermia begins, a cat’s central nervous system weakens, blood flow to their extremities is diminished, they become more and more lethargic and they can literally freeze to death.
Frostbite, which accompanies hypothermia, can lead to the loss of a cat’s toes, ears, tail and even paws. If your cat has been outside for more than a brief time, look carefully at the tips of her ears, nose and toes for any change in color: if the areas begin to turn purple or black, that’s a sign of severe frostbite, and you need to get the cat to your veterinarian immediately.
Long-haired cats are especially prone to developing snowballs between their toes and on their bellies, although it can happen to any cat left outside in the snow. These lumps of snow can make walking extremely painful, and in some cases, can lead to frostbite.
Small chunks of ice can also lodge between a cat’s toes and actually cut the toes and paws.
De-icers often contain toxic chemicals which can sicken your cat. Even plain rock salt can be dangerous: cats ingest it when they lick their feet, bellies and legs to clean it off. This can result in vomiting and diarrhea. In larger quantities, they can suffer from kidney damage and even death. Walking on salt for extended periods can also cause a cat’s feet to crack and bleed.
Antifreeze is especially deadly. Even the tiniest amount of spilled antifreeze — as little as a teaspoon — can kill a cat.
The best way to avoid all these dangers is to keep your cat indoors where it can stay warm, dry and safe from winter’s chill.