Winter Weather Tips – Help Stray Cats this Winter
Can Cats Survive Winter Outdoors?
Yes. Community cats, also called outdoor, stray or feral cats, are well-suited to living outdoors—usually in close proximity to humans—and can survive winter on their own. They are resilient and able to live and thrive in all varieties of locations, weather conditions, and climates. However, there are still things you can do to help make life outdoors more comfortable. Follow our winter weather tips that lend a helping paw when the weather gets cold.
Food and Water – How to Feed Feral Cats in Winter
- Cats can benefit from extra food during winter, so increase food portions to help them conserve energy. Also make sure to set out fresh water twice a day.
- Wet food takes less energy to digest, but should be served in plastic containers to prevent freezing. Providing dry food, which will not freeze, works for frigid temperatures, too.
- Warm up canned food and water before serving or use heated electric bowls.
- Use bowls that are deep rather than wide and place them in sunny areas to keep water from freezing. Check out some bowls tested by caregivers. Avoid using metal bowls.
- Spray insulation foam into the underside of plastic feeding dishes and water bowls to help prevent food and water from freezing as quickly.
- Build a feeding station as this is the best way to feed feral cats during the cold months. It will shield food, water, and the cats from the elements. An insulated feeding station that is built in the same fashion as a cat shelter works even better.
- Put a microwavable heating pad, like a Snuggle Safe, under the bowls. You can even make your own homemade heating pad by filling fabric pouches with rice, and heating it in the microwave.
- If there’s a water source like a spigot, run the water slightly—it won’t freeze as fast as still water. You can also use a water fountain or water bowl with a fountain feature.
How to Make an Outdoor Feral Cat Winter Shelter
- Cats can find their own shelter, but you can also provide additional options where they can sleep, relax, warm up, and stay safe. Check out our list of outdoor cat house options, including pre-made shelters you can purchase and DIY options! Don’t worry, building your own outdoor cat shelter can be easy, affordable, and fun! Learn what to look for in a good cat house.
- Shelters don’t need to be big or complicated. Bigger shelters aren’t always better because heat disperses quickly. A good size shelter should be two feet by three feet and at least 18 inches high, and able to accommodate three to five cats, depending on their size. If only a few cats use the house, make it even smaller so it takes less body heat to warm up.
- The doorway should only be big enough for cats. Putting a door flap over the entry way also keeps out cold air and potential predators. Also make sure the entry way is several inches above ground level to keep out rain and snow.
- Insulate the shelter with straw to repel moisture. Do not use hay, or things like blankets and towels—they soak up moisture like a sponge and make the shelter wet and cold. Learn the difference between straw and hay.
- Make sure the shelter is level and elevated off the cold ground for protection from dampness. Face the entry way away from the wind and preferably facing a wall so that only cats can get in and out.
- Check outdoor feral cat winter shelters regularly to make sure they’re in good condition. Also check the entrances when there is significant snowfall to ensure the cats don’t get snowed in.
- If the kitties aren’t using the shelter, try to make it more enticing by sprinkling a little catnip, silver vine, or treats inside.
- Provide more than just one type of shelter. Since certain cats might be more particular about where they like to stay, more than one option is always a good thing.
- If cats still aren’t using the outdoor shelters, try to find where they are sleeping and then do what you can there to “upgrade” the spot, such as adding straw.
Stray Cat Winter Safety Tips
- Stray cats in winter gravitate to warm places. Before starting your car, give the hood of your car a few taps to make sure that a cat has not hidden underneath the car or inside the engine for warmth. Also, always check between your tires and wheel wells.
- Do not use antifreeze, which is toxic and deadly, in an area accessible to cats. Keep it out of reach and clean up spills! Most antifreeze brands use ethylene glycol as the main ingredient, so be sure to switch to a brand made with propylene glycol because it is less toxic, though still harmful.
- Refrain from using salt or chemicals to melt snow. These can be lethal when licked off paws or ingested from melting puddles. They also hurt cats’ paw pads. Alternatively, pet friendly deicers are available at most pet stores.
- Spaying and neutering improves cats’ overall health, and healthier cats are better equipped for the cold elements. However, if you’re conducting Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) in the winter, check the traps frequently and provide a warm holding area, pre-and-post surgery. If it’s too cold for you, it’s probably too cold for cats to be in traps, exposed to the elements, for extended periods of time.