This post was written by Becky Robinson, co-founder and president of Alley Cat Allies, the only national advocacy organization dedicated to protection and humane treatment of cats. It was originally published on Care2 on December 12, 2013.
Feral cats call the outdoors their home, all year round and in all weather conditions. While they are skilled at surviving harsh weather, and finding their own food and shelter, they can always use a helping hand during the winter months. As temperatures drop, there are plenty of simple ways you can help the cats in your community stay even warmer and safer this winter.
Give Me Shelter
One great way to help them through the winter is to provide an outdoor shelter. Specially-built shelters guarantee feral cats a warm spot to escape harsh winter storms. Alley Cat Allies’ list of feral cat shelter options is available here; they vary in shape, size, and level of assembly.
Any shelter for feral cats should follow these guidelines:
- Elevate the shelter off the ground for warmth, and place it in a quiet area with minimal foot traffic.
- Shoot for a shelter sized about two feet by three feet and 18 inches high, providing just enough space for three to five cats to huddle. If you’re sheltering smaller numbers of cats, make the shelter smaller—the smaller the shelter, the quicker it can be heated up with body heat.
- The door should be between six and eight inches wide. Consider installing a flap on the door to keep out snow, rain, and wind.
- Insulate the shelter with straw, but not blankets or other materials like hay that absorb moisture.
As the weather turns colder, feral cats will also need extra calories to maintain energy levels. Providing extra food and water, and keeping them from freezing, is an important step in helping outdoor cats this winter. Wet food in insulated containers is best, as it takes less energy for cats to digest than dry food. To keep water drinkable, use bowls that are deep rather than wide, and refill them with hot or warm water. Place the bowls in a sunny spot and add a pinch of sugar to keep the water from freezing as quickly.
Take some extra steps in your everyday life to keep outdoor cats safe in your neighborhood. Remember to check under the car before starting it, as cats will sometimes crawl into the engine or hide underneath it for warmth. Winter is also the time of year for antifreeze, which often tastes irresistible to cats and other animals, but is toxic and deadly. Keep it out of reach, and clean up any spills.
Visit Alley Cat Allies’ website for more information about connecting to local resources, and for other tips on how to keep cats everywhere safe and well cared-for throughout every season.