Ultimate guide to adventuring with your cat in the winter

A man is walking through the forest in the winter. The man is wearing a backpack, carrying his adventure cat in it

I love adventuring in the winter. But sharing those moments with loved ones – either human, or pets – makes those adventures even more special. Winters in Canada can be pretty harsh, so proper preparation is needed, especially if we want to bring Chumka along with us. I am still working on improving our winter adventure set up, but I am very happy with what it is at the moment.

How cold is too cold for a cat?

One thing I’ve observed recently is that we underestimate how pets’ abilities to stay warm. There are days where Chumka is sitting by the bushes, observing the birds, seemingly unaware of the cold… while I am standing nearby, holding the leash, and shaking in my winter coat. I’ve learned that he knows when he’s “done” and is ready to come inside. In fact, he often leads me to the front door!

I looked for a scientific paper on this subject and couldn’t find much. There is a general rule of thumb that, “if you’re cold, they (pets) are cold too”. But what if a person runs hot, or cold? I’d like to know the “official” answer… or a number, anything really!

PetMD mentions that “for most healthy adult cats, temperatures below 45 degrees Fahrenheit (7 degrees Celsius) over a prolonged period will be uncomfortable.” It’s also important to note that cats can experience hypothermia and frostbite just like we can. Be mindful of that when you see the temperature drop below 32 degrees Fahrenheir/ 0 degrees Celsius. Their face, paws, and tail are especially susceptible to frostbite.

Some cats are more tolerant (or better “equipped”) of the cold weather than others. A gorgeous long hair Siberian (like our friend Freyja) is definitely going to be warmer than our skinny medium hair Chumka.

Warning signs of hypothermia and frostbite

If you see any of the below symptoms, it’s time to turn around and get your cat to a warm place. You might need to take your pet to a veterinarian for a check up. 

Hypothermia is a drop in body temperature that is dangerous to health. Symptoms can range from mild to severe, and the condition can be fatal.

Signs of hypothermia include (but are not limited to)…

  • Shivering
  • Lethargy or slowing down
  • Lack of responsiveness
  • Feeling cold to the touch
  • Muscle stiffness
  • Dilated pupils
  • Slow, shallow breathing, or difficulty breathing

The signs will become and more noticeable as the body temperature drops down. That’s why it’s so important to be observant when you’re adventuring with your pet in the winter. The sooner you spot the signs and act, the better the outcome will be.

Frostbite occurs on extremities such as the toes, paws, and ears due to lack of blood flow. This can happen from direct cold exposure (such as walking in snow and ice) but also from hypothermia.

Signs of frostbite include (but are not limited to)…

  • Feeling cold to the touch— especially the ear tips, paws, and tail. Those areas are most exposed to the cold. You might even notice red or discolored skin (pale, gray, or blue-ish)
  • Swelling of the affected areas
  • Areas of blackened or dead skin (this is a severe case of frostbite)

VCA Canada’s website warns that, “The clinical signs of frostbite may take several days to appear, especially if the affected area is small or on non-weight bearing areas.

Also a little warning/ reminder… please read how to properly provide first aid for hypothermia and frostbite. It’s important to know that your pet can go into shock if it’s getting warmed up too fast.

Can you help your cat to acclimate to the cold?

Though I couldn’t find any scientific papers on this subject, I do believe that you can help your furry pal with this! There is a number of articles on this subject – from both well established pet websites, and a number of moving companies as well 🙈😹

Start with really short adventures around your yard or apartment. (Please be careful in areas where ice melt substances might be used) And increase the distance as suitable. Each cat is different and some might do better in the cold than others.

Staying warm takes energy so make sure to feed your cat appropriately. Cats (and other animals) have a natural instinct to eat more before and during the cold months. It helps them to grow a nice thick coat and perhaps some healthy layer of insulating fat hehe

Safety during winter adventures

I want to start this guide by saying that we always weigh in a lot of factors before heading out the door with our cat. In the winter, and any other season. We know our cat pretty well and can tell whether he’s up for an adventure or if he prefers to stay inside. We don’t venture outside if it’s really cold or really windy. And the length of our adventures depends on Chumka – he’s pretty good at “telling” us what he wants/ needs, and when it’s time to call it quits.

Here are couple things you should consider/ research before heading out the door:

Check the weather

I do realize that this is an obvious thing to consider 😅 Check the forecast for the whole day and check what the temperature “feels like”. Dry cold weather is much easier to deal with than humid cold.

Your pet might have a nice thick winter coat, but if it snows heavily and the coat gets wet, it’s a recipe for a disaster (or a medical emergency).

Research the area

I love using the AllTrails App to check the photos and reviews from hikers. Some places even have webcams that you can check. I love those because I can check how busy the parking lot or the trails are.

Click here to read how I find cat friendly places to explore! 😸

Black cat walking towards the camera. The cat is walking through the snow Be ready for a change of plans

Winter weather can be unpredictable, especially if you live in higher elevations. It’s good to have a plan B ready, in case conditions change. And no shame in turning around and heading home early!

Know your cat’s limits and watch their body language

Adventuring through the snow can be tasking. Make sure to watch your cat’s body language for any signs of exhaustion or slowing down.

Things to watch for:

  • Is your cat panting?
  • Is your cat shivering?
  • Is your cat taking lots of breaks (or more than usual)?
  • Are your cat’s paws sore or sensitive?
  • Is your cat showing signs of (early) frostbite or hypothermia?

If you answer “yes” to any of those, it might be wise to take a break or scoop them up into the backpack and head back.

Be prepared

Each (winter) adventure might require different preparation and/ or gear. Here is what I like to have with us (for kitty) on each winter adventure:

  • Food
  • Hydration
  • Extra sweater or jacket
  • ID
  • Safety light (this can be a glow in the dark collar, leash, or tag)
  • First Aid
  • Poo bags

Sometimes I will have his travel litterbox in the car, if the drive to the trailhead is long.

Protecting the paws from harmful chemicals

This is a crucial step when adventuring in the winter. Ice melt and antifreeze chemicals are very dangerous to our pets. The best way to protect your fur pal from those is to avoid walking in areas that could have been exposed to those chemicals. And avoid using them yourself. I realize it’s much easier said than done…

If you live in an apartment building, consider carrying your cat/ pet until you are outdoors (or use pet booties). The chemicals and snow can easily be brought inside on our shoes. Carpeted areas are especially at risk as it’s more difficult to get those chemicals out. And let’s be honest, how often do those carpets get cleaned? Once or twice a year?

When you come home (or the car) after a walk, wash or wipe your pet’s paws. This will help to remove any chemicals that your pet may have walked through. You don’t want your pet to ingest those when grooming.

You can get pet friendly balms (like this Musher’s Secret) to help protect the paws from harsh weather conditions and the chemicals. The balm creates a protective barrier between the paw pads and “the elements”. Apply it just before you head out the door, and then wipe it when you get back inside. It is a natural wax, so you might get a bit dirty if your cat likes to chill on your shoulders.

Cat walking through deep snow. The cat is wearing a bright orange jacket to keep him warm and visible Recommended Winter Gear

What I love about the winter and cold temperatures is that it’s easier to control the temperature than in the summer. If you’re cold, then you put another layer on… But if you’re hot in the summer and already dressed for the weather… you can’t do much other than find a place with A/C. And it’s similar with our kitty cats – especially if their coat is black.

Let’s dive into the essentials!

Cat jackets and sweaters

We have a number of sweaters and jackets for Chumka 🤭 Some are longer and/or warmer than others, and some we can layer up if needed. I highly recommend getting a waterproof jackets for winter adventures when it’s snowing.

All of our kitty clothes are from MeggyTrails (@meggytrails). She is one of the best, if not the best, kitty clothes brand. They are really high quality, very durable, and made to last. She has an Etsy store with so many designs and options!

The coat in the above picture is from MeggyTrails!

Pet goggles

I am still trying to train Chumka to wear the goggles. I got them last year and picked them up just a couple times… training needs to be consistent in order to work.

Pet goggles help to protect the eyes from bright environments – for example when snow or water reflects the sun.

The most popular pet goggles are the Rex Specs goggles. Size XS fits most “average cats”. They are quite pricy – especially if you live outside the US. But you can find a number of similar products on Amazon.

Cat boots

Chumka would rather stay inside than go outside wearing little boots. I try to limit how much time he spends outdoors when it’s really cold. It’s good to watch your cat’s body language. If s/he lifts their paws and/or shakes them, it means their paws are getting cold. Touch their paws to check their temperature.

Some people argue that putting boots on cats leaves them defenseless, uncomfortable, and even scared.

Long story short… I don’t have any personal recommendations. It really can be difficult to find boots that cats will accept. However, you can get…

Cat sitting outside in the winter. The cat is sitting on an insulating foam pad Warming Pad

We recently started using Insulated Sitting Pads – for both us and Chumka. It’s very impressive how much they help. This foam pad is puncture proof, super light, and waterproof.

The above photo isn’t the best quality, it was taken with my iPhone on a cloudy dark winter day. However, you can see how well the pad works! It’s a perfect small size, and you can fold it when not in used for easy storage.

Another great warming pad is this Furhaven ThermaNAP Self-Warming Bed. This mat works by capturing and reflecting body heat. It’s not water proof so it would be great for travel or insulating the backpack (if it’s big enough).

Cat Backpack

I am a huge advocate for bringing cat backpack on every adventure. For us, it “serves” as Chumka’s safe space – he goes there whenever he get’s spooked or anxious. It also works as a break “area” when our cat gets tired during adventures. And in the winter, it turns into a cozy, warm haven. I recently wrote a blog post explaining how I “winter proof” my cat’s backpack. You should check it out!

If you don’t want to/ feel like “upgrading” your kitty backpack for winter, Kurgo G-Train Pet Backpack is a great (but pricy) alternative. It has a waterproof bottom, much more insulation and padding, but still provides plenty of ventilation.

Tabby cat sitting in the snow Cat friendly winter outdoor activities ideas

There are plenty of outdoor activities you can try with your cat!

Go Snowshoeing with your cat

This is our favourite winter activity to do with Chumka. We have couple resorts/ winter clubs that offer maintained trails that we can use for a small fee. I don’t need to do much planning when going there, other than picking a trail! Some of them even offer offline GPS maps, so you can have a peace of mind you won’t get lost!

You can go snowshoeing just about anywhere, as long as there is enough snow 😸

Take your cat on a road trip

We are currently experiencing a bad cold snap in Canada. We’ve been stuck inside for about a week now, as it’s too cold to go anywhere – even for us, humans. We went for couple (short) “road trips”, even just to explore the orchard or see some views outside the city.

Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do, to get out of the funk. 😸😸 You can read here how I prepare for road trips – long or short!

Visit Pet Friendly Stores

Canada is slowly becoming more and more pet friendly. There is a number of pet friendly stores now! If you live somewhere else in the world, chances are that your country is more pet friendly than Canada. It’s disheartening for us, Canadian adventure cat owners, to see our friends being able to bring their pets in so many places.

You might not be able to get much looking around if you have your pet with you… but it’s a great way to provide some mental stimulation for your pet!

Some cats might be too anxious for public and loud areas. Always consider their safety and comfort first.

Try sledding with your cat

There is a very adorable video of a dog pulling his kitty sibling named Leo in a sled! Why not try it out with your cat?!

Cat friendly winter indoor activities ideas

If you looked outside the window and whispered to yourself, “nope, not today”, but your pets are asking to go outside… Yes, I’ve been there many many times 🙈 Check out my blog post for some ideas of indoor activities to do when it’s cold and yucky outside!

Final words

I hope you’re gonna have a lot of fun on your next winter adventure with your adventure kitty! I hope you found the blog post helpful! Feel free to send me a message on Instagram or an email through my contact page if you have any more questions!

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Picture of Paulina, Chumka's Mom

Paulina, Chumka's Mom