An Overview on Winter Care for Outside Cats
For those of you who feed street cats, or a cat or two in your yard, thank you. Without you, the street cats would suffer and starve. If you haven't had them spayed or neutered – contact us and we'll help. If you don't feed but you know someone who does, please pass this on to them.
All cats need food, water and shelter, all year round. Winter is especially difficult. Shelter is almost more important than food. With rain and snow, their coats become wet and lose their insulating abilities. Their tender ears can get frostbite. Water bowls freeze and unless food is under a cover, it too can freeze. If you feed wet in addition to dry food, there are steps that can be taken to keep it from freezing too. Here are a few simple steps that you can take. In addition to these basic steps, there are links at the end of the article to resources and further instruction.
Food and water needs to be sheltered from the snow and rain. Make sure they are in a safe area, sheltered from any public harm. If you feed somewhere like a porch or natural shelter, great – if not, here are a few suggestions:
1) A bucket turned on it's side (rectangular litter buckets work well)
2) The top of a litter box
3) A dog or cat carrier, halved and inverted (see link below for visual)
4) A lean-to against a garage, porch or house.
5) A beautifully constructed platform with a shed roof.
Anything that keeps the snow out when necessary. Water is very important during winter months. In addition to dehydrating, cats drink lots of water and with all their sources frozen, it needs to be provided, free from ice. Heated water bowls can be purchased online. Just type "heated water bowls" into your browser, and you'll see there are plenty to choose from. You can also buy them at major stores like Menards, Walgreens, WalMart, PetCo and PetSmart. They take little electricity and are necessary during freezing weather. Water bowls can also be put into Styrofoam coolers, with a hole for entry. There are also solar units available. (See link below)
Shelter can be provided a variety of ways:
1) A Rubbermaid box, enough for however many cats you have, lined with Styrofoam insulation, with about a 10" layer of straw (not hay) for flooring. In addition to adding insulation and providing a 'nest', it doesn't hold water when walked in on paws. Never use material, blankets or rugs, they get wet and stay wet.
2) An Igloo can be purchased at a local pet store
3) Inverted 1/2 dog houses with straw or Styrofoam insulation
4) Small insulated dog house.
5) Purchase a shelter on line – Google "Cat Shelter" (Also, watch for CatVando's feral shelter building wokshops next year).
Get creative! Shelters have been made like a lean to with plywood, insulation and straw with heavy duty plastic or a tarp covering the openings, assuring an opening for entry and exit (see link below) Face the opening away from the wind (don't face north) and cover the opening with plastic (gorilla tape and double overlapping plastic work well).
Reflectix is a foil insulation that's 7 layers thick, yet easy to work with because it's thin. It provides 97% of radiant heat. It can be purchased at Menard's and other home care stores. Don't put fiber on the bottom of the shelter, as it gets wet and retains the moisture. The best flooring is straw (not hay). It provides comfort and insulation. If possible, put straw outside the shelter with an overhang. When things get wet, the cats carry snow and wet into their bedding, the overhang and straw provide a place to wipe their paws (See pictures below)
And, of course, all cats should be spayed or neutered, and vaccinated. CatVando NFP Corp is a grassroots organization of animal lovers joined together to help care for, control and reduce the population of street cats in our communities. We work with individuals, communities and municipalities to teach, assist, perform, and coordinate TNR (Trap Neuter Return) efforts while teaching the basics of colony management care. TNR is the most effect humane method of feral cat control. We believe that cats provide a vehicle to teach respect for life, and work with local youth groups on various life enriching programs. If you have cats and need assistance with trapping for spay and neutering, or have questions about outside cat care, give us a call or send us an email and we'll explain how it works. Kitties are born as early as February, then those kitties can have litters by the following fall.
http://www.urbancatleague.org/WinterCatShelters – Shelters and solar housing ideas
http://www.animalalliancenyc.org/nycfci/CatShelter.pdf – schematic on how to build a basic shelter
http://www.neighborhoodcats.org/ keep water from freezing
One example of a feeding station. This is the bottom 1/2 of a large plastic dog carrier. There's a slab floor but dirt would be fine.
A styrofoam lined rubbermaid shelter with 2 doors. Duct tape is used here but Gorilla tape doesn't break down in the winter. Some suggest a silicone caulk but I'd be concerned about the toxic fumes. Some put the styrofoam outside. This doesn't show the straw bottom.
TIP. To encourage the cats entering the shelter, sprinkle a bit of catnip in the straw.
This is an example of a shelter with plastic overhang. Rolls of heavy duty plastic can be purchased at places like Home Depot, Menards, Lowe's, etc. The opening is pulled back for photo. There's usually a small opening for entry.
This one is a styrofoam cooler (turned upside down – for more body room) lined with Reflectix. It has 7 layers and is easy to work with. It reflects 97% of radiant heat. It can be purchased at Menard's (and other home stores) in rolls. 16'x25' for approx $20 and 24' x 25' for $30. This caregiver made 4 coolers and one large rubbermaid with a roll of Reflectix.
The townhouse version (behind a garage)
These are 2 examples of 1/2 a plastic dog carrier with straw insulation combined with Styrofoam insulation on the top with tables in front with straw to provide a veranda for 'paw wiping'. The one on the left is covered with heavy duty plastic, the blue on the right is solar pool insulation (see link above for ordering info)
This is the beginning of a project of several houses for a colony of 16 cats. There are about 7 shelters under a back porch. When completed it will be covered for further protection. (Pictures of completion to follow)