The Sacramento area may not top the charts as the coldest region of the country during the winter months, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have freezing days. While we humans can add more layers, our poor community cats don’t have the luxury of bundling up. Sure, they have natural thickened winter coats that help them withstand some of winter’s chilling temperatures. But that doesn’t mean that they don’t need warm insulated shelters to help get through the cold and rain. There are a number of ways you can help stray and feral cats survive the winter chill.
A warm, dry shelter
To keep cats out of the cold, you can purchase pre-built outdoor shelters that can help community cats keep toasty even when the temperature falls. Alley Cat Allies recommends that a “good size shelter should be 2 feet by 3 feet and at least 18 inches high. Larger isn’t always better, because the heat will disperse quickly, and the cats will need a warm shelter during the winter. A space large enough for three to five cats to huddle is perfect.”
Among pre-built shelters are the Igloos generally used for dogs, but they can do double duty for outdoor cats. As an example, you might want to look into the K&H Outdoor Heated Kitty House, which actually has a thermostat heated floor pad. You can see other recommendations from Alley Cat Allies here.
There also are do-it-yourself options. One of the more popular and easy to assemble is the cat shelter made from a Styrofoam cooler. You can easily cut out a doorway with a box cutter or knife. It’s waterproof and all you need to do is add some straw for insulation and to allow cats to burrow. Pillow cases stuffed with packing peanuts or newspaper also work. However, don’t use blankets, towels or newspapers, says the The Humane Society. They absorb heat and chill cats lying on them. Also hay isn’t advisable since it can irritate cats’ noses and cause allergic reactions.
Keep cats safe by placing shelter away from potential predators. If there’s a fence, place the shelter behind it where other animals can’t get in. If there’s no fence, place the shelter facing a wall with just enough room for the cat to get in. Also keep the entrance cat-size so other predators can’t enter. To that end, having two openings provides an escape route for cats if predators enter the other entrance. But if you go the two-door route, keep out the cold by adding cat flaps.
You’ll also want to keep the shelter off the ground with 2x4s or some other materials, which makes it easier for cats to form shelters with their own body heat.
Extra food and keep water from freezing, please
Those extra calories in the winter can help cats maintain their energy levels. So make sure to provide extra food during the cold months. To keep water from freezing, consider heated water bowls or a solar-heated water bowl. Don’t put water in the shelter since it can tip over and the wetness will make the inside colder. In fact, you may want to build another small shelter just to keep the food and water in. If that’s not feasible make sure the food and water are close to the shelter.
So when your community cats start meowing “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” be sure to bring them in from the cold.