Keeping kittens out of the k..cold
January 16, 2009 10:43 AM   Subscribe

Kittens will have to be outside in the cold weather for a couple hours tomorrow. Would love some advice on how to accomplish this in some odd conditions.

Our two five-month old kittens are getting spayed/neutered at the ASPCA mobile clinic tomorrow. Our usual vet is out indefinitely and our particular portion of NYC has little to no other options. The clinic will only be in our neighborhood tomorrow, and waiting any longer will probably result in more kittens.

The mobile clinic is first come, first serve, and there's a limit to how many animals they do, so you have to get there around 6:30 AM and wait a couple hours outside. Because nothing is ever easy, it's also the coldest it's been here all winter, and that's supposed to continue on into tomorrow.

We have a carrier for each of them (here, and here). The hospital that provides the clinic says that there's no guarantee of being able to leave the kittens in the van before it's time to take them in for surgery. How do we keep them warm for two hours?

We don't have (and can't afford) sweaters or clothes for the cats, but we have little blankets we can stuff in the carriers. Would including hot water bottles in the carriers be effective? After two hours? What about chemical warmers? Or would those just introduce a gaseous or ingestible hazard? Would they still be able to breathe if we covered every airhole with blankets? We're also considering sealing a portion (only a portion!) of the airholes in each carrier with plastic, so the heat has a better chance of staying in. (This may be a terrible idea.)

The ASPCA site and the hospital didn't have a lot of suggestions in regards to keeping our cats warm. Advice would be welcome! (Especially if you've gone through a similar situation.)
posted by greenland to Pets & Animals (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I can't get a sense of scale from the pictures linked, but do you think both kittens could go int he hard-sided carrier together? I usually take my two cats (littermates) to the vet in one large carrier together. I figure your kittens will be able to snuggle together for warmth which will help, on top of whatever insulation you decide on.

I would imagine that it would be OK to block all the side and rear airholes and just the leave the front cage door as is, plenty of airflow. Some snuggly blankets on the floor and up the sides too.
posted by Joh at 10:48 AM on January 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

You may consider putting them both into the same carrier (the canvas one). Be sure they have openings to breath from, even if it is cold. I like your idea of wrapping hot water bottles in blankets. They should be fine, generally.
posted by jabberjaw at 10:50 AM on January 16, 2009

Hot water bottle should do the trick, plus blocking airflow and putting in blankets. They have their own insulation as well. Maybe the cold will keep the wait short. Good luck!
posted by beagle at 10:52 AM on January 16, 2009

@Joh, jabberjaw They're too big to fit comfortably inside one carrier, unfortunately, as they would snuggle happily and they hate being separated. Further, the clinic specifies that each cat should be in its own carrier. (I can see why, considering their likely state post-op.)
posted by greenland at 10:54 AM on January 16, 2009

I'm kind of unsure about the situation, but since you used the word "Our" a few times... Would it be possible for just one of you to stay outside in the line while the other stays warm indoors with the kittens until it's actually important for them to be there?
posted by Ms. Saint at 10:59 AM on January 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

some towels, and a couple of those hand warmer thingies?
posted by ArgentCorvid at 11:01 AM on January 16, 2009

I'd put both kittens together in a single carrier if you think they won't go nuts- they'll keep each other warm. You could try to keep them awake longer than usual the night before so they'll want to nap during the wait, and once they're asleep in the carrier, you can cover them with a blanket.

Remember that heat is retained in pockets of "still air" and lost when air moves over a surface. So your goal is to create lots of "still air" to insulate the kittens from the outside.
And the kittens, being mammals, will generate their own heat, but it will be lost if their bodies touch cold surfaces. So you want to keep the surfaces from getting too cold, and keep the kittens from coming in contact with them anyway.

1. Keep the air "still" in the carrier. You do NOT want a breeze going through the box.
Cover the airholes on three sides with something that won't let the wind in (tape on some cardboard?). And on the front, where the door/grille is, cover most of it with cardboard but leave a space maybe nearer to the top for air to get in & so you can see them. Enough air will get in through a mail-slot sized space on one side only. You don't want holes on more than one side or it'll allow air movement, and steal all the heat. Put a little air-permeable curtain over the slot opening (maybe use tape to attach a paper towel) so you can peek in at them, but also cover the air hole to keep the wind out.

2. Prevent the kittens' little warm bodies from touching cold plastic.
You could tape a layer of towel or blanket or even a couple layers of newspaper around the inside of the carrier so their bodies touch softer surfaces with air pockets, not cold plastic.
In the bottom of the carrier, put a folded pad on the bottom (a old towel would be good) and then over that, loosely jumble a really warm blanket with a fuzzy surface- fur, sheepskin, fleece, or polar-fleece if you have one, or one of your own polar-fleece jackets or vests if you don't. Not a smooth surface like a down duvet- a wooly, fluzzy surface will be warmer. Jumble it up so it has lots of ridges and folds for the kittens to snuggle into. In each ridge or fold, the kitten will be surrounded by, you guessed it, still air, which will be really warm.
A hot-water bottle under the bottom towel would be ok, but make sure it doesn't leak!

3. Minimize the amount of air that needs to be warmed.
Depending on the size of the box, maybe tape or tie a folded towel or blanket inside the ceiling of the carrier, too, to fill up some of the airspace inside- less airspace in the box means less air-movement, which means warmer kittens.

4. Keep the wind away from the box.
Finally, I'd swaddle the carrier in a big blanket- this will create still air outside the carrier (between it and the blanket), and keep it even warmer. But leave the front end un-swaddled (where the mail-slot is) so the kittens can breathe. When you're waiting in line, make sure to keep the open, unswaddled end pointed out of the wind (maybe point it towards your body).

They are mammals after all and they generate their own heat. So I would keep them out of the wind in a cozy little den with only a small opening, and they should be fine. Good luck!
posted by pseudostrabismus at 11:06 AM on January 16, 2009 [2 favorites]

You will want to be careful putting the carriers down on the ground. You'll need to insulate the bottoms really well. Newspaper is very good for this purpose--but cold will transfer up from the sidewalk really quickly without good insulation (I don't imagine you want to hold the carriers for hours). You could also bring a cardboard box or something to balance the carriers on that will lift them up from the ground.

So put layers of newspaper, then blankies and hotwater bottle/chemical warmers (wrapped in a towel to prevent chewing) and the kitties should be o.k.

Be sure and bundle up well yourself--maybe bring a chair, thermos of hot beverage, etc.
posted by agatha_magatha at 11:09 AM on January 16, 2009

On preview: Squish them into the same carrier during the wait to stay warm, but bring the second carrier to take them home separately post-op. Remember that in the carrier while waiting, you're hoping they pile on top of each other & snuggle as close as possible for warmth. Don't calculate size for "can they both stand and take a few steps comfortably". Calculate for "can they lie on top of each other". If the answer is yes, then totally combine them into one box.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 11:09 AM on January 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

Both kittens will fit in that hard-sided carrier together. (I have 2 adults who choose to squeeze into that size of carrier together.) Blankets or towels are good. The hot water bottle sounds like a good plan as well. Also, draping the outside of the carrier with a towel or blanket will help block wind and conserve heat without suffocating your kitties.

Remember, feral cats manage in this weather just fine with minimal shelter and no blankets, so 2 cats snuggling together nestled among blankets in a carrier aren't going to freeze.
posted by weebil at 11:10 AM on January 16, 2009

I know you said they might be too big to fit into one carrier, but test that. The slight discomfort they might feel at being wedged in together is probably far less than the discomfort felt by being cold and separated. The clinic wants them in separate carriers for after the op, but they have no reason to care where your kittens are for the 2 hours you stand outside the van. Bring the other carrier with you.
posted by iconomy at 11:12 AM on January 16, 2009

When I got my two littermate males neutered the vet's office told us to bring them each in their own carrier because after the surgery they would smell different to each other, which could cause problems if they had both gotten their smells on on carrier/blanket. They were totally in love with each other before and haven't changed at all since, so I'm not sure whether keeping them separated really does anything, but you might want to check with the clinic before you put them together, just in case.
posted by odayoday at 11:32 AM on January 16, 2009

Throw some towels in the dryer and make sure each carrier has plenty.
posted by arimathea at 12:17 PM on January 16, 2009

I'm a big fan of early spay and neuter, but I'd like to suggest the possibility of waiting for a break in the weather.

Five month old kittens just barely have their immune system in place, and adding the stress of being out in the cold for a few hours to the surgery (or the stress of the surgery to being out in the cold for a few hours) may be asking for problems. Particularly if one or more of them is being spayed (which is a lot more invasive procedure than being neutered).

If that won't work, then there are some good suggestions above. Be sure that while you're keeping warm air in the carriers you're also getting plenty of fresh air, and if you're going to put them in the same carrier for awhile, clip claws first (actually, do that anyway -- you and the animal techs will probably both be happy you did).

Best of luck with your kitties!
posted by nonliteral at 2:10 PM on January 16, 2009

You know rice bags that people use for applying heat to painful areas? Take an old sock, fill it with white rice , and sew it shut. You now have a rice bag. Nuke it (you'll want to play with it a bit to figure out how long), and pop it in the carrier with all the nice fluffy towels and blankies. It will stay warm for a while. I wouldn't use a hot water bottle, because they can be chewed and scratched and punctured if the kittens get bored.
posted by dilettante at 2:44 PM on January 16, 2009

Cut the tops off some old stretchy sox, or sleeves from old sweaters, cut two holes for kitties' two front feet...voila! little sweaters...along with the insulating warming ideas above they'll be warm as toast.
posted by mumstheword at 2:51 PM on January 16, 2009 [3 favorites]

N-th hot water bottle, I still do that myself, fill with hot tap water, let glass or whatever warm up and dump and refill. N-th newspaper, preferably between a couple of cloth things to keep it steady. Cardboard works well also. (yes I was homeless for a couple of years, yes cardboard and newspaper are really warm). Find a cardboard box that fits inside the carrier, leave just enough air space to breathe, it makes pretty good insulation.
posted by zengargoyle at 7:49 PM on January 16, 2009

Thanks for the advice everyone! (Really like the sock/sweater idea! Ditto the cardboard box-in-carrier.) The trip was a failure in the end (the mobile van busted its hydraulics before getting there) but the cats stayed warm throughout. We ended up wrapping each of them in a blanket (separate carriers) with a towel and hot water bottle underneath. We also covered the carriers themselves, to eliminate the wind. I wouldn't have them outside for longer than the couple hours we were there, but it worked for the situation.
posted by greenland at 9:41 PM on January 17, 2009

Zip em up inside your coats, right up against your tummies with their heads sticking out. That way everyone stays warm!
posted by Scram at 10:11 PM on January 17, 2009

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