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

CatChannel Editor    Irvine, CA

12/5/2013 3:02:28 PM

Rose -- Have you tried a garden supply or farm supply store? A local hardware store might be able to point you in the right direction.

Rose    Ft. Lauderdale, FL

12/3/2013 1:45:20 PM

Please help me, I can't find straw anywhere to use for feral cat bedding. I am in Florida ( yes it gets cold) do you know where I can find the straw I need ? Thanks in advance for your help.

Kathleen    Falls Church, VA

4/19/2013 1:31:40 PM

I've been using straw but my vet told me to get it out and find something else b/c a newborn kitten had to be rushed to the vet today with a bloody mouth. It turned out it had somehow swallowed a piece of the straw. It was OK, but I feel terrible and now very worried about having stiff straw pieces with tiny, blind kittens.

J.D.    Martinsburg, WV

10/8/2012 2:19:30 PM

If I can make a few small suggestions, drill one small hole on the bottom corner of your plastic shelter so water can go somewhere if it gets in the bottom. Also, cedar chips under the layer of straw will go a long way toward keeping bugs out. The smell doesn't bother our stray. I change the straw in ours every few months and vary the amount depending on the season. I'm always concerned that the stray that hangs around our house will quit using the shelter but I always check a few days after changing the straw and there is always a perfectly round depression where she has curled herself up in a ball.

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