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Whilst the temperatures don’t get too cold in Australia, for many of our cat-loving readers winter is a time when your cat becomes a heat-seeking missile targeted at snuggling up on your lap. But spare a thought for those less fortunate felines who are feral or stray, and lack creature comforts during the harsh winter weather.
Whatever your opinion on how to deal with stray cats, it remains true that unnecessary suffering and hardship should be avoided. For the neighbourhood strays frost, wind, rain, and snow mean an extra challenge to an already tough existence. But a few simple actions can ease their distress.
1. Provide Shelter
Imagine yourself living outdoors in winter without an adequate shelter. Once your clothes are wet-through, with nowhere to dry off you lose body heat, your immune system weakens, you are less able to fight off infection, and on the slippery slope to ill health. The same is true for stray cats.
Providing a windproof, dry shelter gives them a place to escape the elements whilst they sleep. It doesn’t need to be anything fancy, but double insulation is ideal, such as an outer plastic carton containing a sturdy cardboard box with straw insulation in the gap between the two.
Try to raise the shelter up off the ground, so the earth doesn’t act as a heat sink. Also, create the smallest, cat-sized entrance possible, so there’s less opportunity for heat to get out and the weather to get in. If possible, rig up a porch or weather-shield over the entrance, such as a projecting roof or a plastic curtain.
2. The Right Bedding
Blankets or newspaper for bedding are a nice idea, but once wet they stay damp and drain the cat’s body heat. Instead, loosely fill a pillowcase with packing peanuts, which are an excellent insulator and don’t absorb moisture. Alternatively, provide a deep layer of straw for the cat to burrow into and keep warm.
And whilst we’re talking about keeping warm, consider ‘papering’ the walls of the box with Mylar (a heat resistant plastic sheet). This helps reflect back the cat’s body heat to keep them extra snug.
3. A Feeding Station
Cats need food as fuel to keep warm. Provide a feeding station within a few feet of the shelter, so that the cat doesn’t have to waste energy in severe weather, to seek out life-sustaining food. A plastic packing crate or toy storage box on its side keeps out the worst of the elements and protects the food from getting water-logged.
If you’re feeling super conscientious then rig a makeshift roof between the shelter and the feeding station so the cat doesn’t get soaked going for a meal.
4. The Right Food
Canned or wet food contains a lot of water, which means it’s lower calorie and also prone to freezing. If frost and snow is expected, opt for dry food instead. Not only will dry food not freeze but it’s more calorie dense, so each mouthful provides more energy than the equivalent in canned food. Most calorific of all is dry, kitten food, so if you’re concerned about a particularly scrawny stray, offer them this.
Also, consider warming canned food, since it takes requires less energy to digest than a cold meal.
5. Set a Routine
Each time the cat emerges from their shelter, they risk becoming cold or wet, which saps their reserves. Set a feeding routine and put down food at the same time every day. This way the cat knows when to venture out without wasting precious energy.
6. A Water Supply
Water is vital to health, but ironically in winter it can dry up or freeze. Make sure to provide fresh warm water twice a day. Also insulate the bottom of the water bowl by spraying it with insulation foam, so that warm water retains heat for longer.
7. Insulate Everything
Nothing kills stray cats faster than chilling in sustained low temperatures. Do what you can to prevent this by providing insulating bedding, insulate the shelter and feeding station, plus the water and food supply.
Modern materials such as Mylar and spray insulation foam are effective, but don’t forget the simplicity of placing one box or bowl inside another larger one and stuffing the gap with straw.
8. Environmental Awareness
Winter hazards include spilt antifreeze (its sweetness is bizarrely attractive to cats, who lap it and go into kidney failure), salt (salt on paws once licked off can also cause kidney damage), and being snowed in. Be careful with what you put on the ground, and don’t forget to dig the cat shelter out when it snows heavily.
Also, a warm car engine will attract strays desperately seeking warmth. Always check the engine before starting up your car, and look underneath the car and behind the wheels before driving off.
9. Install a Cat Door
If you are able to, install a cat door into a sheltered place such as a shed or garage. It could provide vital life-saving access to a dry place in times of extreme weather.
10. Involve the Neighbours
Ask cat-loving compassionate neighbours to take part in a feeding roster or even set up temporary shelters of their own. Remember, take pity on the strays during the winter and come the spring they will return the favour by keeping down the vermin population.
This blog post is part of the quarterly campaign for Be the Change for Animals – advocating to make the world a better place for all animals.
Top image: Andrey via Flickr
Cathy Armato says
What an excellent post, these are all great ideas. I like the pillow case filled with packing peanuts. Its like a giant bean bag chair! Its especially helpful if you can make a shelter on your porch, which is what my sister does. Thanks!
Fantastic tips! Thank you for such an organized, thorough rundown of ways we can help our kitty friends in winter. I find the suggestion about Mylar quite fascinating! Let’s hope more and more people take to heart the dire circumstances their neighborhood ferals find themselves in during cold weather – and decide to help them.
Thank you for blogging the change for animals,
Be the Change for Animals
It gets really cold here in winter. We used to have a lot of feral cats in our neighborhood a long time ago, but it is rare to see one now. These are very useful tips.
Fur Everywhere says
These are fantastic suggestions! I especially love the idea of double insulating the kitty shelter. I will share and hope that people will use these to help outdoor kitties this winter.
M. K. Clinton says
These are some great ideas to help feral cats. Thanks for the packing peanuts idea. I didn’t know about that.
Rascal and Rocco says
Great things to know to help stray cats in your neighborhood. Sharing!
The Island Cats says
Pawsome tips for helping the outside cats!
This is a great post, with such solid tips for helping our feral friends in the colder months. Thank you so much!
You’ve got some great ideas here! I think sometimes people feel overwhelmed with the need, but when we break it down and get others to help share the load, we really can make a difference.
Cathy Keisha says
Excellent post. I didn’t Blog the Change this time but I thought about this topic. You said it so much better than I could have. Will share.
These are awesome tips! It doesn’t get too cold here in southern California either, compared to some of the colder climates in other parts of the world… but it’s still too cold to be without shelter.
Great tips! Our Binx was a feral, and my daughter started leaving food and water and a “cat house” out, and now, Binx is a happy, healthy, vetted, adopted member of our family! I will be sure to share these tips with others!
The Menagerie Mom says
As a constant worrier over the outdoor kitties in my neighborhood, this is one of the best posts I’ve ever read. You have some excellent tips on here that I’ve never tried before, and I now intend on doing so. Thank you for sharing!
Ellen Pilch says
This is a great post. I am in the country and have no strays or ferals near me, but I will bookmark this post in case I ever do need it Several of my cats were originally out in my yard, but they were all friendly enough to come in.
Random Felines says
a great list of items. mom seems to remember reading somewhere that adding sugar to the water raises the freezing point as well…we tried it last year and it did help. we are lucky we can provide food and shelter to our feral girl in our garage…and we saw her this morning for the first time in a few days too 🙂
So many people don’t realize feral cats need help especially in the cold. Thank you for the great advice and for joining in Blog the Change!
Lola The Rescued Cat says
This is such an important post. Mommy worries so much about the ferals and strays in our neighborhood. Unfortunately, we live in a building and we can’t have shelters or anyting. She does go around and leave food where she can.