Do 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
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.
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 help keep them warm, and they can even burrow in it for more protection.
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.
(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.
by Mellvine Products
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.
Weatherproof roof; off the ground to keep moisture out.
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.