Winter Safety Tips for Stray and Free-roaming Cats**
By Barbara J. Koll, Best Friends Network volunteer
Alley Cat Allies offers online guide for community cat colony caregivers
Stray and free-roaming cats may spend their entire lives outdoors, but during the cold and damp winter months they can use some extra help staying safe, warm and well-nourished. Alley Cat Allies has an online guide offering tips to community cat caregivers and anyone else who wants to help protect stray cats from the winter elements. The guide offers simple instructions for constructing appropriate shelters and feeding stations for feral colonies.
The information below is an excerpt from a December 7, 2010, Alley Cat Allies press release, “Alley Cat Allies Offers winter Safety Tips for Feral and Stray Cats”:
“We know that millions of people already help to care for the cats in their communities each day, said Becky Robinson, president of Alley Cat Allies. “While most feral cats are skilled at finding their own food and place to sleep, providing specially-built shelters and dedicated feeding sites guarantee the cats a warm spot to escape the harsh winter weather and deter them from places they aren’t wanted.”
Feral cats spend their whole lives outdoors, and can be found all over the country, from the largest cities to the mostrural landscapes. They are not socialized to humans and can’t be adopted into homes. Feral cats live amongst their own in family groups called “colonies,” and studies show they are just as healthy as pet cats.
To help the feral and stray cats in your community this winter, Alley Cat Allies suggests the following simple steps:
Build an outdoor shelter and a feeding station.
Shelters are easy and inexpensive to build. You can use the plans [available in the guide] or modify a pre-built dog house. Some manufacturers also sell pre-built cat shelters.
The shelter should be elevated off the ground and sited in a quiet, unobtrusive area with a minimal amount of traffic. A good-sized shelter offers a space just big enough for three to five cats to huddle. The door should be no more than six to eight inches wide to keep out wildlife and bigger predators. Install a flap on the door to keep out snow, rain and wind.
In addition to a shelter, you can build a simple feeding station with a roof and sides to protect cats from the elements while they eat.
Insulate the shelter against moisture as well as cold.
Straw resists the wet and keeps a shelter warm, and is the best choice for insulation and bedding. Blankets are not a good idea, as they absorb moisture like a sponge.
Keep food and drinking water from freezing.
Wet food in insulated containers is most ideal for winter time feeding, as it takes less energy for cats to digest than dry food — and cats can use all that extra energy to keep warm.
Preventing liquids from freezing can be a challenge during the winter and can lead to a risk for dehydration. Keep water drinkable by using 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 in the water also keeps it from freezing as quickly, and provides an added energy boost for the cats. Alternatives include the heated electric bowls found in many pet shops.
The cats will come to expect you if you keep a regular feeding schedule, and the food and water will spend less time in the cold before it is consumed.
Get educated about cats, and stop the breeding cycle with trap/neuter/return.
Make sure to 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 now. Cats have a 63-day gestation period and usually mate in winter. End the cycle of breeding and help the cats lead better lives by humanely trapping them and having them spayed or neutered by a veterinarian as part of a trap/neuter/return program. Make sure the trapped cats are quickly moved to a warm vehicle for transportation to a veterinary clinic. A local volunteer group that practices trap/neuter/return may be able to help.
Visit Alley Cat Allies’ web site for more information about connecting to local resources and starting a trap/neuter/return program in your community.
For more information:
- Best Friends feral cat resources
- Best Friends' cat initiatives
- Outdoor cat shelters and feeding stations (from Indy Feral, Inc.)
- Feral Cat Winter Shelter instructions (from NeighborhoodCats)
- Coming in from the Cold (Helping feral cats survive the winter from Petfinder.com)
- How to Build Feral Cat Shelters (from Petfinder.com)
- Feral Cat Resources (Humane Society of the United States)
Photos courtesy of MorgueFile.com
**Article taken from The Best Friends No More Homeless Pets Network Website. http://network.bestfriends.org/18008/news.aspx