How To Care For Feral Cats In Winter

black cat with glasses reading bookDo you feed or offer shelter to stray cats in your area? Have you wondered how to care for feral cats in winter? Can they even survive in extreme weather conditions? What can you do to help?

There are two basic needs you can help provide. One is a snug shelter where they can get away from the weather, sleep, and stay warm. The other is food and water.

The Need For Shelter

Let’s look at the shelter for these cats first. It doesn’t need to be too big. In fact, the bigger it is, the harder it is to keep heated. Cats will often snuggle with a buddy for warmth, so they just need enough room to curl up together comfortably.

Your shelter needs to be big enough for more than one cat, but not so big that the heat disappears too quickly. A suggested size is two feet by three feet by at least 18 inches high. If only one or two cats use the shelter, it can be a bit smaller.

Though cats can be very good at finding their own shelter, at times they could use our help to provide them with a place to sleep, relax, warm up, and to feel safe. Providing such shelter is especially valuable in the worst of the winter weather. You can buy a ready-made shelter or you can build your own.

When you build a shelter, make sure the doorway is only big enough for cats. You can put a door flap over the entry way to help keep out cold air and potential predators.

It is important to build your shelter so it is a couple of inches above the ground to keep out rain and snow, or moisture

Two cat shelters
Two feral cat shelters

that might seep in. Use straw for insulation. Don’t use hay or something like blankets or towels, as those will soak up moisture and make the shelter cold and wet.

Face the entryway away from the wind. If you can face it close to a wall so only cats can get in or out, that is helpful. You might provide a couple sizes and types of shelter, as some cats get particular about what they like and don’t like.

If you can, add some insulation to the interior roof and walls of the shelter. Caulk the seams of the structure so that it is as draft-free as possible.

Your shelter should be located in a safe spot, concealed as much as possible, so the cats feel securely hidden and yet can watch their surroundings.

Don’t make the structure too airtight, as you will want to have some amount of ventilation inside. Perhaps you will need to drill some small holes along the bottom of the shelter.

Food And Water

Build a feeding station that will protect the cats’ food and water from wind and snow.

You will need to provide food and water daily. As the food and water you put out may freeze overnight, you need to ensure that the animals have access to fresh food and water each day.

elaborate cat feeding station
A feral cat feeding and housing complex

Place the feeding station as close to the sleeping quarters as possible, so the cats don’t have to go far in inclement weather to eat and drink. Try to make it inaccessible to other animals that may come to steal the food. Perhaps elevate it so the cat can get it but other animals cannot

Feed the cats regularly, preferably at the same time every day, so they can rely on a schedule. Otherwise, if they do not have food at the same time, they may go out to hunt, thus becoming exposed to the harshest elements.

Because of the need for extra calories and fat in the winter to fend off the cold and help maintain energy levels, they should receive more food. Perhaps you can involve your neighbors in the program by asking for food donations.

A dry kitten formula has been suggested as it is an excellent source of extra calories and balanced nutrition. Canned cat food also provides high caloric nutrition, but because of the higher liquid content, it may freeze.

One article I read suggests warming up canned food and water before serving, or using heated electric bowls. Use water bowls that are deep rather than wide, and if possible place in a sunny spot, helping to keep the water at least partially thawed. Do not use metal bowls.

The Alley Cat Allies in Atlantic City, New Jersey, discovered that using rubber containers such as those used for horses won’t crack like plastic containers when the cold freezes the water they contain.

Another tip is to put a microwavable heating pad under the bowls. This practice will help keep things thawed out. You can make your own heatable pads by filling pouches with rice and heating these in your microwave.

If a major storm is predicted, give the cats extra food and water in case you can’t get out there on schedule. After a snowstorm, make sure to clear away the snow from the entryway to their shelter so they don’t get snowed in.

Another reminder: If you are involved in a winter TNR program, make sure the traps are covered to keep out the elements. Check them often so no creature has to sit out a storm in such cold and uncomfortable conditions.

If you cannot get your ferals to use your shelters, try to find where they are sleeping and add a pile of straw. It will helpCat sleeping with straw keep them warm, and they can even burrow in it for more protection.

Winter Warnings

A cat outside in winter will gravitate to warm places. Therefore, give the hood of your car a few fist thumps before you start it. In this way you can make sure no cat has hidden under the car or inside the engine for warmth. Be sure to check between your tires and wheel wells.

If you need to use antifreeze, do not use it in an area accessible to cats or dogs. Antifreeze is a poison, and animals find its taste irresistible. As little as a teaspoon of antifreeze spilled in your driveway can kill a cat.

Also, when you clear snow, avoid salt or chemical melting products. If the cat gets these on his paws and licks them off, it could be lethal.

The references I used for this post are as follows:

If you would like to help feral cats get through the winter, but don’t want to attempt building a shelter, here are some ready-made shelters for outdoor cats from Amazon. Please click on the image or the blue highlighted link if you are interested in purchasing one of these. Please note that, as an Amazon associate, I may receive a small commission from your purchase.

K & H Pet Products Outdoor Kitty House, Insulated Cat Shelter

(Heated or Unheated)

by K & H Pet Products


Price:  $64.10 (List price $99.99.)  The featured 20-watt met safety listed heated bed inside the K & H outdoor heated house keeps cats warm even in sub-zero temperatures.  Two exits with removable clear door flaps.  Tested and certified by met Labs to exceed USA/CA electrical safety standards.  l year limited warranty.


Heated Cat Houses, Elevated, Waterproof and Insulated

by Mellvine Products


Price:  $79.95

Waterproof base 2 inches above ground

Comes with separate bed pad, a heating pad, plus a luxurious padded bolster faux fur cover

Plug-in 24-hour timer to save money; easy to assemble.


Petsfit 16″ X 20″ X 17″ Weatherproof Outdoor/Indoor Pet House


Price:  $66.99

Weatherproof roof; off the ground to keep moisture out.


Rockever Outdoor Cat Shelter with Escape Door  (Rainproof  Outside  Kitty  House)

by Rockever

Price:  $105.00


Fits small animals; easy to assemble and clean; weatherproof

Roof treated with real asphalt shingles.  Emergency opening in back covered with acrylic door flaps.  Front opening sheltered by asphalt rain stoop.



12 thoughts on “How To Care For Feral Cats In Winter”

  1. Having lived on a rural Oklahoma farm, people were constantly dumping off their strays.  Which left us with quite a few feral cats.  Being a cat lover I always tried to make sure they were provided for in the winter.  I did this by having large bins and boxes stuffed with old blankets.  For food we made sure to always have dry food nearby.  I am thrilled to see this article as stray kitties deserve to be safe and healthy.

    • I’m glad you were able to help some of those poor homeless kitties.  It is a cruel thing for people to do, and it distresses me when I hear of such incidents.  

      Were  you able to keep the blankets dry?  One of the really valuable things I learned from my research is that the best thing to use inside a shelter was straw, as it did not collect moisture as either hay or blankets would do.  If your climate was pretty mild in winter, it probably worked well.  I’m sure the cats appreciated it.

      There are some good programs now in bigger cities designed to help homeless cats.  I for one am glad to see it.

  2. Hello Fran Kalso,

    I get an idea from you post. Their are many cats l see around my house. It is very hard for them to live in such a winter session. I recently check some pet houses for cats. I am planning to buy 1 or 2 for those outsider cats and put it near my garden. What you think the outsider cats will go into it during winter ?

    • I think they will, if they need shelter.  Put lots of straw in the bottom of your houses, as it will not collect moisture and they can burrow into it to stay warm.  How good of you to provide them with warm places to sleep — though they cannot tell you in words, I am sure they will be grateful.

  3. Hello Fran;
    I appreciate your article, one of my favorite animals is the cat I could cite so many qualities of this animal that we come to forget that it is just as weak and deserves our help, in my region it doesn’t there are no winters but endless rainy seasons and when we know the relationship of cat in the water, I will get to work to give them my support the best that I can thank you.

    • Cats are really fascinating creatures, with lots of qualities that I like and admire.  They do deserve our help when the weather is horrible.  At least you only have to deal with rain.  Here in Alaska where I live there is also a great deal of rain.  However, of course we have really cold temperatures and snow and ice as well.  It’s not the best atmosphere outside for a cat in winter.

      Many ferals are found in urban areas.  I find that surprising, but I suppose there are more rodents available, so perhaps it is natural.  I just feel for any creature without shelter when the weather is bad.

  4. I love your article on caring for ferals in the winter! You didn’t advocate traps or forcing them indoors against their will. I find it refreshing to know there are people who realize some cats are addicted to the outdoors; it is not always a good thing to bring them in.

    Straw is always a good insulant. I didn’t even think about the fact that cloth and hay retain more moisture. Straw is easy to refill or even replace if it gets too dirty. Cloth can be dragged out and if it gets a big muddy spot it’s just going to stay a big muddy spot, unlike with a dirty spot of straw, which will dry and fall off.

    Thank you for reminding people to bang on the hoods of their vehicles before starting them. Many cats will still crouch quietly hoping the noisemaker goes away, but it’s better than nothing.

    • I’m glad you  liked the article.  I, too, learned something, as had not thought of the fact that hay or blankets could collect moisture.  Straw certainly is the better material to use.

      I think if a cat has always lived in the wild, it probably will not adapt well to living in a house.  Anything we can do to make their lives a bit more comfortable is a good thing.  Cats deserve health, happiness, and comfort, too…it is not just for us humans.  If we can help them out, that is a good thing.

  5. I was in Walmart about a month ago in Missouri, and the lady behind me had her cart LOADED with cat food. 

    I kiddingly said, well that should last your cat a week or two,,,,  She told me that she has 100 feral cats!

    AND she build an addition to her house to protect the cats!

    Where do all these cats come from?

    • They start out as kittens — that’s why the TNR program is so important.  It is not fair to the cats that there are too many of them to be properly cared for.  With TNR, the problem is reduced, though not solved.  

      Good for that lady — my grandfather’s second wife had a house next to her residence where she fed and cared for feral cats.  It’s so helpful that there are people around who are willing to go that extra mile.  The cats need supporters and allies.

  6. Great initiative to come to the rescue of stray cats. Your tips and details for building a winter shelter are so valuable. In Rome, stray cats are numerous and fed by volunteering people that care for them all year long. Fortunately it doesn’t get so cold in winter. I was happy to read this article and find out that we can buy shelters for feral cats and that some people take care of them. I knew about feeding birds in winter but not cats. Thank you for this very informative article!! 

    • Glad you found the article valuable.  It’s interesting to hear how things are different in Rome.  I feel it is important to try to help out these creatures who are at the mercy of Nature.  Their lives can be very hard, and if we can help them to do so, I think we are doing a good thing.


Leave a Comment