Helping stray cats in winter

Stray and feral cats become conditioned to living outside and can usually cope; however in cold or severe weather they need extra help. Follow these tips to help them stay safe, warm and healthy in the winter months.

Provide shelter

They don’t need lots of space, just enough to stand and move about, protected from the elements. In fact, the smaller the better as this will retain the cat’s body heat. If there are several cats you could make it larger, as they will huddle together to retain heat anyway. Homemade shelters can be built out of almost anything, the simplest being made from a sturdy cardboard box and covered with plastic sheeting to one constructed of scrap pieces of wood. When creating an opening, make it just large enough to allow a cat to enter to keep as much of the wind and rain outside. Bedding could be added but don’t use blankets or other fabric material as this can get wet and mouldy or even freeze. Straw is an excellent material; it won’t hold excess moisture, retains heat and can be changed easily.

Finally, be sure to locate the shelter in a safe, sheltered and concealed spot where the cats feel securely hidden from predators and can watch their surroundings.

Make sure they have enough food and drink

Cats need extra calories in cold winter months to retain their energy. A dry kitten formula is an excellent source of extra calories and balanced nutrition. Tinned cat foods are also a great source of nutrition but may freeze overnight due to their high liquid content.

Leave food out at the same time very day so the cats become used to a schedule. If they don’t know when they’ll be fed, they’ll wander off into the cold looking for food, defeating the object of the exercise. Also vital to the cat’s survival is fresh, clean water but check regularly to see it hasn’t frozen over.

Change water bowls twice daily to keep water from freezing. Use deep bowls rather than wide ones, and refill them with hot or warm water. Shield the water dish from wind by placing it inside a small piece of Styrofoam from discarded packaging. Add a pinch of sugar to the water to keep it from freezing as quickly and to provide an energy boost for the cats.

Build a feeding station

A simple feeding station with a roof and sides will protect cats from low temperatures and icy breezes during meal times. Elevate the floor of the feeding station off the ground to keep food and paws warm. They should be placed where they are protected from the cold and positioned as near to the sleeping shelter as possible so that the cats do not have to be exposed to harsh conditions when they need to eat or drink.

Feeding stations also offer many year-round benefits for cats so the moderate time and effort it takes to build one this winter will be well worth it all year round!

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