Cats and Roads Winter Care

Cats and cars do not mix well at any time of the year, but there are many reasons to be extra cautious during the winter months.....

Once the clocks have gone back, vets start seeing a significant increase in road traffic accidents. Studies have revealed, as we also tend to see a pattern of, that cats are most commonly hit by cars during the evening and early hours. We always advise bringing cats in overnight, but the hours usually referred to as night time become blurred during winter months when daylight hours reduce and the dark nights set in much earlier.

Cats are natural predators and as such will be distracted chasing prey in darkness. In addition, the quiet of an evening makes them more confident roaming - meaning they are more likely to be in places (like roads) they would normally avoid in daylight when traffic is busiest.

Winter also brings with it rain, ice, snow and fog, all making driving conditions difficult and reducing a drivers vision. These poor conditions also make a cats visibility and reaction times impaired, leaving both cat and driver less likely to be able to avoid a collision.

In good weather conditions cats misjudge the distance and speed of oncoming vehicles and can be blinded by headlights, so in bad conditions this is made even worse. People also overdrive their headlights, meaning, they are driving too fast to stop in the distance covered by their headlights. Add in blizzards, heavy rain or heavy fog to this making reaction time significantly lower. Lowering the beam could help visibility, especially in poor weather conditions.

Owners, follow our outdoor cat checklist to help lower the risk of being hit by a car.

Drivers, follow our prevention tips

Every winter countless cats die from ingesting anti-freeze due to the ingredient ethylene glycol which can be fatal. According to Cats Protection, more than four cats a week are killed by anti-freeze in the UK.

If you own a car, then you’re probably keeping some antifreeze in your house or garage. Even if you’re keeping your feline strictly indoors, there’s still a chance that your cat might get near the antifreeze and try to drink it. If you haven’t capped the container properly, or have spilled some of it on the ground when refilling your car, the cat will immediately sense it and can easily smell the strong scent coming from the antifreeze, especially from its main ingredient, ethylene glycol.

The flavor of the liquid is highly appealing to cats, unless a bitterant has been added. If they have the opportunity to lick or drink it, they will. Even as little as a teaspoonful of antifreeze can harm your cat in fatal ways. In such cases, you must take your cat to the vet immediately as there are no homemade remedies that can help you save your pet’s life. Vodka has been widely publicised in the media as one of the methods vets use to treat antifreeze poisoning. This is indeed very true, yet should never be attempted at home as vets will use specific amounts over a specific time period most commonly through IV. Alcohol is poisonous to cats and you risk causing ethanol poisoning by attempting to self treat at home.

Antifreeze rapidly absorbs in the cats body and the toxicity affects various parts of the body, including its kidneys, brain, and liver.

Shortly after your cat has drank antifreeze, they will start experiencing the following symptoms:




Decreased reflexes

Increased thirst and urination

Depending on the amount of antifreeze they have digested and how long ago it was digested. Further symptoms triggered within the next 24 hours may include:

Lack of urine

Severe depression or lethargy



Extremely low body temperature

The best way to prevent antifreeze poisoning is by making sure there are no leaks from your car nor antifreeze containers. If you suspect your cat may have drank antifreeze from a car in the street, get them to a veterinarian immediately. Action is required immediately as vets determine antifreeze poisoning in 3 stages. The consequences of stage 3 is that the cat will sadly will be in the acute and irreversible terminal kidney failure stage. Never wait and see what happens, visit a vet straight away.

If you are unsure, you can call the Animal Poison Hotline consisting of top vets, toxicologists and scientists. The UK’s only animal poison centre is a 24 hour service for pet owners who need advice if they suspect their pet has been in contact with something harmful. The owner will be told whether to expect any further symptoms and if a visit to the vet is needed. There is a cost for calls.

As the temperature drops, cats have a habit of crawling under car bonnets and wheel arches to soak up the warmth from car engines and tyres. Car engines and tyres can stay warm for hours after a journey and cats will soon find that cosy spot. Even if you don't use your car regularly, cats and kittens may still climb inside seeing it as a safe spot away from predators and the elements.

Cats can be seriously injured or killed when the engine is started. If they survive the engine being started, they could fall off the car as you are driving and be seriously injured, or worse, and no one is a stranger to the hundreds of news reports annually of cats being found miles and miles from home after climbing inside a vehicle. Also, if a cat is hiding beneath a car and it snows, it can become trapped if more than a few inches of tightly packed snow falls. This can lead to oxygen deprivation and suffocation if the cat cannot escape. A cat that is trapped under a car can also suffocate if the car is turned on and carbon dioxide exhaust takes up what little oxygen is left.

Many cats do not want to go out much in cold weather but, for those that do pop out, owners should never leave them for prolonged periods with no access to their home, either via a cat flap or the owner calling them in. Letting cats nip out for short intervals only will reduce the need for a cat to seek out warm places.

Always check you know where your cat is before going out, especially if your car is parked on your drive. Always glance under your vehicle for any animals hiding or sleeping underneath, especially in rainy conditions. During snowy weather, you can take advantage of snow and mud to determine if any animals have left prints near your vehicle. However, many will climb inside and will not be visible by simply glancing underneath.

Always make sure to bang on the bonnet of your car and check around the wheels and on top of tyres before you start the engine and drive off. Honking your horn my also wake them up and scare them out, but this might also cause some with a more nervous disposition to climb further inside. For more nervous cats, open the car hood and move away from the vehicle for a few minutes until they feel safe enough to run away.

In some cases, they have genuinely got themselves well and truly stuck. Fire Rescue Units work with the Police, the RSPCA and other specialist organisations to rescue animals in distress. Typically fire crews will be asked to attend an animal rescue following a request from the RSPCA. Contact the RSPCA on 0300 1234 999 who will contact and involve fire crews if involvement is necessary.

While the rock salt used to grit the streets might help make travel safer for pedestrians, it can be deadly to animals. Hundreds of dogs and cats die from rock salt scattered by gritters every year in the UK. When cats ingest rock salt it causes burns to the mouth and throat causing excessive salivating and drinking, and they can end up with a high blood sodium concentration. When ingested, it can cause gastrointestinal distress and they might start salivating, quivering, vomiting, diarrhoea, have insatiable thirst, bodily weakness, disorientation or seizures. Even the smallest amounts can lead to extreme thirst, lethargy, vomiting, fits and kidney damage can occur in severe cases.

Cats will need to see a vet if you suspect your pet has ingested even the smallest amount. The vet will need to perform a blood test to determine if there is rock salt poisoning and then rehydrate them and work to stabilise the sodium levels in the blood.

Cats can be affected by rock salt even if they don’t actually ingest it. Walking on gritted paths and roads can cause irritations to their paws and skin. If got on paws or fur, it can cause bacterial infection and chemical burns. Paws and fur can be cleaned with warm water, a mild pet shampoo and a soft brush before they groom and ingest it.

You should also be mindful of bringing rock salt in to your home on your own clothes. keep your shoes away from pets and be sure to clean them when you come in so they don't lick any clinging salt from them.

You can speak to to the Animal Poison Hotline or speak to a veterinarian online about any suspicions or concerns.

All warm blooded creatures can fall victim to the damaging effects of frostbite when exposed to prolonged periods of low temperatures. In cats, the feet, tail, and ears are at highest risk for injury because of reduced blood flow to those parts of the body. Although generally not life-threatening on its own, frostbite can result in scarring, infection, and, in worst cases, the need for amputation of the affected area(s). Not always immediately detectable, it can sometimes take several days before signs of frostbite are noticeable so keep an eye out for any detectable pain, discolouration, swelling, blistering, and/or peeling of the skin on the feet, tail, and ears. If the areas become darker, instead, you should contact your veterinarian immediately. Cats can get frostbite when the temperature drops below 32°F (0°C) as blood vessels close to the skin start to narrow or constrict to preserve core body temperature by diverting blood toward the core and away from the cooler parts of the body.

Even with a fur coat, cats that are exposed to cold environmental temperatures, especially when wet, can result in hypothermia. The more severe the case of hypothermia, the more observable the symptoms will become. If the cat’s temperature drops too low, the cat may fall into a coma, which is why it’s important to take action the moment you notice signs of hypothermia. Some of the symptoms you should watch out for include:

Difficulty breathing

General weakness


Cold skin

Loss of consciousness

Rigid, stiff muscles

Low heart rate

Low respiratory rate


Dilated pupils

Although most cases of hypothermia can be easily treated, this condition can turn fatal if you wait too long to take your cat to a veterinarian. As soon as you see signs of hypothermia, call a vet immediately.

All year round is the time to microchip your pets, and ensure details are registered and kept up to date.

With the many dangers facing cats over the winter period, ensure your cats details have been registered correctly and your details are correct on the microchip database. You can check your pets microchip here. It is CRUCIAL that your pets details are up to date, especially your phone number and email address. Contact your pets microchip provider immediately to correct the details if they are out of date. Your cats life may well just depend on it.

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