Last Updated on: July 3, 2023 by Crystal Uys
With an estimated 70 million stray or feral cats found in the United States alone, a huge population of kitties faces the cold weather season without a home to keep warm. If you’ve spotted one of these homeless felines in your area, you might wonder how best to care for a feral cat during the winter months.
Keep reading for eight tips on caring for feral cats when the weather outside is frightful. Personally, I think you’ll find caring for these homeless animals can be quite delightful!
How to Care for a Feral Cat in the Winter Months
1. Provide Shelter
Providing feral cats with shelter keeps them warm and protects them from the elements, including snow, rain, and wind. The ideal shelter is small enough to trap the cat’s body heat, increasing the available warmth. One easy option is to use a Rubbermaid storage bin with a door cut out of the side.
You could also buy a pre-made cat shelter or build your own. Straw is a simple and effective material to insulate your feral cat shelter because it repels moisture. You can replace the insulation as needed throughout the winter.
2. Keep Water from Freezing
Getting enough food and water is hard enough for a feral cat when the weather is warm. In the winter months, available water sources can easily freeze. If you’re caring for a feral cat, ensure they always have water access by using a heated bowl if possible. In areas with milder winters, it may be enough to replace the water each morning when the temperature warms above freezing. Don’t put water bowls inside the cat shelter, however, because they can spill and make the inside wet and cold.
3. Feed Wet Food
If possible, provide wet food during the winter months. Wet food takes less energy to digest, leaving the cat more energy to keep warm. However, wet food—like water—can freeze in harsh conditions. You can replace it daily or serve it in a heated bowl. You can also put the food inside if your shelter is warm and well-insulated. The cat’s body heat will keep it from freezing, and it can enjoy its meal inside a sheltered location.
4. Protect Food and Water from the Elements
If possible, place the food and water as close to the shelter as you can. Ideally, you’ll want to protect the cat’s meal and beverage from the elements. This can keep it from freezing and make the cat more comfortable while they’re eating. You could buy or build a feeding station or place a second cat shelter near the first to serve as a protected meal space.
5. Watch the Weather
Keep an eye on the weather forecast if you’re caring for a feral cat in winter. If a major snowstorm is on the horizon, provide extra bedding, food, and water before it strikes. The cat won’t have to worry about venturing out in search of food, and you can stay safe and warm inside without feeling guilty about the homeless kitty.
6. Shovel Snow
Once the snow stops falling, take a minute to shovel out the entrance to the cat shelter as you clear your driveway and sidewalks. The cat can be snowed in or out of its “home,” just like you can. Avoid using snow melt products or salt near the shelter since they are often toxic if ingested. They can also hurt the cat’s feet if they walk on treated sidewalks or driveways.
7. Clean Up Antifreeze Spills
Antifreeze may be necessary for your car in the winter, but it can be deadly to feral cats. Check your car regularly to make sure it isn’t leaking antifreeze. This liquid has a sweet taste appealing to feral cats, but even a small amount ingested could be fatal. Clean up any driveway spills quickly and ensure antifreeze is stored out of reach of feral cats, pets, and kids.
8. Check Under the Hood
Feral cats often climb into the engines of parked cars to keep warm in the winter months. Unfortunately, they can be seriously hurt if they’re still napping when the vehicle starts up again. If you park outside in the winter, bang on your vehicle’s hood a few times before you start it up. Also, you can take a peek at the engine to make sure it’s kitty-free.
These tips for caring for feral cats in winter are helpful whether you have a single homeless kitty hanging around or you’re caring for a whole colony. Many feral cat colonies are successfully managed and population-controlled using trap-neuter-release (TNR) methods. If you’re performing TNR during the winter, take extra care to ensure that the cats are protected once they return from their surgery. You may not be able to find a home for every feral cat, but you can still help them survive the winter months by providing shelter, food, water, and prompt snow shoveling.
Featured Image Credit: Peter Gudella, Shutterstock
About the author
Cat mom to Ivy – a feisty little rescue kitten that is her one and only child. For now! Throughout her life, she has been introduced to the special love that can be found in the bond with a cat. Having owned multiple felines, she is more than certain that their love is unmatched, unconditional and unlike any other. With a passion to educate the public about everything, there is to know about felines, their behavior, and their unique personalities, Crystal is devoted to making sure that all cats and their owners know the importance of conscious living – and loving!