Bedding for Feral Cats

Becky Robinson, founder of Alley Cat Allies, explains the bedding types best for feral cat shelters.

By Becky Robinson

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Q: I’ve built a feral cat shelter and I want to provide the cats with some bedding or blankets to help keep them warm. Do you have any recommendations?

A: Kudos for building a feral cat shelter! I’m sure your feral cats appreciate having a nice, dry place to escape the wind and snow.

As for bedding, the best choice for cat shelter bedding is straw. Most straw is made from wheat. It’s cut after harvest, when the plant is dead, and cut dry so it doesn’t absorb or retain moisture. It has a hollow shaft, making it lightweight, and it’s relatively inexpensive and widely available.

When filling your shelter, pack the shelter full of straw, not just provide a soft layer to lay on. The cats will burrow into the straw and it will effectively insulate their body heat.

Do not to confuse hay with straw. Hay is a grass that is cut while it is still “green” because it’s primarily used to feed livestock. This makes it more absorbent and more likely to mold. It also costs more than straw.

Your first instinct might be to provide blankets  (when you are cold that’s what you typically reach for, after all) but blankets are absorbent and can retain moisture. Even if they aren’t exposed to the elements, if a wet cat enters the shelter the water will transfer to the blanket. Blankets can easily get moldy and even freeze when the temperature drops, both of which are dangerous for the cats.

A few other beddings to avoid include:
Wood Chips Wood shaving can contain oils that irritate animals noses and respiratory systems. They do not provide insulation (nor are they comfortable to lie on). Wood chips can cause splinters and severe damage to the digestive tract if eaten.

Pine Pellets Pine pellets are very absorbent (similar to pine fresh cat litter). This opens the bedding up to mold and freezing in low temperatures. The cats may also mistake it for cat litter.

Paper Bedding/Care Fresh Though recommended for hamsters and other small mammals, paper bedding is not appropriate for feral cat shelters. It can provide good insulation, but is absorbent and will likely get moldy and smelly very quickly. It is also very expensive.

For additional winter weather tips or information on general colony care, please visit Alley Cat Allies website.
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Reader Comments

Kai    New York, NY

10/21/2014 3:56:50 PM

I know I'll get a lot of flack for this but am I wrong in believing that supporting ferral cat communities without trap and neuter is in it self inhumane? We need to reduce the ferral populations, not provide environments in which they can thrive.

Celeste    Heath, OH

10/21/2014 3:35:59 PM

Amazon has straw. I bought the kitty tube, an insulated cat house. It comes with straw, but you can also buy it separate. I like amazon because its shipped to my house!!

Veronica Sattler    Bernville, PA

10/7/2014 6:01:30 AM

I've done feral cat rescue for decades, and have learned there's a difference in the straw you must use for safe bedding: Kathy from Falls Church, VA should have informed her vet that the problem (for the injured kitten) wasn't straw, but the WRONG KIND OF STRAW. Wheat straw was very likely the culprit (it's very stick-like, with brittle, sharp pieces);if she were to use OAT STRAW, which isn't always easy to find, but essential, she'd have straw which is soft, drains well, and is newborn-kitten-in-danger proof!

Kristy    Kingsport, TN

7/12/2014 6:22:23 PM

I was wondering if I should add some dried herbs to the bedding to deter bugs.

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