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?
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.