Care For Feral Cats In Cold Temperatures

by Michael
(London UK)

This looks a very good set up

This looks a very good set up

Is there anything we can do to care for feral cats in cold temperatures? Of course, not everyone wants to help, but a lot of people care for feral cats on an ad hoc basis; the unsung heroes of the feral cat world (Feral Cat Rescue Awards). Quite a few of them visit this site. What do these people do? Well it depends on the numbers and how tolerant we are and our cats are.

feral cat housing I do my bit. I currently live in a ground floor apartment so I am restricted. However, one or two strays come in to my home for a warm up and a bit of grub – small stuff but at least it is something. This does cause a bit of upset from Charlie (my boy cat) but it is so minor as to not bother the household. Some people object to letting feral cats into their home, however.

I have also found that feral cat colonies get along reasonable well as it aids survival (so much for the solitary creature image). I remember a walking holiday in Italy. We stayed in a hotel in the mountains and it was cold at night. There was a colony of feral cats out side our room! In the cold evening the cats would lie on top of each other like double decker buses to keep warm. One of the cats was completely blind but managed through the extraordinary sense of smell of a cat.

feral cat house

The photographer says this about the photo above:

Abe and merle, the patriarchs of the block, on the feral cat house I built for 'em. usually merle and Abe were fighting, but this was a day of truce.

It seems feral cats need two major fundamental things in a cold winter:

  1. warmth
  2. food

Wind and wet are the enemies of the feral cat in cold winters. So, care for feral cats in cold temperatures should protect against these elements.

Our Jan (Jan Plant) has some nice ideas. Jan cares for and manages a “wild bunch” of feral cats. She has done the following:

  • constructed a shelter out of an old table covered with a tarpaulin (tarp). Inside this little den are an old futon mattress and some towels and blankets. The whole thing is heated by air from their trailer. I think this is about as good as it can get.
  • alternative accommodation (yes these guys and gals have a choice) includes old rabbit hutches with straw and bedding. Jan says the cats burrow into the straw.
  • another alternative are open topped boxes placed on their sides and turned against the wind. This avoids closed spaces that are disliked apparently (but see below). Most places have a prevailing wind – wind coming generally from one direction. In the UK is blows from the west normally.
  • precautions include taking great care with car anti-freeze, a deadly killer to a cat and it tastes OK to them. It causes kidney failure. There is no need these days to add anti-freeze to modern cars as the cooling systems are sealed units.
  • another precaution includes banging the bonnet (hood in the USA) of the car as cats and kittens like the warmth of the engine bay. This does not always force them to jump out however.
  • water bowls freeze over so the water should be topped up or the frozen surface broken.
  • extra food should ideally be placed out as more calories are burnt by the cats just keeping warm.

feral cat shelters

Jimmy, the photographer (on Flickr) says,

I take pictures of cats because they ask me to….

Well, thanks a lot Jan, these are very nice sensible ideas from a person with first hand experience. Is there anything else?

  • wild animals can occupy the shelters built for feral cats. One way to present a barrier to them is to fit a cat flap (cat door) which might deter a raccoon for example. Or an opening that is too small for likely wild cats in the area (if that is possible).
  • Jan’s method of constructing a den from furniture and a tarp seems to be an accepted method. Filling the space inside with straw is good.
  • blankets are not as good as straw, it seems, as when they get wet they don’t dry out as straw will.
  • alternatives to heating can be found but not electric blankets (too dangerous for all concerned). Light bulbs on a timer have been suggested. These could also be on a dimmer to reduce output and provide low level heating providing the wiring is up to specification for outdoor use.
  • large cardboard boxes with straw are also agreed to be suitable. I can remember A1 Savannahs using cardboard boxes as dens for breeding cats so breeders use these too. The tops can left on and a door cut out from one of the sides.
  • even if the feral cats occupy a large area like a disused garage putting in nice and cosy cardboard boxes with straw will assist. Garages and barns are draughty places.
  • cement flooring is cold and there should be insulating against Fullscreen capture 11012010 133826.bmpit (cardboard).
  • for those with the funding…

Not many will want to go as far as buying a cat house such as this and the cats won’t really appreciate it. Or might they?!

Of course in addition to the shelter and food there is the ever important spaying and neutering. We owe this to them, sadly. One day it will be more natural.

From care for feral cats in cold temperatures to Feral Cats

Care for feral cats in cold temperatures – photos are published under creative commons licenses fully complied with save the bottom one, which I claim fair use on the ground that is is very small and this site is for charitable purposes.

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Comments for
Care For Feral Cats In Cold Temperatures

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Jan 19, 2010 Straw
by: Julie Alhambra,Il.

Straw is very good to line the houses or to stack and make a house with it. It is very warm and repells water. Hay is not good at all. We have problem with the water freezing in the water dishes. It is good to check their water at least twice a day. My sister has heaters that go in the water for her chickens, rabbits,dog and cats. she got them from a farm supply catalog.


Jan 11, 2010 Ferals Deserve Warmth Too
by: Gail (Boston, MA USA)

Since work has picked up, I haven't had a chance to build a feral home; however, I've ordered one from Walmart, along with doors from the manufacturer.

For the house - it costs around US$32:

Petmate Petbarn II -- link broken 14-9-2013

For the doors - just as inexpensive (US$10+/-):

Petbarn II Doors

It's waterproof, insulated and with a bit of straw, a stray's delight!


Jan 11, 2010 Keeping Feral Cats warm
by: Merrily

Igloo dog houses are perfect homes for Feral cats to keep warm in. Purchased new they are rather expensive, however they can be found at garage sales at very little cost.
You can now purchase a flap,or door similar to a cat door to keep out the wind and cold. They are waterproof, and easy to keep clean. Layered with straw, and raised off of the ground by a few bricks they make a cosy winter home for a few cats depending on the size.
I used an Igloo for four hens that I kept as pets, every evening they would all go into their house and shuffle around to get into a warm position, and in the morning would take turns laying their eggs inside.


Jan 11, 2010 Ferals
by: Ruth

All very good advice ! Some wonderful feral cat homes in the photos too.
The main thing to remember is that ferals can stand a lot of cold but the wet gets to them, so waterproofing is of paramount importance when making shelters of any sort for them,as is more food during extremely cold weather.
I admire everyone very much,who cares for ferals.

Kattaddorra signature Ruth


Jan 11, 2010 Spectacular feral cat homes
by: Michael

Here is a feral cat high street scene. It is just missing the pub, library and some shops:

feral cat homes and shelters
Photo rebelxtned(Flickr)

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