Monday, December 22, 2014

Keeping Out Old Man Winter, Written By: Nancy Peterson, Cat Programs Manager for The Humane Society of the United States

FROM CAT CHAT WITH CAREN AND CODY:This is a guest post by Nancy Peterson, Cat Programs Manager for The Humane Society of the United States. We thank Nancy as always for her superb contributions to our blog!

Winter is the perfect time to accustom your pet to being an indoor-only cat. An indoor lifestyle is safer for cats and also protects wildlife from injury or death caused by outdoor cats.
However, some outdoor cats don’t want to come indoors because they’re feral – too afraid of people to be handled or adopted into homes. Strays, friendly outdoor cats with no known owners, also live outdoors if no one adopts them. Feral and stray cats are known collectively as community cats, and they deserve our concern and care.

Photo Courtesy of  Neighborhood Cats


Many people feed community cats, but it’s Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) that will really be effective and reduce their numbers, nuisance behavior complaints, and public health concerns. With TNR, community cats are spayed or neutered, vaccinated against rabies, identified as sterilized with an ear tip (1/4 of the tip of the ear, usually the left, is surgically removed), and if healthy, returned to the area where they were found. Ideally, a caretaker provides community cats with shelter, food and water, monitors them for injury or illness, and traps any new cats who appear.

A caretaker’s role is especially critical during winter when even the most resourceful community cats need a helping hand. A properly-sized shelter is essential because one that’s too big makes it harder for the cat’s body heat to warm the interior. If you’re caring for several cats, provide shelters that accommodate three to five cats who will stay warm by huddling together. You can build a simple or a more elaborate shelter or buy a pre-made shelter. If you choose to build your own, scrap weather-proofed lumber may be available at low or no cost from a home supply store.

Photo Courtesy of
Christopher Humby
of Scaredy Cat Rescue


Make the door of the shelter just big enough for the cat to fit through and face the opening in a way to prevent wind, rain, and snow from entering. Place the shelter where it’s hidden from public view but allows you access, and elevate the shelter slightly off the cold ground. If possible, also try to place the shelter in a sunny spot against a warm building or near bushes that keep their leaves all year to provide additional protection from nature’s elements. For extra security, camouflage the shelter with branches and leaves.

Since hay may irritate kitty noses and cause allergic reactions, stuff the shelter with a thick layer of straw into which cats can burrow and stay warm. You can also stuff pillowcases with shredded newspaper or packing peanuts. On especially cold nights, provide microwaveable discs, which hold heat for 12 hours. Don’t use folded newspaper, towels, or blankets because they absorb body heat.
If it’s really cold and you can’t regularly check the shelter, avoid straw and stuffed pillowcases and line the shelter’s inner walls, floor, and ceiling with Mylar. It won’t draw heat from a cat resting on it, but will reflect back the cat’s body heat. If you have access to electricity, you can buy an outdoor heated cat shelter or heated bed to place in the shelter. Avoid salt or chemicals to remove snow or melt ice around the shelter or feeding station. These products may irritate paws or be toxic if licked.
Food and water bowls can be placed in a hidden feeding station made of a large plastic container situated on its side. So that cats don’t have to go far to access their food and water, place the container near the shelter, which will help them conserve energy and warmth.

Cats may be chilled by eating frozen food and keeping canned food from freezing in the winter may be challenging. One option is to warm canned food at home and then place it in insulated bags for transport. You can also place canned food inside a well-insulated shelter far from the doorway, which may allow the cat’s body heat to defrost it if it freezes. To avoid this potential problem all together, you may decide to feed dry food only.

Despite their thicker fur and toasty shelter, cats use more energy keeping warm when it’s cold, so feeding them a higher calorie food may be helpful. However, don’t feed so much food that there are leftovers that attract other animals, including wildlife. 

Photo Courtesy of
Christopher Humby
of Scaredy Cat Rescue



A thick plastic container that is deep and wide will keep water from freezing longer than a thin plastic or ceramic container. You can also mix sugar or salt into the water, which will lower its freezing point. Salt will lower the freezing point a bit better than sugar. Start with a half to one level teaspoon of either in one quart of water and adjust the amount as needed. Don’t place water in the shelter because the cats will get chilled if it spills and avoid metal bowls since their tongues can stick to the metal. You can also remove a tire from its metal rim, stuff it with rocks, and place a water-filled plastic container in the center space. The black tire will absorb heat from the sun and warm the rocks enough to keep the water from freezing. A solar-heated water bowl is an even simpler option that can prevent or delay freezing.

Even their thick winter undercoat won’t protect cats from frostbite if they’re exposed to severe cold for a prolonged period of time. Frostbite, the loss of blood circulation, can affect a cat’s ear tips, nose, tail, toes, and any body part where the hair is thin. If the early signs of frostbite – pale, gray, or bluish areas – aren’t treated as soon as they appear, the skin in those areas may ultimately die. You may see swelling, blisters, and black or dead skin as circulation returns and the skin thaws. If you can touch the cat, the area may be cold, brittle, and painful. Frostbite is not to be taken lightly so seek veterinary care right away.

Community cats live in many places in the United States, Canada, and around the world where winter climates challenge their survival. Thanks to TNR resources in those places and dedicated caretakers, community cats have full tummies and warm shelters when old man winter comes calling.








21 comments:

  1. There are so many awesome tips here!

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  2. PAWSOME post! Thanks for sharing! :) xx Roxy & Tigerlino <3

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  3. That is pawsome. Have a marvellous Monday.
    Best wishes Molly

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  4. This is such great information for all the cats. We have a box in our front garden, when someone wants to stay at our place. There was one neighbour cat living in it for a few weeks. He went back home when it started to storm. Thank Cat he had a home. Btw Cody, have you noticed the first picture? I could have been me, doesn't it :D Pawkisses for a Happy Monday :) <3

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  5. We are a big supporters of TNR. We cared for a feral cat named Buddy for years. He lived in our back yard and had a little house for winter. I always hoped he might change his mind and decide to join us inside, but he never did.

    He disappeared once for about a year and we were so sad thinking something must have happened to him. Then one morning Pip and I went out for a walk and there was Buddy sitting in our backyard. He had a terrible injury and he returned to us for help. He was completely feral so I thought this was pretty amazing that some part of him knew he could trust us to help him. We trapped him (it took several days) and took him to a vet. Unfortunately, his injuries were quite severe and he didn't make it ...however, I know we saved him from dying a painful death on the streets so that is something.

    Long story ...but this is a wonderful post on an important topic.

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  6. There are so many great suggestions for helping community cats in this article. I will share it with my Facebook and Twitter friends.

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  7. Wonderful post. So many ways I learned to help outdoor kitties.
    Sue B

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  8. That was a great post. WE are luckier than many here in Florida where it does get cold but NOT that cold. Snow and ice cold. Those are all great way to help outdoor feral cats.

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  9. We loved all of those tips. We sure try to take care of our ferals, all year round, but especially in winter. Ours love their heated house and they get food several times each day.

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  10. This was a wonderful post! I have 2 kitties who are my regulars here, and I make shelters for them every winter. They stay nice and cozy and are fed and watered daily. At first when they started coming around, they were super skinny, and very fearful, now they run to greet me every time I walk out my door, and have gained a healthy amount of weight :)
    ღ husky hugz ღ frum our pack at Love is being owned by a husky!

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  11. Great post and pawsome tips ! Thank you ! Purrs

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  12. Hello everyone! Thanks for your positive response to my post. Please feel free to share the post far and wide. May your holidays be filled with family, friends, felines, and fun. Nancy Peterson

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  13. Such amazing tips! Living as far south as we do, we would never have thought of some of these, but they can be useful even here where it's not quite so cold.

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  14. Wonderful post...bless everyone who helps the feral kitties, we just think they are the best humans ever and we admire them so much. Purrs and love to all the feral kitties, may they be protected and safe.

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  15. Great post full of information to help ferals. We are lucky there are none near us- any cat that has ever showed up, I kept :)

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  16. Excellent info for helping feral and outdoor kitties. It doesn't snow here and there are several houses that have cat-friendly people, so our Squatty the Stray is able to find shelter in the neighborhood. We put out some straw piles in protected areas (he won't go in anything like a shelter) so he can snuggle in if he wants to. He used them for a week, but then decided to find someplace else at night.

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  17. What terrific tips! We have some feral cat colonies here, and this is great inf as winter sets in.

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  18. Great post. I had a feral cat once. I kept a garbage can under a bush (with a hole in the lid) so he would be warm. Fortunately, I found a home for him before winter. I hate seeing cats outside when it's 0 degrees F! Ellie

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  19. What a wonderful and informative post.
    Thank you .
    Purrs Georgia and Julie,
    Treasure and JJ

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