With the holidays approaching, it’s a time of cheer for many. But animals who are kept outside aren’t celebrating. For them, this time of year often brings loneliness, bitter cold, lack of food, and sometimes — tragically — death.
While many communities have laws that require a dog have proper shelter from the cold, cats are a different matter. And for those taking care of community cats (feral cats who have been neutered and released), keeping cats warm and healthy in the winter can be a challenge. Alley Cat Allies, the first organization to urge TNR (trap, neuter, release) has several tips for those helping outdoor cats.
- Cats need protection from the cold. Providing shelters can be simple and inexpensive. Large styrofoam boxes (the kind used to ship fish to large grocery stores) can be lined with plastic that sticks on one side, then covered inside with reflective silver blankets. A small hole cut into one side will give a cat access. Fill with straw (not hay), and you have an instant winter home for a cat or two. When surrounded with bales of straw, lifted off the ground with a few bricks, and covered with a tarp, it’s a cozy nest for one or more cats. Shelters can also be purchased online, and Alley Cats has a video on how to make a shelter at http://www.alleycat.org/resources/how-to-build-an-outdoor-shelter/. Make sure to keep shelters free from snow at the entrances.
- Feeding stations can be made from a large plastic box (storage container) on its side. Placing a piece of plexiglass to lean against the box (with heavy bricks to secure it) allows protection from snow and rain, but will allows the feeders to be able to see inside the feeding station.
- During inclement months, provide extra food and water. Canned food takes less energy to digest. Insulated containers keeps the food from freezing, and dry food will not freeze. To keep water from freezing, use heated bowls if there is a power source nearby. If not, use bowls that are deep, not shallow, and put them in a sunny spot.
- Cats, like dogs, can be killed if they have access to antifreeze. It’s deadly to both animals. Keep any antifreeze out of reach of all animals and be sure to clean up any spills. Also consider using brands which contain propylene glycol instead of the more toxic ethylene glycol.
- Salt and other chemicals that melt snow can be toxic to animals. Be sure to use pet-friendly replacements around your home.
- Before you drive anywhere, check your car. Look between your tires and knock on the hood of your car before starting it to make sure a cat hasn’t hidden in the engine for warmth.
- Continue to trap and neuter feral cats. Winter is the prime breeding season for community cats. Be sure to do it safely in the cold weather. Check traps frequently and provide a warm place for the cats to stay while waiting for surgery and after. Ask the veterinarian to only shave a minimal area for the surgery so the cat will keep as much fur as possible to maintain warmth.
- More winter weather tips for outdoor cats are available at www.alleycat.org/WinterWeather.