You’ve probably noticed a drop in temperatures, which means winter is just around the corner. But, while we (and our pets) look forward to cosy nights curled up in front of the fire, we need to think about the millions of stray cats in the UK that are literally left out in the cold.
Well, the good news is that strays, also known as community, outdoor and feral cats have adapted to their surroundings, and as long as they’re living in close proximity to humans, they are pretty good at surviving the elements all year round. Having said this, there are a few things you can do to help them get through the winter months comfortably.
Keen to find out more? Take a look at our handy winter survival tips that’ll help stray or outdoor cats get through the chilly months ahead.
How Cold is Too Cold For a Cat to be Outside?
Unfortunately it’s not possible to give an exact temperature that’s too cold for a cat, as it depends on a number of factors. These include the cat’s age, its health, its weight, how much fur it has and whether it’s an indoor or outdoor cat.
Even though an outdoor cat will have adapted well to the cold, being exposed to freezing temperatures for long periods of time can cause hypothermia and even death. Kittens, seniors and sickly cats are obviously at more risk.
How Do I Keep My Stray Cat Warm in the Winter?
So what can you do to keep your community cats safe at this chilly time of year?
1.Get an outdoor shelter
Although feral cats can survive the cold winters, it doesn’t mean they don’t need a warm place to curl up and rest in a safe spot. Our outdoor shelters are perfect for one cat (or a few) and can be placed around your garden, or in areas where you’ve seen strays, and there’s something available to suit every budget. If cost is an issue, you could ask a few kind and caring neighbours if they’d be happy to chip in and help buy a shelter.
2.Setting up the shelter
While a shelter is great, you still need to set it up so that it’s comfortable. Straw is always a good option as it allows cats to burrow in and keep warm. If straw is hard to come by, you could also place shredded newspaper in the shelter. As tempting as it might be, don’t use towels, hay or folded newspaper to insulate the shelter as these materials absorb body heat, which means they’ll feel the cold even more.
3.Use self-heating pads
We stock self-heating outdoor shelters as well as self-heating pads to keep homeless moggies warm when the temperatures drop. Because they’re warmed by the cat’s body heat, there’s no chance of electrical mishaps or udget-breaking electric bills. They’re also a better option than microwaveable pads that need to be reheated after a few hours.
4.Make sure there is plenty of food
Cats trying to survive the outdoors need more feed during winter because they use up more energy to stay warm. Dry food is a popular choice for people taking care of strays because it doesn’t freeze or dry out and most cats will eat it. Wet food on the other hand, is easier and quicker to digest, which means they’re able to conserve more energy.
Rather than leaving the food outside, you might want to consider building a feeding station. It’s straightforward to put one together, and won’t cost too much either.
Take a look at this handy video for a DIY cat feeding station.
5.Location is key
Once your feeding station is ready, it’s important that you find the perfect place for it. Ideally you want to put it away from too much foot traffic as well as loud noises. Cats won’t use the feeding station if they’re nervous, so a quiet spot is best.
Also, if you can, make sure it’s not too close to the shelter. It’s also important to avoid placing your feeding station too close to your cat shelter (if both are outside and not in your carport or garage). This might invite competition and lead to fights among cats over dominance and potentially leave less aggressive cats to fend for themselves.
6.Maintaining the feeding station
It’s important that you check the feeding station daily. This way you can adjust how much food you’re putting out for the number of cats you’re feeding. As it gets colder, you might need to refill food bowls more often, or (although it’s highly unlikely) you might have to put less food out because it’s going to waste.
You should clean out the feeding station regularly. This will help keep insects away and prevent the spread of disease. But more importantly, a clean, well-kept eating area will encourage strays to come back for more.
7.Make sure the cats have access to fresh water
Okay, so here’s the thing, cats as a rule, don’t drink a lot of water. However, you should still provide them with access to it. Because there’s a good chance of the water freezing, especially overnight, you could put the drinking bowls in your feeding station. Or place fresh drinking water outside twice a day, preferably around the same time. Cats are creatures of habit, and will soon figure out your (and their) routine.
8.Be stray cat savvy
Stray or feral cats will try and find somewhere to stay warm when it’s particularly cold. Before driving off in the morning, tap your car’s bonnet to make sure a cat isn’t tucked underneath the car or lying in between the wheel wells or behind the tyres.
9.Don’t use antifreeze
Antifreeze is is toxic to cats (and other pets) and is one of the most common causes of poisoning in the UK. Unfortunately this household product has an appealing smell and taste for cats, and even the smallest amount can lead to kidney damage and death. Salts and chemicals are also not a good idea. Not only are these lethal if ingested, they can also hurt cats’ sensitive paw pads.
Rather than using these products to de-ice your car, you should:
- use an ice scraper;
- cover your car at night, or park it in a garage;
- use warm (not boiling) water to defrost pathways and windscreens; and
- use the heat from your car’s engine, defroster and heater to remove ice from the front, back and side windows
Hats off to you if you’re taking care of feral cats in your community, especially during the winter months. But keep in mind that prevention is often better. What we suggest is spaying and neutering outdoor cats during the summer so they’re better equipped to deal with cold conditions. Your local cat rescue can advise on TNR programmes, as well as pre- and post surgery care.
We hope you found this article useful and feel better equipped to help any feral or outdoor cats in your area in the coming months. Perhaps you’ve got something you’d like to add or have first-hand experience of caring for community cats. If so, we would love to hear from you.