Caring for Community Cats in Cold Weather
The arrival of winter brings freezing temperatures for many of us. While we are usually able to keep the pets we care for indoors, community cats and feral cat colonies can use some extra help during these cold winter months. Whether you help with a few cats or are currently manage a colony, here are some tips for keeping our feline friends healthy and safe during the winter months.
Food and Water
Keeping food and water from freezing in very cold temperatures can sometimes be a challenge and there are several options you can try. Choose a food and water dish made of thick plastic (think Tupperware type material) as it will take longer for the bowl’s contents to freeze than bowls made of stainless steel or other materials. You can place the bowls in a Styrofoam cooler to help further insulate them from the elements and change the water often. There are also heated and solar powered dishes on the market that can help prevent food and water from freezing in colder temperatures. For more on how to prevent water from freezing, please visit our blog post.
Creating a feeding station Even a quick, simple set-up that provides something that acts as a roof and sides can serve as a feeding station. A plastic storage bin turned on its side can be a good option, be sure that it large enough to accommodate the food, water and at least one cat. Providing a feeding set up with a roof and sides will help protect the cats’ food and water from the elements. Be sure to set any feeding stations up in a safe area and preferably out of sight.
Feed on a schedule While we are often pressed for time, a feeding schedule can be really helpful during the winter months. If the cats you care for know when to come around for food, they’ll spend less time out in the elements.
Shelter is essential. There a many options for building your own cat shelter, from simply re-purposing existing items to building from a design. To quickly build an easy cat shelter, simply take a foam bin and elevate it slightly off the ground, making sure that the bin is weighted down enough to withstand the winter elements. Then cut a small, cat-sized hole (about 6 to 8 inches wide) and fill with straw! Check out the ASPCA Pro site more information on making winter shelter bins. For those interested in building feral cat houses, a video and great step-by-step plans (including measurements) are available in our blog post, How To Build Feral Cat Shelters.
For those who would prefer not to build or make a cat shelter, there are several feral cat houses available for purchase through various retailers. Regardless of what type of shelter you choose, be sure that they are placed in an area safe from predators, such as behind a fence.
Replace the straw for any currently managed feral cats. Winter is a good time to make sure that the cats in your care are staying as warm as possible. It is important to make sure that straw (and not hay) is being used, as it is the best insulated bedding for these types of cat shelters. Using hay may attract unwanted or hungry wildlife, and like towels or blankets, will retain more moisture. Straw is moisture resistant and will provide better insulation.
Keep the feeding and shelter area shoveled or clear as possible so that cats have easier access to shelter and food.
Always check underneath car, hood, and tires before starting your vehicle in the winter. Cats will sometimes crawl near a car’s engine or above the tires seeking warmth.
How do you help community cats or feral colonies in the winter? Visit our Facebook page and let us know!