How to Help Stray Animals Survive the Winter

Editor’s note: This Care2 favorite was originally posted on December 21, 2016.

For many of us, the holiday season is a time to celebrate our families, friendships and small comforts like a safe home life. Not everyone is that lucky, though. One particularly vulnerable group this time of year is former pets who are now on the streets.

Of course we want to help abandoned animals in any way we can, but what’s the best approach?

Here’s a list of some easy-to-follow tips to assist stray animals — and remain safe.

Phone it in

If you’ve seen a stray dog or cat hanging around your neighborhood, one of the first actions you should take is to notify your local authorities.

Namely, you should phone local shelters or animal rescue groups — no-kill ones, obviously. The reasons for doing this are two-fold.

Primarily, shelters will be able to advise you on your next steps. For instance, perhaps they already plan to pick up the animal because they’ve received previous calls.

The other reason is that they may be able to inform you of specific handling techniques if, for example, the cat you are reporting is actually part of a feral population.

Looking after feral cats in your neighborhood

stray cat

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Some people do not like feral cats because they impact local bird populations.

Still, it can be distressing to see cats outside at this time of year, and few people would argue against giving those cats somewhere to go during the cold nights.

It’s quick and cheap to provide all cats — whether wild or escaped domestics — a chance at a warm winter night by constructing small sleep boxes. These can be made from unused pet carriers or heavy-duty cardboard boxes that have been weather-proofed. Place straw inside, and you have a perfect little shelter to keep kitties out of the cold.

Remember to exercise caution when you check on the boxes or change the bedding, as the animals may still be inside — and likely won’t take well to being cornered.

Make sure to check out Care2′s guide for crafting cat shelters with more specifics on the sizing and insulation methods.

If you would like to leave food out for cats, dry food is best, as it will not spoil as quickly and is less likely to attract other animals. Place food in areas that you know cats travel through — for example, along hedgerows and down main-access paths.

Be sure to only feed strays actual cat food. Many human foods do not agree with cats — and may even make them ill — so don’t be tempted to just leave out leftovers.

Taking strays home: Use your best judgement and keep a healthy distance

Even if you have notified your local shelter of the stray animal, there’s a chance they won’t be able to pick it up for several days. In that eventuality, you may decide to take the animal home. Some precautions can help to minimize your risk, but please ensure you are as prepared as possible.

If you are faced with a dog in need, assess how friendly the animal is. Many times, stray dogs are still heavily domesticated and will welcome contact, but remain alert as the animal may be traumatized.

Providing shelter, food, water and walks may not be too taxing, but you must also take the dog to the vet as soon as possible to ensure that it isn’t carrying any diseases — particularly if you have other pets.

If you feel that a feral cat desperately needs assistance, remember that it is a wild creature that may not enjoy human contact. It is always best to call a shelter, so that animal experts can deal with our feral friends.

However, you may wish to intervene sooner — especially if you fear the cat is unwell or in immediate danger from the cold. In this case, consider luring the cat in by leaving a door open and offering food.

It is critical that you can offer a comfortable room where the cat will be undisturbed. Be sure to provide the cat with food, water, places to hide and a litter tray.

Remember that cats do not cope well with stress, so it is important to monitor them and ensure they do not show signs of deteriorating mental health from confinement.

Much of the same advice applies if you have found a stray domestic cat. In all situations, it is particularly important that any cat you take in receives a thorough inspection by a vet. Not only is this useful for potentially identifying an owner, but also for ensuring that the cat is in good health.

With lots of love and patience, stray animals can be given a safe and life-changing winter season. So persevere even if your furry friend is shy — doing so might just save a life.

Share your tips and stories of helping strays in the comments below!

Photo Credit: Getty Images

326 comments

Patricia W
Patricia W2 months ago

We can't help every animal in this world - but we can take care of those that are right in front of our faces. If more people would do this - have compassion for that freezing and starving feral cat, or that lonely dog chained alone out in that cold yard, we can really make a difference in the lives of animals. We CAN do this.

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Jack Y
Jack Y2 months ago

thanks

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Jack Y
Jack Y2 months ago

thanks

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John J
John J2 months ago

thanks for sharing

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John J
John J2 months ago

thanks for sharing

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Georgina Elizab M
Georgina Elizab M3 months ago

TYFS

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Gino C
Past Member 3 months ago

Thanks

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Janis K
Janis K3 months ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Lydia L
Lydia Lodynsky3 months ago

it is infuriating to see some who believe that cats are actually "happier" in deadly wintry conditions. If you want to do something right, take them in! keep them indoors. Many ferals are adopted into homes and never want to go out again.

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Lydia L
Lydia Lodynsky3 months ago

it is infuriating to see some who believe that cats are actually "happier" in deadly wintry conditions. If you want to do something right, take them in! keep them indoors. Many ferals are adopted into homes and never want to go out again.

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