How to Keep Your Local Feral Cats Safe This Winter

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.

Feeding Tips

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.

Safety Tips

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.


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Shin Takahashi
Shin Takahashi1 hours ago

Please try to save from winter by all means.Cheers

Trina Hawkins
Trina Hawkins2 hours ago

We had a Colony of cats by a burger king,it moved,so not sure if the cats are still over there! I had called the local Animal control to ask if they had a TNT program for Feral Cats,she said No,was very Rude,I asked Why,and got hung up on !! So that just let me know 2 things,1 they'd rather catch and kill the cats,and 2 don't want to spend the money for a program to help the cats !! If I had the money I'd start a program myself,as I Love Animals,but most shelters just want to make money off these pets!! :(

Pablo B.
Pablo B.3 hours ago


Kamia T.
Kamia T.4 hours ago

I took care of a feral cat for several years before she was finally adopted, and her favorite shelter was straw bales on two sides, with double-paned windows on the third, and a clear tarp overlapping it all, so that she could see what was coming. It was upstairs on the deck, with straw on the floor, and she acted like she was queen of the world.

.4 hours ago

good ideas! i didn't think of making sure to keep it off the ground. very important point.

Roberta G.
Roberta G.4 hours ago

Al H...why all the nasty personal insults when you disagree with the views of someone here? You certainly won't win anyone to your viewpoint.

Melissah C.
Melissa C.5 hours ago


Angela B.
Angela B.6 hours ago

We live in a rural area and I always see cats walking around. I don't know if they are feral but they don't seem to have a home. In the winter I keep straw piled in one of my sheds for shelter and I leave food and water out for any visitors.

Jennifer Smith
Jennifer Smith8 hours ago

We don't have any ferals around here. Only pet cats that idiots let roam free. Given there's been issues with coyotes around eating cats, I think they're dumb.

Beth M.
Beth M.9 hours ago

Thanks for the info. Help take care of a feral colony.