I always worry about the outdoor cats I care for when winter weather rolls around. What are some things I can do to help them weather the winter?
Providing a specially-built shelter is a great way to keep feral cat colonies safe from the winter elements. Alley Cat Allies offers plans for easy and inexpensive cat shelters, but here are a few tips to get you started:
• A good size for a shelter is 2’x3′ and 18” high. Larger shelters are not necessarily better, since heat disperses quickly, leaving the inside as cold as the outside.
• The door should be no bigger than six to eight inches wide to keep out predators and other animals. A flap on the door can also be used to protect against snow, rain, and wind.
• Cats will huddle together inside for warmth, so if you’re caring for a larger colony, make sure there’s enough space for three to five cats.
• Insulate the shelter with straw to keep the cats warm and dry. Avoid blankets and other materials, like hay, as they have a tendency to absorb moisture. (Read more about the difference between straw and hay.)
• Make sure to elevate the shelter off the ground to conserve warmth, and place it in a quiet location away from foot traffic.
In addition to providing shelter, ensure that the cats in your neighborhood stay out of harm’s way in the cold weather with these winter precautions:
• Before starting your car, give the hood a tap and check between the tires. Cats will sometimes crawl into the engine or hide underneath the car for warmth.
• Remember to shovel out cat shelters when you’re shoveling your own driveway. Cats in shelters can get snowed in, so keep entrances clear, and shovel an exit for cats who may be taking refuge under bushes, porches, or other hiding spots.
• Winter is also the time of year for antifreeze, which often tastes irresistible to cats and other animals, but is toxic and deadly. Keep it out of reach, and clean up any spills!
• Don’t use salt and chemical melting products. These products can be toxic to animals and harmful to their natural snowshoes — their paws!
Millions of people are already caring for the cats in their communities each day, but a little extra help during the winter months can go a long way to protect stray and feral cats! This is just a start – visit Alley Cat Allies site to learn more.