How To Care For Feral Cats In Winter

A cat with long hair walks through snow. Care for feral cats in winter.

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During storms and winter months, feral cats will need extra help to stay healthy and warm. Follow these tips to keep your colony safe from the elements.

Keeping Feral Cats Warm In Winter

Almost anything can be turned into a shelter for a feral cat as long as it offers safe refuge from the cold. From the simple to the fancy, you can buy or even make your own. But whatever you end up using, make sure its dry and well-insulated. Remember:

  • Larger isn’t always better, since a smaller enclosure can do a better job at trapping the heat coming from the cat’s body.
  • For larger colonies, cats often huddle together, so plan on shelters that can hold three to five cats each.
  • Raise shelters off the ground to help conserve heat.
  • Place shelters in safe locations away from cars and foot traffic.
  • Doorways should only be large enough for a cat to pass through to eliminate threats from predators such as dogs or coyotes.
  • Use insulation! Make sure you use only non-absorbent materials that will keep cats dry and replace them when they get dirty or wet. Straw (not hay!) is often used, because it repels water and allows cats to burrow into it. Making your shelter out of a styrofoam cooler or wallpapering its walls with mylar are good options to protect against extreme weather.

Feeding Feral Cats In Winter

During cold weather, feral cats require extra calories to stay warm. Many will have a hard time finding enough food to survive until spring. Make sure to either feed more or feed more often. Remember:

  • Water bowls can be spilled, so don’t put them inside the shelter. Instead, place food and water as close as possible to the shelter itself. The Humane Society recommends placing two shelters several feet apart, facing their doors together. A canopy can be created by securing the ends of a long board onto both roofs. Then both food and water can be placed beneath it.
  • You can also build a separate feeding station. Similar to your shelter, it should have a roof and be kept off the ground.
  • Dry food is less likely to freeze, but wet food is easier to digest which helps cats conserve their energy for staying warm.
  • To prevent water from freezing, use solar-heated bowls or ones that are dark colored, made of thick plastic, and are deep with a small opening.

Trapping Cats During Winter

As long as you can provide a safe shelter for a feral cat after they’ve been fixed, winter can be an advantageous time to trap-neuter-release. There are fewer pregnant cats to deal with. Also, you’ll be proactively managing your colony’s population before spring, the season when the majority of kittens are born. Feral cats will also be more hungry during winter, so they can be easier to trap. Remember:

  • Set up your trap in an enclosed area to protect the cat from the cold.
  • If possible, trap as far away as you can from the shelter you’ve built to help maintain its privacy and sense of security for other cats in the colony.
  • Use magnetic vent covers instead of newspapers to line the bottom of your trap. Newspapers can flap in the wind, scaring away feral cats.
  • Microwaveable heating pads will help to keep bait warm and smelly.

By following these steps and being in tune with the needs of the cats, you can help your colony survive comfortably through the cold winter months.