How to Keep Community Cats Safe in Winter | Lola The Rescued Cat
Friday, November 22, 2019

How to Keep Community Cats Safe in Winter

Hello, everyone. This is Lexy checking in with some important information. I know, it has been quite some time since you've heard from me. Life here at the White House has been a little hectic with Mother's work schedule. We're trying to get back to normal posting ASAP. 

But I digress. Since the weather is getting cold here in the North East, I thought it would be a good idea to re-post an article on keeping community cats safe in winter. Please share with all of your friends who live where it's cold! 


Winter is here, and we are currently in a deep freeze in the North East. I worry so much about the community cats in bad weather, and I’m sure many of our readers do as well. 

feral cat winter tips

According to The Humane Society of the United States, there are an estimated 30 to 40 million stray and feral cats in North America. Strays are lost or abandoned cats, who were pets at one point in their lives, and are used to human contact. Ferals (also referred to Community Cats) on the other hand, were born outside and are not accustomed to (and often afraid of) human contact. 

Becky Robinson, president and founder of Alley Cat Allies, tells us that community cats are fine living outdoors, and cannot be adopted as pets. Many people think feral cats would be better off the streets and in a shelter, but it’s a sad reality that community cats’ odds of making it in a traditional shelter setter are grim and they often face euthanasia. 

keeping feral cats safe in winter
Photo by Alley Cat Allies

Although people may mean well by taking a feral cat indoors in the winter, it’s not a good idea because they most likely will not be able to adjust. It’s best to leave the cats in their familiar colony and environment. There are a few steps that can be taken to make the winter just a little less harsh for them and to give you peace of mind as well. 

Providing Shelter

Even though cats grow a thicker coat in the winter, they still need a refuge where they can escape the cold, wind, snow and rain. A good shelter can make a world of difference in their lives. A shelter doesn’t have to be fancy, and a simple shelter is actually easy and inexpensive to make. (I made some a few years ago with my friend, and if I can do it, anyone can!) Here’s a video from Cole and Marmalade that shows just how easy it is. 

While some cats like to huddle together for warmth, there are some who won’t go in a shelter with other cats. Consider making multiple shelters to make sure there are enough warm spots for everyone. 

feral cat winter care
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Providing Food and Water

Having sufficient food and water is vital to community cats’ survival, which can be somewhat challenging in the winter. Community cats require more calories in the winter to help them stay warm. You can slightly warm some food and put it out at the same time every day so the cats will learn to arrive then and eat the food before it freezes. (Wet food is ideal for feral cats in the winter because it takes less energy to digest than dry food, and the cats can use the extra energy to stay warm.)  Since dry food doesn’t freeze, add some kitten dry food to provide some extra calories. 

feral cats winter care
Photo by Alley Cat Allies

For water, use water bowls that are deep rather than wide, and try to place them in a sunny spot. Using silicone camping bowls or baking pans make emptying frozen water easier since the ice will pop right out. Consider using bowls that are darker in color, made of thick plastic and have a small opening. Heated electric bowls or solar heated bowls will really help prevent the water from freezing. To prevent dehydration, check their bowls twice daily to ensure the water hasn’t frozen. Just remember not to put the water bowl in their shelter. You don’t want it to spill and get the hay wet which will result in the cats sleeping on ice.

It’s ideal for feeding and water stations to be protected from the cold and placed as near to the sleeping shelter as possible. The cats will be less exposed to harsh conditions when they need to eat or drink.

Keeping Community Cat Safe

Outdoor cats will seek warmth in areas that can sometimes be dangerous. This includes curling up in a car engine or sleeping in the wheel wells. Before you start your car, give it a good tap on the hood and honk your horn, and check underneath as well. 

feral cat winter care
Photo: Hope 'Abrahams via Flickr

Many products people use in the winter can be deadly to cats. Cats are attracted to anti-freeze, so make sure it is stored in a secure place. If you see any spills, clean them up right away. Another product that is dangerous is salt (and other chemicals) used for deicing. Not only are they toxic, but they're also harmful to their sensitive paw pads. Pet safe alternatives are available at pet and hardware stores. 

Available Resources

There are many resources available that you can refer you. Just a few are below. 

Best Friends Animal Society has information on caring for stray cats in winter and how to help stray cats in winter

Alley Cat Allies has information on winter weather tips for strays and feral cat shelter options. 

Neighborhood Cats has information on keeping cool cats warm.

Feral Cat Caretaking has loads of information on caring for community cats. 

The ASPCA has a feral and community cat guide that provides webinars, TNR info, cat colony management tips, and more. 

feral cat winter care
Photo by Alley Cat Allies

You can help a community cat survive the winter more comfortably  All it takes is a little extra attention and care. 

Are there community cat colonies in your neighborhood?


Would you like to comment?

  1. Good info - some of the rescues here have been sharing on how to make shelters.

  2. The first cat shelter The Hubby and I built was using instructions directly from Alley Cat Allies! It was designed to be built and easily transported in a car trunk. Since then, there are all kinds of store-bought shelters or DIY suggestions, which means anyone...with any sized pocketbook...can help the community cat!

  3. We live in southern California - but even though we very rarely dip below freezing here, keeping community cats safe and warm is still important!

  4. Great info for helping keep community cats warm and safe. I'm thankful that temps don't dip so low where we are. And I'm also thankful that there are people building these shelters and helping community cats in the colder regions!

  5. This is some great info. It's gotten cold earlier this is really timely.

  6. Those precious babies need our help staying warm. A very important post!

  7. We used information from Alley Cat Allies to when the wonderful feral family decided to adopt us as there official caretakers.

  8. Excellent post. If I had any near me, I would do this. So far, every cat that has been out in our yard, I kept :) XO

  9. We cats got coats that stay warm long after humans are cold but we still need some help. Have you seen those shelters made out of tires? Wonder if you can make those ones with the igloo foam inside out of a hooded litter box. Thanks for the info.

  10. Back when I met Bear outside, and I didn't think we could keep him - I briefly considered taking him to a shelter. He wasn't feral - at least not around me - so his fate might not have been so dark - but with overcrowding, I ended up figuring he had more chance of survival on the street. And then of course, I couldn't let him go. The transition was much easier for him than I expected. But again, he let me pet him after the first time I fed him - so most likely, he wasn't completely feral.

  11. I worry about them all the time in the winter. Our Robin, the last of our indoor-outdoor cats, back in the late 90's was a victim of crawling up to the engine of my car. I had no idea. She always knocked on the living room window when she wanted in, or came in with me or the kids...or when we called. I started the car and there was horrible screaming. I looked and she was not there. I called the animal shelter and they were kind enough to send an officer to look for me as I was distraught. Robin had managed to get to the woods right behind our home though I did not know. The officer gave the same advice you did here, btw. I got a son out of school that she cherished above the other sons, and he came to call her as he walked into the woods. She meowed and finishing up here...sorry it's so long...we rescued her. She was badly injured. Always thump that hood.

  12. Awesome info, Lexy! We have a bunch of human pals here who manage feral colonies and keep our community cat friends safe and well-cared for, especially during the winter months.

  13. Miss Dawn, this is purrfect timing, as Mom has been feeding a feral kitty at our porch for several months. She is wanting to make him a lil' shelter. Thanks to your post with the video clip she know has an idea on how to get started. Luvs and winks.

  14. Positive site, where did u come up with the information on this posting?I have read a few of the articles on your website now, and I really like your style. Thanks a million and please keep up the effective work. cat tower

  15. Great info!
    We maintain a feral cat colony and have for close to 30 years. Through TNR, the number have shrank from around 35 to just 2 now. Yes two. We do get visitors passing through, but thanks to others doing TNR life has improved for all of the cats.
    We are weirdos (I say that kind of jokingly ) our garage has a cat door, my garden shed has a door and we build a shelter and heat it . Living in Iowa is tough on ferals and even tougher on strays.
    We will be moving come spring, and we will be taking our last two with us, and crossing our fingers they adapt.


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