Living in a four seasons country has us needing to be prepared for all temperatures, including winter. Every season, we learn lots and add more gear to our adventures as we explore in the colder seasons. Since it's cold about half of the year, I find that it's so worth the investment to have a good winter setup which works best for your feline bestie! Read on to see what has worked for us.
Step 1: Winterizing the Backpack
If you don't yet have a backpack for adventures beyond the house with your cat, get one. The backpack which we've now had for 2 years works really well for us. Read my review on it here. What I wish this backpack had was the options to purchase weather gear for it (ie. rain cover, insulation options for cold weather, etc.). Because it doesn't, we have learnt to reach out to the community to get creative with winterizing it ourselves!
I had seen our friend @roxythe_kitty using what looked like a fleece liner that seemed to be made for this backpack. When I reached out to see what it was they had told us it was a fleece cat tunnel but did not know where they got it. Back in March, 2019 (before the pandemic hit) we had a Toronto Cat Exploring meetup where we also had a cat stuff swap. I couldn't believe it but the exact same fleece cat tunnel was at the swap - I snatched it up! Upon researching where it was from, I found that it was the Jackson Galaxy Comfy Cocoon by Petmate (see here). We use this "fleece liner" unzipped (there's a zipper on the bottom) as Gibson has more mobility this way. This setup keeps him a lot warmer when he's needing it. See below for photos.
Another piece that we are adding to our backpack is a heated shawl. Believe it or not, but our friend who is from Australia (@bryson_burmese_adventure_kitty) posted about it as something they use in their colder season. Upon searching around, I've decided to order this heated shawl from Amazon so that it's small enough to fit at the bottom of our backpack with the tunnel zipped open at the bottom while inserted inside the backpack. I have a large battery to charge the shawl (we ordered this one from Amazon) and will be using that to keep Gibson warm. I've yet to update you all on it's effectiveness once we receive this (at latest, by March 2, 2021).
Step 2: Winterizing Gibson
Adding any accessories to your fur babe is something that has to be trained and worked towards. If your cat does not like and will not wear apparel after you've tried, I don't advise that you force them to wear such things. Unfortunately that may mean not exploring in the winter or (when there's not a lockdown/pandemic and it is safe to do so) explore indoors in pet-friendly stores throughout the winter months. Alternatively, you could winterize your cat's backpack like we did and you might be able to go walking in warmth without putting any apparel on them. Luckily, Gibson is one of those cats who are totally okay with wearing almost anything. When there is something he doesn't like (for example, some styles of sweaters he REALLY hates and will show us as he doesn't move or walks extremely awkward), we do not expect or force him to wear it. Reason being is that if he needs to protect himself or get away from danger, his discomfort will hold him back from being able to protect himself in any way.
Since we've been asked a lot, I will list and describe the things that have worked for Gibson during the winter months. That doesn't always mean that our list will work exactly for you (but we will also list Gibson's sizing paired with a sizing chart at the end of this blog so that you can compare with your feline best to see if these things would fit your cat appropriately). I advise for you to check out HomesAlive or Ren's Pets for the availability of these products.
On a colder day, in order of how we put it all on, the following would be worn by Gibson:
Because the RC Moto Control Harness (size XS) is our absolutely favourite, we still primarily use this harness even in the winter. Yes, it does mean that things are a tad bulkier for Gibson, but since we don't notice him walking funny even as everything is on him we still use it. Sometimes, we will use the H style RC Pets Kitty harness (size medium) if we are out for a longer period of time to make things a bit lighter on him.
RC Pets Baseline Fleece Pullover (Size 12)
Baseline fleece pullovers are the epitome of comfort when it comes to sweaters for Gibson. The material and fit is so perfect for him and he can walk, jump and move around in them without any signs of change in these behaviours or discomfort. He doesn't even notice that it's on! We always use the baseline fleeces alone or underneath his winter jackets. This often depends on whether or not it's mild or very cold and on if we are going on shorter or longer trips. You can check out more details on this piece of apparel here.
RC Pets Snood (Size Small)
Our snood is usually used when its super cold out but it's also great as an infinity style scarf on chilly days. Once Gibson's harness and fleece are on, we will slip on the snood and tuck it into his fleece and then place his winter jacket on so that it's securely on him. Cats can get frostbite on the tips of their ears (as well as their paws, tail, and nose), so protecting these areas are key (see 'Frostbite in Cats' by PetMD). We love that we can use this either way (on his neck only or over his ears) and adjust the sizing with the strings on both ends. Check out more details for this piece of winter apparel here.
Winter Jacket (Size 12)
We have a few options when it comes to jackets for Gibson but our two favourite are currently the Whistler Winterwear (plaid as seen in the photos below) and Vortex Parka (all red as seen in the photos below) by RC Pet Products. Gibson doesn't at all seem bothered by the style of these jackets and we can always gauge this by the way that he walks. What we love most about the Whistler Winterwear is that it doesn't have to get placed on over Gibson's head as it's all put on by velcro underneath him. The Vortex is great as well and though it does go over his head, it's a bigger opening and Gibson is fine with it going on this way. Once the jacket is over his head, we leave the one arm buckled, place his one arm in, and then buckle him in on the other arm. We always pair his jackets with his baseline fleece pullovers, too. We've also heard really good things about the Hurtta Extreme Warmer jacket which is another great winter jacket option.
Paw Wax or Booties (in training)
Our dear friend Adami (@adami_the_aby) sent us some paw wax which they made themselves from the recipe which can be found on the CatExplorer's website (click this link to see). You can also find lots of good information on this link regarding 'Cats and Cold Weather'. Anyways, this paw wax helps to protect Gibson's paws from snow, antifreeze and/or salt (though, we still always avoid these toxic dangers). I use this on Gibson when it's been snowing and we know that people have dropped salt down on the ground where he walks. A reminder that this does not stop these toxins from harming a cat so we always carry paw wipes with us in the car and give him a good wipe down when our adventure is over.
We've also recently given our second attempt in training Gibson to wear booties in the snow! You can view the video below to see how it went.
We've SO much to learn beyond this huge success but here's our advice so far. Last year, we tried to train Gibson INSIDE to wear socks and different styles of booties on his feet. He would always find ways to kick or bite it off and so we ended up giving up. This year, we decided to give it another try. It dawned on me that maybe we should try training Gibson to wear booties OUTSIDE. That way, he will see what a difference wearing them makes on his paws... and WOW - what a difference he saw!
We had a major success in having him keep the booties we got for him on. We only started with the back paws and though he did manage to kick them off and fuss when putting them back on, he eventually continued on the path with them on. The key is not to get booties that will be tight so that they stay on, I believe. I had thought that if it was tight, he couldn't get them off but really, it being too tight was not natural or comfortable for him. What worked for Gibson is these booties here and can also be found on Amazon (this similar style by @dogbooties is also recommended by the only other cat that we know to wear booties, our heroes @adventuresofmikeandlily though, it seems that only smaller independent stores carry them).
Winter will look different for every cat who explores beyond the house, depending on a number of things such as how tolerant they are of the cold, what they are willing to wear, if they are okay with riding in or on a carrier/backpack, etc. What's always important is that they are safe and warm as you go about your adventure!
For your reference to see if the sizes listed work for your cat, here is a chart (from the RC Pets website) along with Gibson's measurements so that you can compare:
A - Neck: 23 cm
B - Back Length: 36 cm
C - Chest: 37 cm
D - Waist: 21 cm
E - "Wiz Sone" Length: 21 cm
F - Front Chest: 12 cm
Weight: 10.6 lbs
We'd love to hear about your tips and tricks for making winter more manageable with a cat who explores beyond the house! The best way to reach us is to message us on Instagram. Thanks for reading!
xx Sarah & Gibson