When temperatures drop and the winter chill sets in, the people who care for community cats aren’t staying put in their heated homes. They’re bundling up in their winter gear and doing what they’ve done all year: helping to keep the cats healthy and happy.

In Atlantic City, NJ, the caregivers who monitor and feed the 89 cats as part of Alley Cat Allies’ Boardwalk Cats Project are already preparing to help the colonies stay comfortable and thrive in winter. It’s a ritual that begins each year as autumn turns to winter and temperatures plummet.

“We have been out there in all types of weather, with winds so strong we can barely stand,” says Kim Kean, our Atlantic City program manager. “On days like that, we are just about the only ones out there.”

Kim and our other staffers and volunteer caregivers have learned a few tricks along the way to provide for cats in winter weather. If you’re new to caring for community cats, or even if you’re a seasoned pro, check out some of our tips to help you keep community cats safe and warm through chilly temperatures, wind, and snow:

  • Insulate the cats’ shelters with straw—not hay. (If the cats don’t already have a shelter, you can provide one! You can even build your own.) Remember, the more straw the better! Cats can burrow in it to stay warm and cozy. It’s also important to add straw as needed throughout the season, especially before a storm or a cold snap, adds Clay Myers, our senior manager for New Jersey operations.
  • Provide fresh food and water daily. In cold temperatures, water will freeze overnight. To slow freezing, use bowls that are deep, rather than wide. You can also use a heated bowl. At the Atlantic City Boardwalk, our team uses rubber containers meant for horses—it’s easier to remove blocks of ice from those, compared to plastic bowls that tend to crack when water freezes in them, says Kean. Also, place water bowls out of the wind as much as possible, says Myers. To help block wind and other elements, build a feeding station.
  • Give cats extra food. Cats eat more in the winter, because they’re trying to conserve energy and stay warm. It’s best to give them food daily. Wet food freezes, so put out dry food as well (or just feed them dry food). If you provide wet food, heat it up first or use a heated bowl.
  • Prepare for major snowstorms. If one is in the forecast, make sure cats have enough food and water to last more than a day, in case you get snowed in and can’t get to them. After it snows, be sure to clear out entrances to cats’ shelters so they don’t get snowed in.
  • Don’t use antifreeze! Antifreeze and other salts and chemicals used to melt snow are toxic to cats.

While you weather winter’s challenges, look on the bright side, says Myers: Winter means no ants or flies on the cats’ food, and no bugs bothering cats—or you!

For more information, view our full list of winter weather tips.