Baby, it’s Cold Outside! Five Winter Weather Tips to Help Community Cats | Lola The Rescued Cat
Monday, January 4, 2021

Baby, it’s Cold Outside! Five Winter Weather Tips to Help Community Cats

Happy 2021 to all our readers! This time last year as I was brainstorming content ideas, I decided I wanted to focus more on community cats. I developed the idea to start a Community Cat Awareness series, but unfortunately, COVID-19 put the big kibosh on my plans. I refused to be deterred, though. 

Throughout the pandemic I attended numerous webinars, took copious notes, made connections, and learned so many exciting things that I cannot wait to share. I plan on writing posts full of great information on how to enhance the lives of community cats including colony care, TNR, TNR ordinances, and more. I am also hoping to interview some people immersed in the world of community cats. 

So, after that long intro, welcome to the first post in our Community Cat Awareness series; Winter Weather Tips to Help Community Cats.

winter weather tips for outdoor cats


According to data provided by The Humane Society of the United States, the estimated number of community cats in the United States is roughly 30 to 40 million. I wasn’t able to find information by region, but this data indicates there are a lot of cats surviving in the winter weather. 

winter weather tips for outdoor cats
Photo by Aida Shahbazyan via Flickr


Many well-meaning people may feel that community cats will be better off indoors during the cold months. But the reality is that they cannot live indoors and should not be taken to shelters, where nearly 100% face euthanasia. The humane approach is to extend a little bit of kindness to them by taking simple steps to make the winter months safer and more bearable.

Five Winter Weather Tips to Help Community Cats


1. Provide a Warm, Dry Shelter


According to Calhoon and Haspel, providing shelter for community cats in the winter is even more important than providing food. Cold, wet weather can have serious adverse effects on cats living outdoors. If they become wet, they will need a shelter where they can dry off, which will prevent hypothermia. Providing shelter, along with food, greatly reduces any winter hardships and helps to keep the cats healthy.

We'll be talking about making shelters in more detail in our next post, but for now here’s a video to get an idea of how to build a very simple shelter. 



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If you have barn cats or community cats that have access to porches, garages, barns, buildings, etc., you can consider self-warming cat beds. (Note: this is not a good option for outdoor shelters.)


2. Make Sure They Have Fresh Food and Water Every Day


Food

Outdoor cats need more calories during the winter because it takes more energy for them to stay warm. This can be accomplished by feeding the cats more frequently or feeding them larger portions at their normal feeding times.

Wet food takes less energy to digest but can freeze if not eaten quickly enough. When cats are fed at regular times, they learn when to arrive and eat the food before it freezes. Warming the food up a little before putting it out also helps. 

If possible, heated food bowls will prevent the food from freezing quickly. If this is not an option for you another tip is to spray insulation foam on the underside of plastic dishes to keep the food edible for a longer period. (Make sure the bowl is sprayed on the outside on the bottom, not on the inside.)

Dry food should also be left out in the event the wet food does freeze before it’s eaten. Adding some kitten dry food will provide some extra calories. 


winter weather tips for outdoor cats
Photo by Alley Cat Allies


Water

Water can be tricky in the winter because it can freeze quickly. Here are a few tips to make sure the cats have enough water to stay hydrated.

  • Use heated bowls if possible.
  • Use a deep bowl instead of a wide bowl and place it in a sunny area.
  • Use bowls that are darker in color and made of thick plastic. The Allie Cat Allies staff suggest using rubber containers meant for horses because they won’t crack like plastic containers will when the water freezes inside of them.
  • The Snuggle Safe is a small, microwavable disc that can be placed under the water bowl. It comes with a cover and can stay warm for several hours. (This is also a good option to put inside a shelter!)
  • Fill a sock with rice, microwave it, and place it under the bowl. (I’m a Licensed Massage Therapist, and I also use this trick when I need heat therapy and don’t have a heat source. I never thought of it for this purpose, though. It’s a great idea!)
  • Do not put hot water outside for the cats. Hot water actually freezes more quickly than cold water.
Food and water bowls should be placed outside of the shelter, not inside. If they should spill, the shelter will get wet which results in the shelter being colder. A cat's tongue could stick to a cold stainless steel bowl, so plastic bowls are a better choice. 

winter weather tips for outdoor cats
Photo by Alley Cat Allies


3. Use Pet-Safe Deicers


Rock salt and chemical deicers are lethal for cats and can easily be licked off paws or ingested when drunk from melting puddles. Salt also harms the paw pads. Opt instead for a pet-safe ice melt, such as Safe Paw


4. Car Safety


Cats will gravitate towards warm spaces in low temperatures, which includes a warm car engine. Before getting in your car, give the hood a few taps and honk your horn which will startle any cats hiding there. Make sure they are out of the way before starting your engine.

Cats are attracted to antifreeze because of the sweet smell and taste, but even as little as a teaspoon can be fatal to them. Clean up any spills and leaks immediately to avoid a dangerous situation. 

winter weather tips for outdoor cats
Photo by asımrevac via Pexels


5. TNR


The biggest act of kindness you can show community cats is to conduct TNR to reduce the population. Trapping in the winter months may present challenges that can be overcome with some pre-planning. Cats should have a temperature-controlled holding area where the traps can be kept covered and warm pre-and post-surgery. Cats aren’t able to regulate their body temperature when recovering from anesthesia, so you need to allow for a longer recovery period. 


When trapping, make sure you can pick up the trap right away because if it is too cold for you, it is too cold for a cat to be exposed to the cold in a trap for an extended period.

Community cats should be returned to their outdoor home as soon as possible after surgery. Male cats should be held for no more than 24 hours, and female cats 48 hours. The cats need to return to the home they know and their feline family. Don’t wait for a warmer day to release the cat; the cat will be fine in the elements they are used to. Keeping them in your holding area for too long will only result in causing them to become extremely stressed. 


Available Resources

There are many resources available full of information about helping community cats. Here are just a few: 

New York City Feral Cat Initiative has lots of information on winter shelters, TNR, managing colonies, and much more. 

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. 


winter weather tips for outdoor cats
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If you provide care for community cats or want to start, I hope these tips and resources are helpful. Community cats are at home outside, but they can always use some extra TLC in the cold months to be safe and comfortable. 

Stay tuned for the next installment in our Community Cat Awareness series where we'll have lots of ideas for building winter shelters for community cats. 

Are there community cats in your neighborhood? Tell us about them in the comments. 
Barn Cat Lady
Calhoon, R., & Haspel, C. (1989). Urban Cat Populations Compared by Season, Subhabitat, and Supplemental Feeding. Journal of Animal Ecology, 58(1), 321-328.

Would you like to comment?

  1. All paws up for this post! Wonderful advice, useful, practical and really good info! Thanks so much for all you do for ferals and homeless cats. Dawn, you are a Superhero!

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  2. That was wonderful information and everything is so correct plus the kitties appreciate it so much.

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  3. Excellent post. I feel so bad for all ferals. Wishing you Lola and Lexy a Happy and healthy new year! XO

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  4. Feral cats can do pretty well in the winter, with food, access to clean water, and a shelter to curl up in for a nap. Great post!

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  5. This is an excellent post and so very timely. Because we are a small rural community, there are a number of barn cats, these are well taken care of. What we worry about are the city people who dump their unwanted cats. That will happen a couple of times during the winter and we all keep our eyes out for these poor cats. They are caught and taken to the local shelter. Last year one was adopted by the local hardware store and he is the greatest greeter ever!

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  6. I worry myself sick about all of the feral cats in harsh weather. I read each thing with interest I know many of them from deep interest, and from reading about their plight for years. Thank you for it.

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  7. That is very good advice and tips. We have a small cat door in our fence from the field into our garden which Eric and Flynn used to get back in while I had to walk the long way around. I have been leaving it open so there is access to the open side of the barn, but no-one has used it yet. We never see ferals or strays around here though.

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  8. Great post! Thank you for educating folks about how they can help community cats during the colder months!

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  9. Wonderful post and it always is important that people know about what cats need in the winter.

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  10. Very important information! Bless the heroes that care for these precious angels.

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  11. wavez two ewe L & L; we hope ewe both and de mom N dad haza grate happee 2021 !! grate post two day:) ♥♥♥☺☺

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  12. What a nice start to your series! These are great tips as well.

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