How to help homeless cats in cold weather

Liam Beauchamp

It’s very cold out there at the minute and many domestic cats have already added a few extra hours of sleep into their usual routine to enjoy the heat of the radiator or to have a snuggle under the duvet. These cats are loving life right now, but not all cats have it so easy.

There are plenty of homeless cats, lost cats and feral cats that will be miserable right now. Temperatures have dropped, and it’s likely to be a very cold few months, so what can you do to help the more unfortunate kitties?

A Cosy Spot

Think about where you could create a cosy hole for a homeless kitty to settle down in when the weather turns for the worse. Perhaps you have a quiet part of the garden that would be ideal for a cat kennel? Or a shed or outhouse with easy access that you could place a box and blanket?

Find the perfect spot for a comfortable cat shelter, but be respectful for your pet puss. They might not appreciate the addition of a new cat on their turf. The cat shelter should be positioned away from the places your cat spends time, or away from view from your cat enclosure and favourite windows where your cat loves to keep an eye on the neighbourhood. 

You may want to consider building an outdoor bed for strays and you can find inexpensive or free materials at building-supply stores. The shelter must trap the cat's body temperature, so if the shelter is too large, it will be hard for the cat's body temperature to warm the space. Keep it small and make sure you fill it with the right materials. Blankets, towels or folded newspaper will absorb body heat and chill the cats, so opt for a pillowcase loosely stuffed with newspaper or straw instead. Just remember to replace the straw or shredded newspaper if it is moist or dirty. 

Fresh Supply of Water and Food

In the colder months, finding a source of water can be particularly difficult for stray cats, so place a small dish near the shelter that is easily accessible. Check the water each morning and evening to prevent the source drying up or freezing over. Place the water in a spot away from the road and busy areas. If you are going to build a shelter, keep the water outside the shelter. Spilled water on an outdoor bed will feel more like a refrigerator than a warm haven to a cat. You could also add a small teaspoon of sugar to the water which will stop the water from freezing over so quickly and will act as a source of energy.

If you are going to provide food, use wet food as it is easier to digest. It will freeze over quicker though, so try and feed the cats on a regular schedule so they know when to come around. You should also consider feeding larger portions than you usually would in the summer months. 

In the winter months, cats are at a higher risk of antifreeze poisoning so here is what you can do to help prevent accidental poisonings:

  • Cleaning up antifreeze spills
  • Ensuring the antifreeze is locked away
  • Providing a source of fresh water

Check Your Car Before You Drive

In the colder months, cats are attracted to cars as they provide a source of heat. Introduce a new routine that includes checking under the hood and beneath the car and banging around the body of your vehicle before you start the engine.

Keep Your Own Cat Safe this Winter

There are a few steps you can take to keep your own kitty safe this winter:

  • Don’t let cats outside until it is light in the morning and get them back in before it gets dark in the afternoon.
  • Ensure your cats are not left alone during the holidays. Use a house sitter or ask a neighbour to pay very close attention to your cats until you get back.
  • Keep old, young and ill cats inside throughout the winter.
  • Microchip your cats to increase the chances of being reunited if they get lost.
  • Add cat fencing to stop your cat getting lost, stolen or hurt on the road.
  • Provide an indoor little tray to stop cats holding on for too long because of the cold weather.
  • Share the importance of securing antifreeze away and cleaning up spills with your neighbours and friends.
  • Check paws when the gritter has been out, rock salt can be easily digested by cats (and other pets) by licking the paws or fur after exposure.
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If you have the time to build a shelter and provide fresh food and water, the local kitties will thank you. 

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