It is a myth that a cat’s fur coat will keep them warm through an entire winter. Outdoor cats are independent as a general rule, but when it gets cold in the winter, outdoor, feral and stray cats need help to stay warm. I live in Western New York. It’s 5 degrees today. Yes, 5. This is what prompted me to write this article today! In this article, we’ll talk about how to keep outdoor cats warm in winter.
When is it Too Cold for Cats?
It’s important to stay aware of how current weather conditions are affecting outdoor cats, whether it’s your own cat or a feral or stray cat. Cats left outside in freezing temperatures can result in hypothermia and frostbite. Both can be fatal. Keeping outdoor cats warm in winter is crucial for their survival.
If you have an indoor cat who also spends time outside, it’s wise not to leave them outside for long periods of time if it’s below 45 degrees. Unless they live outside full time, they aren’t going to develop the fur coat nor the skills necessary to stay warm in colder temperatures.
Outdoor cats can generally keep themselves warm in almost freezing temperatures, depending on the thickness of their fur, their age, and their skill level in keeping warm. But when it’s 32 degrees or less, they either need to be brought inside or have access to an insulated cat shelter.
Older cats and kittens should never be left outside if it’s less than 45 degrees, especially at night.
Also keep in mind that it’s not just cold temperatures that cause hardship for outdoor cats. Large amounts of snow or white outs can cause even an experienced outdoor cat to get disoriented or lost and unable to get to shelter, not to mention elderly cats who are weak and whose eyesight may not be that great, and kittens who just can’t find their way.
Give them access to a building. You could leave the door partially open in a shed, garage or barn to provide shelter for an outdoor cat. Put warm blankets, food and water inside if possible.
Make or buy a cat shelter. You can create a cat shelter by placing a sturdy box or large tote outside with a small opening for them to enter. Place straw and an insulated blanket or sleeping bag inside. If you can, place the shelter in a location that is accessible for outdoor cats, and somewhat sheltered like behind a shed or inside a carport if possible. The more shelter you can provide from wind and snow, the better. You might provide a mylar blanket – these are blankets that reduce heat loss in the cat’s body and are a very kind addition to a cat shelter. You can get straw at places like Home Depot and Lowe’s.
Set Up a Cat Feeding Station. You can also help outdoor, stray and feral cats in winter by providing food. Outdoor cats may have difficulty hunting for food due to snow, wind and cold, plus they need enough food to be strong enough to hunt. Having enough food also helps provide extra energy for their bodies to stay warm – staying warm burns a lot of calories.
It’s best to provide dry cat food because it won’t dry out or freeze. But wet food benefits cats enormously and should also be provided as much as possible. As an easy-to-remember rule on how much food is necessary, decide that you need one can of cat food plus 1/2 cup of dry food per day, per cat. If you can’t afford to purchase cat food for outdoor cats, you could leave out leftover meats from your meals, or the fat/grease left over from cooking meats. Before you leave other leftovers out for feral, stray and outdoor cats, know what foods are safe for cats.
For more information on exactly how to set up a cat feeding station, see these helpful guidelines from Alley Cat Allies.
Provide water. Providing water for outdoor cats is very kind, but it’s not very helpful if it’s frozen! Try placing water where it won’t freeze – where it’s in sunshine and at least partially protected from wind if possible. You could also consider getting a heated bowl (which can be used to keep wet cat food from freezing as well.) Some heated bowls plug in, but others are solar powered.
Put food and water in same place every day on a regular schedule if possible. Also keep in mind that feral cats are usually afraid of humans, so stay away from the feeding station once it’s filled. Also, keep an eye out for other animals that might be taking over the food station.
Take Them in or Find Them a Home if You Can
I recently adopted a feral cat. His name is Whiskers (that’s him in the pic!) He and two of his siblings were rescued when they were kittens and all three are now in loving homes. Whiskers, another male named Finn, and a female named Penny. Their owners and I keep in touch on a regular basis, exchange pictures, and text each other regularly about the enormous amount of joy, entertainment, affection and love these little cats give us each and every day.
I’m telling you, it’s worth it. I have personally found that rescue animals are the most grateful, most loving, most affectionate and most devoted pets you’ll ever own. So if you can – adopt one (or two or three!) and encourage family and friends to do so as well.
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