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Helpful Hints

Winter Cat Care

Stray and feral cats are at home outside, but they can always use some extra help in cold or severe weather. There are things you can do to help them stay even safer, warmer, and healthier during severe storms and winter months.

Create a shelter. The shelter should be elevated off the ground and sited in a quiet, unobtrusive area with a minimal amount of traffic. A good-sized shelter offers a space just big enough for three to five cats to huddle. The door should be no more than six to eight inches wide to keep out wildlife and bigger predators. Install a flap on the door to keep out snow, rain and wind.

Check out our Shelter Page for ideas and important safety precautions.

Place the shelter well away from the feeding site. If raccoons smell food in the shelter, they can surprise and harm a sleeping cat.

Create two entrances; cats need an escape route if a predator threatens them in their shelter.

Entrance – Make sure the opening is only big enough for cats. It should be 6-8″ wide to keep out wildlife and larger predators and should be off center of the front. The door needs to face away from prevailing winds or face a wall.

Bedding – straw resists moisture and is the best choice for insulation and keeping the shelter dry and warm. This is really the only suitable bedding for outdoor use.

Do not use the following:
1. Blankets
2. Carpeting
3. Fake sheepskin
4. Any material that can hold moisture
5. Wood shavings/can be toxic to the cats

Remember the cat will come into the shelter with snow or rain on it’s fur or feet which will be held by all the materials in the list above. This will draw the heat from the cat  which can possibly cause illness or death.

Build a feeding station. In addition to a shelter, you can build a simple feeding station with a roof and sides to protect cats from the elements while they eat.

Keep food and drinking water from freezing. Wet food in insulated containers is most ideal for winter time feeding, as it takes less energy for cats to digest than dry food – and cats can use all that extra energy to keep warm.

Preventing liquids from freezing can be a challenge during the winter and can lead to a risk for dehydration. Keep water drinkable by using bowls that are deep rather than wide, and place them in a sunny spot. If possible, refill the bowls with warm water. A pinch of sugar in the water also keeps it from freezing as quickly, and provides an added energy boost for the cats. Alternatives include the heated electric bowls found in many pet shops.

The cats will come to expect you if you keep a regular feeding schedule, and the food and water will spend less time in the cold before it is consumed.

Prevent another kitten season. Cats have a 63-day gestation period and usually mate in the winter. If you practice Trap-Neuter-Return, be sure to protect cats from the elements. Extreme cold is dangerous for cats. Once trapped, they must be quickly covered and secured in a temperature-controlled holding area or vehicle.

Educate your family, friends, and neighbors about the habits of outdoor cats during the winter. Check under your car and give the hood a tap. Cats will sometimes crawl into the engine or hide underneath for warmth. Remember that antifreeze is lethal to cats and other animals.

Thanks to Alley Cat Allies for most of this information. You might also look at their Winter Tips Page.