Helping Cats in Cold Weather

Frostbitten cat from Chicago after treatment at PAWS. Photo: PAWS
Frostbitten cat from Chicago after treatment at PAWS Chicago. Photo: PAWS
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

Every year I think about helping cats in cold weather. Where I live is fairly mild compared to the mid-west where (with the wind chill factor) last night it was more than 50 degrees BELOW zero F. In that region there are approximately 13.7 million pet cats and around 9.5 million ferals.  So, they’re out there, and they are susceptible to the cold just like we are.

Chicago Community Cats made cat shelters
Chicago Community Cats made cat shelters. Photo: Chicago Community Cats

Indoor cats, especially the elder and kittens who might find themselves outside, are at greatest risk at just 45 F above. Feral cats (who’ve acclimated) can live at 32 degrees but not for long.  Cats whose core temp falls to 60 degrees will die.  Our fatal core temp is 70.  The point is they need our help. Frostbite and hypothermia are killers.  To save a cat from the freezing cold, bring them in of course, dry them and warm them slowly using a warm (not hot) water bottle, not a heating pad which could burn them even on a low setting.

I see that Alley Cat Allies has a page with probably every shelter idea there is (   Designs range from fairly elaborate and permanent to quick and easy.  You can obtain straw from: pet and farm supply stores, garden centers, or ask your vet or local humane society.  Straw is cheap and can last a long time when kept dry.

Another need is fresh water (heated bowls prevent freezing) to help them stay hydrated, less tempted to lap up deadly anti-freeze and to help them warm their insides, too.  Those cost around $16 from online stores such as  Straw is the recommended choice for bedding, avoiding hay or blankets that can retain moisture and grow mold. A good feature to provide for them is an opening to use as an exit.

Note fiver’s design which manages it by not having a platform at that opening. That makes it harder to get in that way so it’s used to get out if need be. Being that cats don’t like to feel trapped, it might also encourage some to use the shelter in the first place, if the life-saving comfort isn’t enough. Also, cats tend to buddy up naturally so having just enough room for two is good.

There are reports of a steady stream of cats being brought into PAWS Chicago with frostbite. Sarah Ahlberg said:

“We are currently treating cats suffering from frostbite, URI’s, panleuk, in need of amputations, you name it!”

The are running a cold weather fund which has raised alsmot $1000.

Helping cats in cold weather. Timely advice, hoping it’s in time to save some lives.

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3 thoughts on “Helping Cats in Cold Weather”

  1. This great advice & very good links to resources too. The message can’t be stressed enough, that we should help cats in need who have no home or shelter.

    I keep two off ground, insulated, wooden, straw filled shelters going all year around, at the side of our home. Both away from prying eyes, vandals & roaming dogs.

    I keep a large, semi clear ‘rubbermaid’ box, with entrance cut out, for feeding, going all year too. A large water bowl with a ping pong ball in, to inhibit freezing and out of the sun next to the feeding box (to avoid algae formation) is essential too. The box is semi clear so I can peek out the curtains and ID any entire feral Toms or Queens or strays that need some TNR or indoor care/rehome type love.

    We built the shelters from wood, plyboard, roof felt and wood blocks left over from other projects. The padded, silver insulation cost little, the straw was free. The exteriors are painted with weather resistant, supposedly ‘non toxic/enviro’frendly’ paint left over from painting the garden shed.

    • Thanks Jane for the good comment and the efforts you make for outdoor cats as you said. Good points about shelter location. Cats also prefer not to be on display. Half the reason they seek shelter is to hide in the first place.

  2. Thanks for this Albert. It is a particular time when are thoughts should be for the many feral cats trying to survive in brutally cold conditions in the north of N. America. It looks awful for people but at least they can go inside.


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