Helping Feral Cats During the Winter

Becky Robinson, founder of Alley Cat Allies, discusses ways to keep cats safe during cold weather.

By Becky Robinson | Posted: December 4, 2009, 3 a.m. EST

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Q:  There are many community cats where I live. How can I help them this winter?

A: Most feral cats are skilled at finding their own food and shelter. But with cold weather quickly approaching, there are simple ways you can help the cats in your community – not only to keep them warm, but to help to deter them from places they aren’t wanted or that are unsafe.

Here is how you can help.

Build an Outdoor Shelter: Plans for easy and inexpensive shelters are available online. The shelter should be elevated off the ground and sited in a quiet area with minimal traffic. There should be enough space for three to five cats to huddle. The door should be no more than 6-8 inches wide to keep out predators. It should be insulated with straw, not blankets or other materials that absorb moisture. A flap on the door will keep out snow, rain and wind. 

Keep food and drinking water from freezing: Build a simple feeding station that protects the cats from the elements while they eat. Keep to a regular feeding schedule so that the cats will come to expect you and will eat the food before it has a chance to freeze.

Wet food in insulated containers is best for winter, as it takes less energy for cats to digest than dry food – and cats can use all that extra energy to keep warm.  For water, use 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 also keeps the water from freezing as quickly, and provides added energy for the cats. 

Stop the breeding cycle with trap-neuter-return: Educate yourself, your family and your neighbors about the habits of outdoor cats during the winter time. For example, know to check under the car or give the hood a tap before starting the engine, as cats will sometimes crawl into car engines or hide under them for warmth.  

Prevent another “kitten season” next year by getting the outdoor cats in your neighborhood spayed or neutered as part of a trap-neuter-return program. Cats have a 63-day gestation period and usually mate in winter.  trap-neuter-return ends the cycle of breeding and helps the cats lead better lives.  A local volunteer group that practices trap-neuter-return may be able to help.  Visit Alley Cat Allies’ website for more information about connecting to local resources and starting a trap-neuter-return program in your community.


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CatChannel Editor    Irvine, CA

1/2/2013 1:45:39 PM

Lois -- Here are more tips for helping feral cats in the winter LINK If you haven't already, please spay these cats to end the breeding cycle. Thank you for being charitable with the cats who have decided to adopt you!

Lois    Brundidge, AL

12/29/2012 9:47:18 PM

I have two female sister cats that stay in my yard, However, my husband built them a house and they wont go in it, we put straw and blankets and everything trying to get them in there and they wont go, they have a cat door that is installed front and back and only they can get in and out. We also opened our shed to them trying to get them out of the cold but they wont go in there. We have 5 acres and very quite, we don't have kids its just us and we are very good to them. they let me touch them but not pick them up. I don't know what to do. I want so much for them to be warm. I've turned a heater on inside the shed for them but they only go in there when Im in there. lol..they leave when I leave. They wont even come in my house. When I try to pick them up they freak out. I don't want to scare them away so I don't try to deter them from me. Please help. I don't want them to freeze to death. it gets below 25 outside at night and I can't sleep for thinking about them.

Sharon    Queens, NY

12/7/2011 2:26:17 PM

Thanks for the valuable information.

Martha    Dawsonville, GA

12/15/2010 12:27:42 PM

Wonderful article!

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