So, where do outdoor cats sleep? While certain indoor cats tend to treat their owners like ‘staff’, outdoor cats tend to have a more gritty, street-smart existence. One of the two main challenges outdoor kitties face is finding safe, warm and dry places for them – and sometimes their kittens – to sleep.
The other challenge is finding a source of regular food. As a cat lover, when you come across a more outward-bound feline, your first instinct is to want to help. Here is what you need to know…
Not all outdoor cats are ‘feral’
In every community of outdoor cats, there are usually three main groups you need to be aware of to decide whether the kitties you’d like to help actually need it. The three groups are:
1. Feral cats
These are considered ‘wild’. They live in queen-headed, family-related colonies, who team up to find shelter and food sources to raise their kittens and protect their territory. They are usually human-averse and very secretive and tend to keep to themselves, so you may never know you have a feral colony near you.
2. Stray cats
Strays are cats who once had homes but who are now alone. These kitties may not be afraid of a little human help and affection to get them through the day. Instead, they tend to be more visible to people, cautiously approaching you if the opportunity presents itself, and will display the purring and meowing sounds any pet cat would make.
They may live in colonies with other strays and will often get their food from hunting small domestic game like mice or birds, rifling through rubbish bins or even stealing from other pets’ food bowls.
3. Domestic cats
This group are domestic or pet cats who are natural roamers. They have homes and owners, yet the wanderlust lives large and in charge.
Where do feral and stray cats find shelter?
For outdoor cats, the places they choose to sleep must fit a pretty specific set of criteria for them to return to it time and again. Living outdoors is potentially dangerous to cats, and it becomes more so when they are asleep.
That means a suitable sheltering spot must be:
Cats may be agile and stealthy predators, but they are small and can easily fall prey to larger animals in terms of sheer physical size. They know this danger exists, so to mitigate this challenge, many outdoor cats will deliberately select a sleeping spot that sits high up and out of sight.
That way, they can keep an eye on the movements of everything that roams in and out of their territory and plan accordingly. When it comes to staying safe, they don’t like surprises.
2. Hidden away
Much like a luxury-loving hotel guest, all cats – not just outdoor ones – enjoy a private, quiet sleeping environment. So it’s not surprising that an indoor pet cat may have several favourite blanket-lined napping spots throughout its home, while the wiley outdoor cat needs to take what it can get.
They’ll go out of their way to find an out-of-the-way spot to snooze in – whether it is under a hedge or in an abandoned shed to nestling amongst a pile of boxes behind a bin… if they fits, they sits.
3. Warm and cosy
Ask any cat owner: there is nothing quite as pathetic – or demanding – as a cat who feels cold. Outdoor kitties will seek out warm, sunny spots or huddle together in dry places for companionship and heat. In winter, you may find them sheltering in parking garages or more public structures for warmth.
We have a wide range of outdoor shelters. Choose a luxury outdoor chalet for your outdoor kitty, or go for something more suited to stray and feral cats needing a warm spot to cosy up in.
Of course, if you’re feeling more industrious, you can build your very own cat shelter. This article explains how…
It may be a cat, but it’s really a night owl
Like their wild lion ancestors, most cats are nocturnal, meaning they enjoy coming out at night to socialise and hunt. For an outdoor cat, the streets are quieter and less threatening at night than during the daytime. The darkness also heightens their already-sharp senses, making it easier to sniff out new things.Finding a safe place to sleep is one of life's big challenges for outdoor cats. Click To Tweet
As a result, you’ll find many feral and outdoor cats roaming to the extreme edges of their territory, living their best life and enjoying the quiet. Others will simply stay hunkered down, enjoying the solitude and warmth of their shelter.
Nighttime is also the ideal opportunity for toms to go adventuring, getting into fights over territory and also finding females to breed with – or to go into hiding.
The cat’s innate curiosity and these exploration tendencies will see a keen and courageous cat travel up to 350 meters from its shelter. But it will always try to have an escape route from danger already planned out. If something piques the cat’s interest, however, the lust to follow that scent, sometimes for miles on ‘kitty autopilot’, may kick in.
The Big Question – What do outside cats do at night?
Do you ever wonder what outdoor cats get up to at night time? As already mentioned, they like to explore and hunt. Some cats go searching for a mate, while others are on the lookout for a fight with a neighbouring cat. And then there are those in need of a safe place to hide.
Let’s take a look at each of these in a bit more detail.
During the day, with all the hustle and bustle, cats tend to keep a low profile. Nighttime, however, presents the perfect opportunity for outdoor cats to do what they love most… explore. It’s also a good time for felines to lay their stake to new territories when other cats aren’t around.
Hunting is hardwired into a cat’s DNA, but it’s not always possible for them to do this during the day. For one, their natural prey, which includes rats and mice, is most active at night. And then there’s the fact that there’s less noise and strange smells when it’s dark. With fewer distractions, a cat can hone its senses and focus on its prey.
Unneutered cats, especially males, will go in search of a mate at night. There are a couple of reasons. Firstly, there’s less competition from other males, and secondly, with fewer smells and noise around, it’s easier to pick up on a female cat’s scent.
We can’t stress enough how important it is to have your cat neutered or spayed. If you have a feral community in your area, you can assist by trapping, neutering and returning these cats. Here’s how you can help…
Some indoor cats need a safe space to hide at night. This usually happens in a home with multiple pets, where one cat is more dominant than the others. For example, a kitty that feels bullied or threatened will find refuge outdoors while you, their guardian, is fast asleep.
What can you do to help an outdoor cat?
Every day, the wild urban outdoors is fraught with danger for our feral feline friends. Unfortunately, this affects the average outdoor cat’s lifespan, reducing it to between two and five years’ maximum, while their pampered indoor counterparts can live to the ripe old age of 17+.
In addition, run-ins with inconsiderate humans, aggressive dogs, wild animals, cars, environmental pollutants, chemical hazards and exposure to extreme cold and infectious diseases can result in early feral cat deaths.
So what can you do to help?
4 ways to help your neighbourhood’s outdoor kitties
1. Support your local feral cat spaying/neutering programme
According to recent research, the size of a feral cat’s territory means that outdoor cats are considered an environmental hazard. That’s why many veterinarians, animal charities and welfare groups offer feral cat neutering programmes in the local areas in which they operate. Sometimes this service is done for free.
Other times, these organisations rely on donations from concerned and caring citizens to help them do their work. Consider donating cash, time or equipment to one in your area regularly.
2. Give a stray or feral cat a forever home
If you’re visited regularly by a stray cat, and you’d like to add him or her to your family, the first step is to try to be friends. See if the cat would like to come closer to you if you offer treats, for example.
Contrary to popular belief, moving a cat from living outdoors and getting it used to indoor life isn’t as tricky as it sounds. Before you do this, though, make sure your family is on board with the idea and ensure that, if you have any other pets, you’ve considered whether or not they’ll be able to adapt to the new addition.
Once the feral/stray cat has shown an interest in having you as its forever owner, make sure you have all the necessary cat accoutrements like a litter box, pet dishes, wet and dry cat food, toys, and a cosy bed(s) for it to snuggle down in.
Remember that your ‘new’ cat will need a medical as soon as possible. Your vet will most likely do a general check-up, administer a rabies shot, test for feline HIV, and do a spay/neutering surgery. The spaying/neutering is vital to prevent unnecessary litters and, in the case of a male cat, save your furniture and home from urine spraying as he marks his new territory.
3. Provide a safe, dry shelter with food and water
Outdoor cats are masterful at finding themselves a safe spot to shelter, but they will need your help the most during the cold winter months. First, consider building your neighbourhood’s outdoor cats who visit your property a safe, dry, hidden sheltering spot that’s easy for you to access should you need to, and also provide a regular source of food and fresh water for them. Then, in winter, make sure the food and water stay thawed.
When the temperature plummets or during cold and rainy times, an outdoor cat’s life is far more difficult. This can result in illness or even death by exposure, especially if they are wet and chilly.
The cold also gives feral outdoor cats limited options when it comes to hunting for food, so you would be helping them out hugely by leaving fresh food somewhere for them to find and topping it up regularly.
To find out how you can help outdoor cats survive the winter, this article is definitely worth a read…
4. Be more vigilant for cats during colder months
When it comes to finding a spot to shelter in, outdoor cats often don’t make the best – or safest – choices. That means you need to be more aware of their presence – or lack thereof. Cats tend to hide in awkward places, like sheds, garages, or lean-tos, which can result in them being unwittingly locked inside for a prolonged time.
Cats also love to squeeze into the wheel wells of cars, slink in under the bonnet, or huddle under the car itself. So when you get into the car to start it in the morning without checking for the cat’s presence, it can end in an injury by impact, crushing or from them being trapped. This can lead to fractures, permanent disfigurement and significant pain and distress.
5. Pregnant or nursing cats may need a helping hand
Kitten season, which falls between April and September, is when most feral cats give birth to their kittens. This means that if you have strays or feral communities in your area, you’re bound to come across a nursing mum and her babies.
The first thing you need to do is check that all is well without disturbing them. If they are in good health and free from any injuries or illness, the best thing you can do is leave them where they are. We suggest placing extra food and water close by, as well as an outdoor shelter for extra warmth and safety.
Of course, if mum or her kittens look poorly, they will need your assistance. Your first point of call is the local vet. They will be able to advise on how best to help. If the kittens and mum need to be moved, you can contact a rescue centre in your area to assist. They will be able to trap the feline family safely and humanely.
To finish off, it’s important to remember that not all outdoor cats are homeless and in need of too much human intervention. More often than not, they have adapted to living outside and are self-sufficient.
However, you can do your bit by providing them with a warm and cosy shelter where they can sleep, along with food and water, especially during the cold and wet winter months.
Where is the strangest place you’ve found an outdoor cat sleeping? We would love to hear all about it in the comments below.