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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Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus6 months ago

Thank you for sharing.

Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill8 months ago

Thanks for the tips.

Kassy C.
Kassy C.8 months ago

I've been feeding the Feral cats in my apartment complex behind my garage, which is several yards away from my apartment. The interesting aspect is that one of them--a smart black and white cat who is quite robust--seemed to have been watching me when I place my chicken or beef leftovers in the portable plate I placed there, because next thing I knew he was "lounging" on my outdoor settee!
He comes there every once in a while, so now I'll include a water pan for him at the same site, and let's see what he does next!:-)

Julia Cabrera-Woscek

Always be kind.

Bonnie Lynn M.
Bonnie Lynn M.8 months ago

Thank you

Virginia Belder
Virginia Belder8 months ago


Friedrich Kling-Hauss

I feel compelled to clarify my earlier comment. When I encounter a homeless cat it becomes my mission to become friends and bring indoors. Firstly, cats are not native to the US thus they are forced to endure a short and brutal existence outdoors. Secondly, homeless cats are contributing to the mass extinction crises. So it's very important for their own well being as well as native wildlife that they are adopted and spayed neutered.

S J.
S J.9 months ago

thanks for info

Cindy W.
Cindy W.9 months ago

Great info! Thanks.

Joanna M.
Joanna M.9 months ago

Pledge to spay/neuter your pets...